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Rewiring the Voting Booth

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Written by Basil on 09/9/2004 12:07 PM. Filed under:

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Paradosis blogs about a libertarian party unafraid of religious language in the public square: the Constitution Party. I’m still deciding what I think about this party. I nursed at the breast of evangelical fundamentalism, so a lot of what they have to say resonates on a very primal level, even if it also makes me a little nervous.

However, this line in their party platform nearly had me rolling on the floor:

In order to avoid election fraud, we urge an end to electronic or mechanical voting processes and a return to the manual counting process overseen by, and accountable to, voters resident in each precinct where the votes are cast.

Yet a few lines earlier, they explicit advocate technological advancement in the defense department. Apparently, their commitment to technology is susceptible of an irrational inconsistency. I wonder what else might be?

Perhaps their double emphasis on a return to Constitutional government and specifically Christian religious values.

However, perhaps I should not be so quick to dismiss the point. I just read on Raphael’s blog a post on using open source software for voting mechanisms.

The same is true of both Open Source and “Professional” software as well: Diebold or Microsoft or even Apple — and now open source coders. Do you want any or all of them knowing your vote?

Of course not. Only open source software allows anyone who can read the code to see whether any foolishness is being done. With closed source, the uncompiled source code is a trade secret. Frankly, closed source code in voting apparati is much, much scarier. If Microsoft secreted your vote away, you might never know. If an open source project did, it would be obvious. “Oh, look, there’s a backdoor here.” Snip, snip; recompile. Bingo, no backdoor.

Being able to read the code, by the way, does not automatically mean that the content communicated — one’s vote, in this case — is insecure or open for anyone to see. That would be a design decision.

…the reality is that many of the people who bring you Open Source also bring you Blaster and Sasser. If you don’t trust the evil corporations… why do you trust the hackers? Let’s be honest: many corps are perceived (rightly or not) as having right-wing ideologies in place and thus are perceived to be secretly running things to the right. OK, let’s be honest, many hackers, coders and geeks are perceived (rightly or not) as having left-wing ideologies in place. Can they be trusted either?

OK, there are a lot of misconceptions to disentangle here. First, the foundational misconception in operation is the identification of hacker with cracker. See ESR’s extended research and reflections on the hacker subculture. Hackers did not bring you Blaster and Sasser. Crackers and script kiddies did. Hackers brought you such things as the internet, the world wide web, Unix and Linux (the OS used for many web and mail servers), FreeBSD (the basis for Apple OS X), KHTML (the basis of Apple’s Safari browser), Mozilla Firefox (one of the most secure browsers on the web), and the software used for effects in The Lord of the Rings and Pixar Studios films. The list could go on forever. Other hackers will be more than happy to add to it, I’m sure.

The other misconception is that hackers lean to the left. On a one-dimensional political graph, that may appear to be the case. However, on a two-dimensional political graph, many hackers have very libertarian values. They lean to the left on issues of freedom, but they are often very committed to Constitutional government. Given the crypto-fascism and crypto-imperialism of the post-bellum federal government, this can often be confused with anarchism. Some hackers really are anarchists, but I find that position rare.

Frankly, knowing so many hackers, I am far more comfortable with them than with any politician.

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3 Responses to “Rewiring the Voting Booth”

  1. Decimation & Reconstruction » Electronic Voting Revisited Says:

    […] sues confronting electronic voting. The information serves as an interesting complement to my earlier post about the same subject, partic […]

  2. Huw Raphael Says:

    Actually, I think in rereading my original post, I need to make two things more clear:

    I do identify hackers with crackers – and also with “profession” coders – they are the same skill set. One may make much about the *ethics* of one group over the other, but leaving me to vote on their software is asking me to *trust* them and their ethics, which I just don’t know if I want to do yet.

    Which brings me to the second point: if I were forced to pick either a Closed or Open Source package, I would go with the open source package for exactly the reasons you cite.

    Yet, in the long run, I’d be happiest with human counters: which tend not to need recompiling – and may be just as easy to buy off as coders of any stripe, but I tend to live next door to the human counters. We (the general public) know their address and phone numbers. I can’t say that about the code folks – at least not yet.

  3. matt Says:

    I’ve voted in three pricints and absentee. Only once have I used no punch card ballot and that was in San Francisco. What the City by the Bay uses is a pice of card board with all the names and ballot measures on it. And what the voter does is complete an arrow from one side of the page to the other. In the case of a balot measure where there are two possible answers, there are two lines to chosse from. One leading to a big “YES” and the other to a big “NO”.
    In the case of offices for which more than 2 choiuces are possible. The instructions read “Please complete the arrow that points to the candidate of your choice. ONLY COMPLETE ONE ARROW”. The pens used are big fat black fel pens. I felt more confidence with this system than I felt with the punch cards. An idiot could look at my ballot and know who I voted for. Of course, sometimes ballot boxes wind up in the Bay, but that is another problem.