Continued from Part 1...
Some folks think electronic voting machines are unreliable, and perhaps even rigged. They contend that the only way to verify vote counts is for these machines to produce paper trails that show how each voter voted. They want to be able to contest elections--by recount. But what they really want is to be able to conduct recount after recount after recount ad infinitum until their boy wins.
While it's not true that you need a paper trail, you do need some kind of trail. So the anti-voting machine crowd does have a legitimate point. For if all a voting machine does is keep "running totals" of the votes, it's entirely unacceptable.
Here's how to ensure the integrity of vote counts with Internet voting:
- Internet voting software would keep running totals for each ballot option.
- But running totals, as we've said, aren't enough. You need to be able to prove who won, and that takes ballots. So, the voting software would write ballots, but they'd be electronic, not paper. After the polls close, a program would count the votes on these electronic ballots and compare the results to the running totals. And if no hacking had occurred, these sums would be identical, period! (Unlike paper ballots with their dimpled, pregnant and hanging chads, electronic ballots aren't subject to interpretation. Recounting electronic records in a closed file always produces the same result. So recounts would become a thing of the past.)
- But ballots aren't enough, either. We need a backup of the ballots, and it should reside--on another device using a medium that cannot be overwritten, perhaps burned to DVD-R. But the backup would not only be for backup. The backup would also be used to verify individual ballots, a level of detail verification that doesn't exist today. If a program that compares the ballots with their backups showed that they were identical in all particulars, you'd pretty well know that nothing untoward, such as hacking, had happened. (If there were a discrepancy, the backup would be used to determine the winners, as it had been written to a medium that, once written to, is unalterable.)
To recap, we'd be verifying the running totals by comparing them to the votes on the electronic ballots, and we'd be verifying the individual electronic ballots by comparing them with their mirror images on the backup file. Rather than recounts triggered by close elections, we'd have computers verifying the vote counts--for each and every election. And the electorate would know the true winners immediately after the polls closed.
There's another thing that's always bothered me: No one in America really knows if his votes have been counted. But an Internet system could give voters this reassurance: After the election, the ballots could be made available online to the public so they could compare them to the voting receipts they printed off (see above). If there were any discrepancies, the voter could report it to the board of elections. This feature is yet another form of verification and it should remove any remaining doubt about the trustworthiness of elections in America. (How would the voter find his ballot? The software will put a unique tag on both the ballot and his voting receipt.)
On CNN, former Clintonista James Carville hinted that if Obama were to go into Election Day with a consistent 5-point lead in the polls but lost, there could be riots. Riots become a possibility not because folks aren't getting their way, but because they suspect theft. Since government can't prove who won, this suspicion is not unreasonable.
Riots or not, any doubt whatsoever about vote counts is utterly corrosive to Democracy. But so are recounts. And don't forget how time-consuming and expensive recounts are. The Florida 2000 recount took more than 5 weeks, yet no one can demonstrate what the true vote counts were. But that recount was nothing compared to the unending drama of the 2008 recount in Minnesota that after more than 6 months is still unresolved, leaving the state with but one Senator in Congress. Internet voting would end such nonsense.
Why have cutting-edge technology if you're not going to use it?
Here's why: It's real difficult to affect vote counts if computers are doing the counting; the "hand recount" is the better way to steal elections. America's election system is that of a Third World banana republic because the powers that be want it that way.
Doubt it? Well, some folks still doubt we went to the Moon.
Jon N. Hall is a programmer/analyst from Kansas City.