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Voting machine integrity through transparency

Voting machine integrity through transparency

Posted Mar 27, 2008 16:08 UTC (Thu) by smoogen (subscriber, #97)
Parent article: Voting machine integrity through transparency

Actually I can really understand that people will go off and buy things that they can't test. 

1) Most people live in a world where you trust that someone is going to sell you something
that works. Most people do not take their car completely apart before driving it. Most people
do not do the same with their washing machine, dryer, furnace, etc. And many people will buy a
service contract that states that they will get service from one company and if it will cost
them less.. that they will return it if they don't want service from that company. Its the
world that most people live in. So when they are told that their is a nice shiney gadget that
will cost the counting, is faster, and make sure you never have to hear the word hanging chad
with your next election. Bingo.. you have a sale.

2) Most people live in a world view where technology == win. Want to make a cheaper, faster,
more reliable car.. use robots versus people. Want to make a cheaper, faster, more reliable
cloth.. use 'robotic weavers' versus people. Want to make a cheaper, faster, more reliable
election.. well why shouldn't election machines do it? And aren't the arguments against it the
same as those people who throw their sabots into the robotic weavers of the 18th century???
[No but since every technological change gets people riled who are out of a job.. it has
become a habit to downplay it as Luddite rambling.]

3) Most people are not qualified to first discern whether or not that using electronic voting
machines is better or not. 90+% of people who code would look at the Sequoia code and probably
not find as many problems. And for all the questions from people like Felten and Schneier
there are equally 'qualified' who say the opposite. And qualifications do not mean the same
everyone. Written a book on coding, or been contracted by the US government is as valid to
most people as Felten's.

So I am not surprised that lots of places bought stuff that was snake-oil. I am more surprised
that we are re-evaluating it so quickly :).


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Voting machine integrity through transparency

Posted Mar 27, 2008 18:29 UTC (Thu) by martinfick (subscriber, #4455) [Link]

Actually I can really understand that people will go off and buy things that they can't test.

Perhaps they trust that they will work when they buy them, but they do test them with regular usage to prove so!

I certainly test my washing machine, if it no longer gets my clothes clean, I buy a new one! I tend to notice when my dryer runs much longer, perhaps I stick my hand inside to see if the heating element is coming on (analysis) and then if not, I fix/replace it. If my furnace no longer heats my house (I do own thermometers to actually measure temperature), I higher a plumber to fix or replace it. Why would voting machines be any different? If they have been shown to not work, it might be time to consider putting your hand in the dryer to see if the heating element is coming on, (run a test election,) or call the plumber (send it to Ed Felten)

But these aren't even good examples, we are not talking about individual consumers, but rather organizations!

So I am not surprised that lots of places bought stuff that was snake-oil. I am more surprised that we are re-evaluating it so quickly :).

Quickly? If a ski resort buys an expensive charging mechanism to scan skiers passes at lift lines, they surely would evaluate whether it were properly denying access to unauthorized skiers pretty early in the process, surely before it were used on real customers, not after??? Why would voting be much different? Perhaps even a dry run with both systems (old paper/new electronic) side by side would be tried for a while, no? This would certainly be expected behavior from ordinary people/organizations, not just us free software supporters (we would expect more), wouldn't it?

But since businesses actually care about accuracy and govs. don't, perhaps it is surprising that it is being evaluated? ;)

Voting machine integrity through transparency

Posted Mar 27, 2008 19:19 UTC (Thu) by smoogen (subscriber, #97) [Link]

Most voting machine purchases were done on individual basis by people were told to get
something to comply with Federal Law but without the tools to figure out if they were getting
things good or not. I know for the elections in 2006.. the money to buy the required
electronic voting items came in 5 weeks before the drop dead date of getting the machines into
the state. They were given a customary test of "does the dummy light work. Yes. do they put in
the items we laid out, good. Do they collect my 5-10 votes that I put in.. good. Onto the
polls." And then they were put into storage after the election because the funding to pay for
the testers etc only goes for 2 weeks after the elections. Then they were pulled out for the
next elections.

To abuse my analogy and your extension of it.. a bit further. If you only used your washer or
dryer every 2 years.. would you know that it was taking longer? Voting doesn't happen every
week or every day like the ski resort or my washing machine analogy. It is a process that
shows up and in most elections are not decided by little margins.. so if you have a 0.1%-5%
mis-tally it doesn't matter and might never be caught. It is only a problem to the majority of
people when you have to worry about every vote. When the margin of error is greater than the
difference in vote tally's.

I will also disagree about the government view... having been at the end of a government audit
or two. People in government do like accuracy.... The problem is what they are told be
accurate about is not what most people consider important until they don't win an election.

What do we citizens yell the most about to the government: 
1) Keep our taxes low, 
2) Make sure that the roads, schools, sewage, phones, electricity, social security checks for
grandma, etc are paid. 

Those things are watched as closely as possible. The IRS and various IG's are actually highly
accurate for an organization keeping track of things on nearly 40 year computers. That local
pork barrel project your Senator/Congressman/Parliament member brought home? Every cent is
going through 2-3 auditors hands to make sure that none of it is mis-spent beyond what
Congress/Parliament said it should. Yes there is some corruption going on, but the lack of
finding it is limited in the number of people you can hire to keep it going. The number of
auditors is at the point of diminishing returns.. you hire more auditors, require more
paperwork to be triple checked and the cost of the government goes up. 

Outsource it to contract agencies shows a lower cost initially.. until people find that
someone cheated.. and then you have to hire more auditors to watch the contractor who is now
filing more paperwork to keep track of things so their cost goes up.. and you end up in nearly
the same boat (sometimes it remains cheaper.. sometimes it gets more expensive.. it all
depends on how much you are willing in a 1 billion dollar contract to find 1 million dollars
in corruption. Most of the time, the cost is in the multi-millions and if there is no
corruption.. everyone feels like you REALLY wasted money. If however there is corruption, then
you feel justified or wonder if you found it all and need more auditing.)

Voting machine integrity through transparency

Posted Apr 6, 2008 2:42 UTC (Sun) by rmunn (guest, #40618) [Link]

So I am not surprised that lots of places bought stuff that was snake-oil. I am more surprised that we are re-evaluating it so quickly :).

I would add another reason to your list of 3. Most people tend to know the limits of their own competence, and trust experts in fields they're not competent in themselves. Most people know they aren't cryptology experts, for example, so when someone who claims to be a crypto expert tells them "Hey, I've got a really cool new crypto system to sell you," they have a tendency to trust that he knows what he's talking about. The way to get really secure crypto -- open design that's been hacked at for twenty years by an entire community of experts -- doesn't occur to them, because it's slightly counterintuitive. Your average non-expert thinks, "Yeah, but this new system has a secret design, so it must be even more secure than that open-design system over there." And that's why people continue to pay millions for snake oil like CSS (the DVD type, not the HTML type).

I think something similar may be happening with the voting-machine problem. You've got a bunch of election officials who aren't computer experts (and know this), so when someone sells them a system with the proviso "You can't reveal how the system works, so that the Bad Guys won't be able to hack it," they actually think this is a good idea.

Hmmm, maybe that's two reasons, not just one. First, people tend to trust those they believe to be experts; and second, Security through Obscurity is something that intuitively makes sense to non-experts. And so when one "expert" tells them S-through-O is a good idea and the other "expert" tells them no, it's not -- they tend to believe the first guy, and question the expertise of the second guy.


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