E-Voting Roundtable at SiliconValley.com

by John Adams

Related link: http://www.siliconvalley.com/mld/siliconvalley/9851518.htm

If only this roundtable had been held earlier in the year! Better late than never, though.

My impression is that O'Reilly readers are mostly skeptical of e-voting systems. I share that skepticism, but it doesn't blind me to the very real problems with paper and mechanical balloting, and it doesn't shake my conviction that a well-designed and well-administered e-voting system is superior to a pure paper system. In particular, the concerns of disabled voters about privacy and security of their votes in paper voting systems are quite real.

At some point in the process, any political system can be corrupted. Conversely, even a relatively insecure system can often produce results with integrity, given sufficient diligence on the part of the people running it. Paper ballots, despite all their problems, have been producing mostly honest results for years, thanks to the exceptional public service provided by election workers, paid and volunteer, and to the presence of poll watchers, partisan and disinterested.

There is the rub: E-voting systems provide lower levels of transparency. It's hard to watch a process you can't see.

Election officials simply defending the integrity of their office miss the point: Their integrity has not lessened, but its utility may have. That's a serious issue--people trust and like election workers, mostly.

Anyway, go read the debate. Let me single out two arguable statements for your attention:

David Dill, item #13:
Virtually our entire society consists of secure handling of paper documents. We've been doing it for thousands of years. We have election procedures which, if employed, can give us a lot of confidence in the integrity of paper ballots.

Mischelle Townsend, item #15:
In my 34 years of public service, I've never met an election official in California who would be willing to go to jail to allegedly manipulate an election for someone running for office.

Does either side in this debate engage the other? Do opponents of pure e-voting systems acknowledge the security flaws in a pure paper system, and vice versa?


2004-10-13 06:45:59
Want transparency? Think OPEN SOURCE
I'm persistently amazed at the way most journalists writing on the topic of e-voting completely ignore the idea of open soure e-voting systems. That, IMO, gives all the transparency you could ask for. In fact, Wired wrote an article saying this has worked just fine for Australia: http://www.wired.com/news/ebiz/0,1272,61045,00.html ("Aussies Do It Right: E-Voting").
2004-10-13 14:37:53
Not to blow my own horn, but...
...I wrote this earlier this year about an open source e-voting system.

I don't think open source in itself guarantees sufficient transparency in e-voting systems, but I agree that it's necessary (or nearly enough necessary in practical terms) for transparency.

Wait--I take that back. There are parts of the Open Source Definition which are not necessary for sufficient transparency in e-voting. I believe you could get along with items 2, 5, and 6--maybe 10, depending on the implementation.

(On a totally unrelated subject, here's an interesting exercise which evolved as I wrote this answer.)