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Politics, life, and other things that matter

Immaculate election

Posted by Charles II on January 6, 2008

Clive Thompson, NYT Magazine, has a meaty article about how electronic voting machines fail (via BradBlog). Some highlights:

Michael Shamos, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University who has examined voting-machine systems for more than 25 years, estimates that about 10 percent of the touch-screen machines “fail” in each election. “In general, those failures result in the loss of zero or one vote,” he told me….


During this year’s presidential primaries, roughly one-third of all votes will be cast on touch-screen machines. …

[In Ohio 2006] When the machines weren’t malfunctioning, they produced errors at a stunning rate: one audit of the election discovered that in 72.5 percent of the audited machines, the paper trail did not match the digital tally on the memory cards….

[Despite Ohio’s improved system in which the paper printout is the official result, most people don’t check the printout]  Possibly they’re simply lazy, or the poll workers forget to tell them to; or perhaps they’re older and couldn’t see the printer’s tiny type anyway. And even if voters do check the paper trail, Diener pointed out, how do they know the machine is recording it for sure? … What’s more, the poll workers regularly made security errors. When a touch-screen machine is turned on for the first time on Election Day, two observers from different parties are supposed to print and view the “zero tape” that shows there are no votes already recorded on the machine; a hacker could fix the vote by programming the machine to start, for example, with a negative total of votes for a candidate. Yet when I visited one Cleveland polling station at daybreak, the two checkers signed zero tapes without actually checking the zero totals. And then, of course, there were the server crashes, and the recording errors on 20 percent of the paper recount ballots. …

In essence, elections now face a similar outsourcing issue to that seen in the Iraq war, where the government has ceded so many core military responsibilities to firms like Halliburton and Blackwater that Washington can no longer fire the contractor. Vendors do not merely sell machines to elections departments. In many cases, they are also paid to train poll workers, design ballots and repair broken machines, for years on end.

And, of course, despite the enormous political and financial incentives to fix elections and despite the connections between the Republican Party and voting machine vendors and despite that the fact that critics have been proven right time and again about the deficiencies of electronic voting machines, the author lets us know that only left-wing conspiracy nuts could imagine that anyone might have hacked the machines.

This is The New York Times, after all, not real life.

3 Responses to “Immaculate election”

  1. Oh, but of course.

  2. MEC said

    But the people who opposed deploying the computerized voting machines and predicted dire consequences, like Avi Rubin of Johns Hopkins University, were “conspiracy nuts”.

    This is another case of politics overriding science.

  3. Charles said

    Political purity has done so much for the Taliban that The New York Times is applying it here.

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