Thursday, September 16, 2004

The Touch-Screen Vote

September 16, 2004

Those who know me know I'm no technophobe; I've had my internet connection since 1994, when the first graphical web browser came out, and my e-mail address is a single character at a four-character domain. I think programmers, by and large, do an amazing job putting together 10 billion lines of OS code, and I trust my files to stay where they are unless something goes catastrophically wrong with my computer. Unless, of course, someone catastrophically inept sits down with it for a while. This is why I do not and never will trust computerized voting.

Several states are considering switching to computerized votes in the wake of last election's Florida debacle, and others have already started prepping the digital booths for use. A switch of, say, one in five of the votes entered is not only feasible in such machines, it's technically very easy, not to mention being undetectable without a deliberate search through the thousands of lines of code needed to make such a machine operate. In the face of widespread skepticism, lawmakers have proposed several remedies, including a paper receipt system that prints a permanent copy for the vote-counters to keep and a copy for the voter himself to keep to back up the digital record. Of course, an alteration causing different outputs from these two printers in addition to the digital record is only slightly more complicated.

A simple voter receipt system, too, is a band-aid on a gunshot wound. In the face of an altered vote, such receipts serve no purpose unless every single voter keeps his receipt and can tender it as proof of his vote for a recount and comparison. The simple fact is that it is a much, much easier job to change a one to a zero in a computer than it is to change a hole in a card, a mark on a slip of paper, or any of the other more substantial methods used to record votes. Having gone through the complex and often tedious process of securing my own computer against intrusion, I know how smart a hacker can be when he writes a hostile program, and something as important as a federal election should not even be placed at risk of such an attack.

A couple of people suggested to me that I should write this week's column on the forthcoming vote on Louisiana's gay marriage amendment. For those who don't know, that vote is Saturday and it would ratify an amendment to the state constitution defining marriage as between a single male and a single female. I encourage all of you to vote on this as a matter of principle, but the fact of the matter is that the amendment will go through and gay marriage will be illegal in Louisiana until it is federally recognized and protected. The people of this state may surprise me, but I expect a law restricting the rights of homosexuals to have great popularity here. The unfortunate side of this law is that it will technically dissolve some common law marriages between heterosexual couples that were married in a manner inconsistent with the law.

I've got a policy of responding to all e-mail sent to me at, whether you like me or not.

Note: As I post this to the archive on May 13, 2006, the following stories are breaking:
Backdoor Found in Diebold Voting Machines
New Fears of Security Risks in Electronic Voting Machines
Reversing Course on Electronic Voting


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