Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Election Day!

So, it's election day here in the U.S. of A.! I'm not sure I will ever get used to federal elections being held on the same day every two or four years. That's just weird!

My day started off with an e-mail from our company president telling the staff (20% of whom are not citizens and can't vote) how he'd like everyone to vote. He does this every election and you can pretty much predict ahead of time who he will support. He's very much pro-conservative, pro-business. (In 2004 he suggested the office vote for David "New Orleans is not filling up like a bowl" Vitter for U.S. Senate, for instance.) This year it was a little... strange. He suggested that folks vote for the latest slate of Louisiana constitutional amendments the way the Citizens for A Better Louisiana suggest. Some of those suggestions, though, were at odds with the recommendations of the Monroe Chamber of Commerce, which was attached to the e-mail. So, I'm not sure which way I should vote...

Oh, wait... I should use my own judgment!

Oh, wait... I can't vote! I'm still subject to "taxation without representation", as I do pay my taxes.

Anyway, this is the first election day, since moving down here, that I didn't go to the polls. Oh, I don't try to vote, but I always accompanied Alana into the polling station. I found those monstrous lever-switching polling machines fascinating. I remember watching the ABC affiliate out of Buffalo, NY explaining to people how to use the machines back when they were introduced. I was mesmerized. And I was a little disappointed when I voted in my first Canadian election and discovered they used paper (cardstock, actually) ballots. I just liked going to see the machines, view the process, and watch the odd looks on people's faces when I step out of the line and answer their "Are you not voting?" questions with "I can't vote".

This year Alana got to vote on one of the new electronic voting machines. She did not get a paper receipt verifying her vote, as this machine didn't provide one.

I'm of the opinion, as are a number of computer security people, that any official allowing the use of an electronic voting machine that does not supply a paper receipt from a manufacturer that does not allow its source code and hardware to be audited should be fired or impeached, depending on whether they are a bureaucrat or a politician. The use of these electronic voting machines is a monumentally stupid idea, and anyone authorizing their use is either too stupid to hold the position, or on the take.

I hear that Canada is planning to go with electronic voting machines. This is a sad state of affairs, given that paper ballots do the job just fine. I'm not saying this as a luddite, mind you. I am a systems analyst by profession. I usually embrace technology. That's why I know what can go wrong. That's why every competent computer security analyst has said that these machines are worse than useless. Without a paper receipt and a thorough audit there is no way you can know for sure that the votes were tallied properly. Ever since their use, and running through this year's primaries, electronic voting machines in the U.S. have had numerous problems.

Machine readable ballots are supposed to make the counting process easier. Tell that to the folks counting ballots in Florida. Paper ballots require hand counting, but the process is not difficult and has been in place for more than a century. In 2000, after the U.S. election but before the results were known, Canada had its federal election. Paper ballots were used. The results were mostly known that evening, and the "all but truly official" results were known the next day. Now Canada has apparently caught the same bug grabbing the U.S. and Britain, and they are introducing computer voting machines. In the last Canadian election I voted in, they used large card ballots where you inked in a gap in a black arrow with machine-readable ink to indicate your candidate. That seemed to be a good method, resulting in a paper ballot with a machine to count the ballots. I don't know why this is considered inferior to a computer that can be hacked, badly programmed, or set up incorrectly.

I wish I could have gone with Alana. She went early in the day; as a state employee she gets Election Day off, while I had to work. It would have been funny to see an official answer my question: "So how does she know the machine tallied her vote correctly?" On the other hand, maybe it would only cause the poor septegenarians manning the polling station to have an anxiety attack. (That last bit isn't hyperbole; the average age of people manning the polling stations is 70!)

At any rate, the election campaign is over. It as pretty quiet around here. I don't remember seeing any campaign commercials on TV for local candidates, and the only smattering of signs I saw were for judge candidates or for the school board.

I'm not sure who I would like to see win. I don't want to see the Republicans running all three branches of government. On the other hand, there's a lot to be said for one branch of Congress being controlled by one party and the other branch controlled by the other. Yes, it can cause gridlock, but it's not like Congress did much of anything in the last session anyway. With a split, at least some compromise must be made to get laws passed.

But, hey, what do I know. I can't even vote!


Michael Skeet said...

Hey, I was in Texas for just 14 days, and I saw enough election ads for you, me, Alana, Lorna, and Jo-Jo the Dog-face Boy. So count yourself lucky, lad.

I'll have to look into the point you made about Canada using electronic machines. Your description is not promising; most experts agree that the best solution is a machine-readable paper ballot, as you described when talking about current Canadian practice.

As for divided government, The Economist published some very interesting stats in its latest issue, showing that U.S. government is much more fiscally responsible when one party controls the executive and the other the Congress. Gingrichian deadlock is actually exceptional (and after what happened to our favourite alternate-history author, I suspect it's not very likely to recur).

Allan Goodall said...

Your description is not promising; most experts agree that the best solution is a machine-readable paper ballot, as you described when talking about current Canadian practice.

I forget where I read that Canada was considering voting machines. I thought the machine-readable paper ballot worked very well.

You know, this isn't rocket science. Why are there so many solutions implemented in the U.S.? Yeah, I know, cost — some are cheaper than others. Still, you'd think that there could, and should, be a Federal law coordinating the devices used in federal elections.

Ah, but I've pointed out to you before how much more bureaucracy there is down here. Alana tells me that the states talk to each other. There are times when you wouldn't know it!