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Why Computers Don’t Work and Touchscreen Voting Machines are BAD FOR DEMOCRACY

By on Jan 16, 2008 in Politics

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Over Thanksgiving, Adam and I visited an old friend and his new girlfriend. The conversation, predictably, turned to politics. Adam or I somehow or another, predictably, brought up Greg Palast and his investigations into systematic voter disenfranchisement by the republican party in 2000 & 2004 in FL, NM, and OH. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Read about it on GregPalast.com and/or buy his book, Armed Madhouse.

Girlfriend commented that we are less sophisticated with voting that Honduras (or some Central American country) because they use touch-screen voting machines.

I was instantly transported back to my Computer Science professor’s office after the 2004 elections and our, admittedly random, conversation on the horrors of touchscreen voting.

That’s right: Two people with advanced degrees in Computer Science think touch screen voting machines are a bad idea. Bad bad BAD.

I think this surprises many people who equate technological advancement with ‘better.’ But let me ask you this: Has your computer ever crashed and lost ALL of your life’s files? Has your computer ever crashed when you had a serious deadline in, like, 10 minutes? Have you ever read through a manual for a new gadget or software? Have you ever understood said manual? Have you ever had to wait days or weeks for someone to come fix your internet connection? Have you ever had to leave your computer for days or weeks to have it repaired?

Of course you have. Why? Because computers don’t work.

Nah, I jest … sort of. The truth of the matter is that computers are insanely complex. There are whole areas of theoretical computer science devoted to proving that software and computers do what they say that they can do. Most commercial software and hardware are never put to these tests – they tend to live in the minds and papers of disheveled professors and disgruntled students. The point is that a computer cannot be guaranteed to work when you need it, where you need it, and how you expect it to. And this isn’t even taking security into account.

And touch screen voting machines are simply computers with fancy screens. Now it is true that there are computers systems out there (banking anyone?) that guarantee that their computers work exactly correctly and are rarely down. It takes a lot of money, planning, and techy people to make this happen.

Does every county in the state have a super tech on hand to immediately fix issues with touch screens? Do they have the money to pay for a redundant system and high security measures? Have they put in the time and effort to train the election volunteers on how to use, fix, and troubleshoot the machines?

Hell no.

In a disturbing turn of events, the Department of Justice has settled their lawsuit with the New York State Board of Elections by forcing NY State to comply with disabled-access provision in the Help Americans Vote Act of 2002. Now I am all for ensuring the voters can vote, no matter the circumstance. Who isn’t? (Besides Bush, Cheney, and the Republican party) The problem with this settlement is that is defines both Paper Ballot Optical Scan Systems (PBOS) AND touch screen electronic voting systems (DRE) as acceptable disabled-access ballot marking devices.

The good news is that your precinct has a choice. The bad news is that many people, like Girlfriend, think that touch screen voting machines – machines that have been proven to be unreliable and easily tampered with – are better. Remember kids – shiny and pretty aren’t better! Never forget the Ford Pinto.

Alright, now for some facts. I am totally stealing these talking points from the NY Chapter of Progressive Democrats for America:

OPTICAL SCAN TECHNOLOGY (PBOS) IS BETTER THAN TOUCH-SCREEN VOTING MACHINES (DRE’s)
TOUCH-SCREEN VOTING MACHINES HAVE A TRACK RECORD OF FAILURE

One Example: AccuVote-TSX machines (Diebold) in Cuyahoga County, Ohio
May 2006.

TOUCH-SCREEN VOTING MACHINES ARE BEING REJECTED BY
ELECTION OFFICIALS AND LEGISLATORS ACROSS THE COUNTRY

THE BEST CHOICE IS “OPTICAL SCAN” TECHNOLOGY


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