Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Oh, Good God

What a surprise: They've started early voting in some places, and they're already having computer problems with the new touch-screen voting machines. I predicted this back when they first started talking about electronic voting as a way of fixing the "problems" with the paper ballots that we encountered in 2000. For at least the first few times computerized voting machines are used, they will have even more problems than the paper ballots supposedly had.

Why did I make this prediction? Because I do quality control on computer software for a living. I know, for example, that it is theoretically impossible to find every bug before software is released, no matter how much time or money you spend testing it (at least for non-trivial applications).

And now we have this:
At the Tamarac branch public library, where voting stopped after the computer glitch, Sally Zwanger, a poll watcher for the Kerry campaign, claimed the problems reflected the inability of Gov. Jeb Bush's administration to fix voting problems left over from the 2000 election.

"The worst thing to hear was, 'I support Kerry, but I can't wait in this line,'" she said. "We are having a repeat of 2000, and it's only in Florida that this could happen. This administration would do anything to ensure that he [Bush] stays in office."

Oh, shut the fuck up. It was Democrats like you who demanded doing away with those "obsolete" punchcard ballots in the first place, because you didn't like the way the counts and recounts came out in Florida. No one is being systematically disenfranchised, you've just pressured various states into jumping boldly in with a computerized voting system that's still in beta testing, at best. And no, it's not "only in Florida that this could happen." It's anywhere that uses electronic voting machines. And it's not because of the administration's "inability...to fix voting problems left over from the 2000 election", it's because A) (being charitible) there are some things about the system that cannot be tested except under conditions approximating full production rollout, and B) (being not-so-charitible) the companies producing the electronic voting machines have not used industry best practices in developing the systems.

Remember Hanlon's Razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. Among the systematic problems with most/all of the electronic voting systems I'm aware of:

  • Most of them are running under some version of Windows. This is a more complex operating system than a dedicated voting machine needs, and is notoriously insecure to boot.
  • The code has not been open to peer review. This is ostensibly for security reasons, but open review tends to make software more secure, not less (e.g., Linux vs. Windows).
  • Insufficient testing. They needed more of both internal alpha testing and beta/deployment testing. These networking problems should have been resolved long before reaching the stage of actual voting.

1 comment:

Kwik2Jujj said...

Salvius is on fire! As a software writer, I concur with the things you wrote regarding testing of same. And I doubly concur with the lack of malevolent intent in the too-early introduction of these machines. Ideologues need to be reminded that voting equipment in Florida is dictated at the county level, which (again) is entirely Democrat-controlled in the most populous counties. So this is SNAFU, not conspiracy. My not-so-bold prediction for the biggest election irregularities to come this year: provisional ballots. Provisional balloting is the rusty screen door that allows in the flood of post-election lawyers in 2004.