NPR’s Morning Edition reports today about the continuing debate over whether to use electronic or paper ballots for our nation’s elections.
For all my enthusiasm for technology, I have never been an advocate of electronic voting systems and the reason is simple: digital information is fungible, editable, deleteable. Digital information is entirely too easy to alter.
Adopting a voting system that does not include permanent, paper records, is an invitation to abuse.
Democracy is too important to trust machines to handle. But it is not just the very real dangers of hacking democracy with which we must concern ourselves, but the mere perception of manipulation itself. Beginning with the voting fiasco of Bush vs. Gore in 2000, and continuing to this day, a sizable percentage of our citizenry believes that elections have been stolen.
Throw in the questions about the partisanship of Diebold’s leader and the fact that there is a lot of money to be made by adopting electronic voting systems, and you’ve got a toxic brew that helps foster the idea that elections are rigged.
The faith in the integrity of our electoral process is a fundamental ingredient to the health of our democracy.
Thankfully, there is a remarkably elegant and seemingly foolproof system that would address all off the above with a combination of Web technology and paper ballots.
The New York Times published a story about an idea promoted by MIT professor Ronald L. Rivest and mathematician Warren D. Smith that harnesses crowdsourcing to ensure the integrity of our elections. The New York Times article describes the system:
Their basic idea is to allow each voter to take home a photocopy of a randomly selected ballot cast by someone else.
scheme is low-tech. Paper ballots would be tallied by optical scanners
or even by hand. The results would be then posted on a Web site. Using
a serial number assigned to each ballot, voters could check the site to
make sure that their random ballots were posted and had not been
altered or misread.
To discourage vote buying, voters would not
receive copies of their own ballots. My receipt would be someone elseâ€™s
ballot, so I would have no way of proving to a bribe-wielding
politician whom I voted for. (There are no voter names on secret
ballots, of course, so the random receipts would not compromise the
privacy of the voting booth.)
I dunno; I don’t see any security holes in their system. It’s ingenious. Yet, apart from the Times article, whenever these electronic voting stories appear, Rivest & Smith’s system is ignored.