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Duh, but isn't this how electronic voting should be done?

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Diebold and other voting machines are basically hacked PCs fit into fancy boxes.
(Image by Black Box Voting)
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p>I'm no expert, just an armchair wise guy saying out loud what I think is obvious, but I fear the opponents of electronic voting (in America) are being duped.

The goal of some e-voting opponents in America is to see the Constitution amended to forever enshrine hand-counted paper ballots as the only acceptable way to take a national vote. This would be folly because computers could, and should in my opinion, be used to take the modern liberal-democratic system to higher, more democratic, levels.

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There is nothing inherently evil about computers, and they do keep count better than humans. If voters were to, rank election candidates, or score them, or something other than just support one in a winner-take-all contest, computers could be used to find the "winning" candidate who could best represent the will of the voters. That would be the moderate candidate in many cases, but it could be the progressive candidate when society faced danger or rapid change.

The topic of alternative voting systems is apart from the point I hope to make, but just Google "range voting" or "instant runoff" to get an idea of what alternative voting systems can look like. Instant runoff voting is making currently making headlines on OEN and, one would hope, in North Carolina. The first-past-the-post voting system in widespread use today is just about the least democratic form of representative democracy possible, and, on top of that, we allow it to be corrupted in its core principles by licensing private companies to operate electronic "black-box" e-voting. It really is hard to believe, and I suppose that is why so few people pay much attention to these issues.

Moreover, we could, and probably should, be talking about things beyond the voting system. The ancient Athenians rejected representative democracy itself as being too corruptible. Their chosen form of democracy was much more participatory. Lots were drawn to form a Council of Five Hundred. This powerful group then proposed laws that all the "citizens" could vote on by showing up on frequent voting days. This system worked so well that the word democracy was given a positive shine everlasting to this day. Imagine how much better a job we might do on the environment if we resurrected their system.

So here's what would happen on election day, if I were in charge--prior to the shift back to Athenian style democracy that is.

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Early in the morning at each voting station, the commanding elections officer will, under the observation of various political party representatives, media and others concerned, pull a ping-pong ball from a hat to choose from which big box store to buy the day's "voting machines."

While a "secure election posse" fetches a few dozen of the cheapest PCs at the nearest big box store, party-appointed geeks verify that the Internet connection at the voting station is standard and secure.

The latest version of Red Hat Linux, or some other sensible choice of OS, is downloaded and installed onto each brand new machine under full public view. Next, the open-source voting software is downloaded from a verified and secure server, and its code briefly inspected by geeks chosen by all candidates or parties involved. The voting software code need not, and should not, be complicated and certainly must not be proprietary, for that would be insane. The voting software should be a simple program written in a widely known computer language, certified by the open source community, and perhaps high school students too, as all that is all that would be required to tabulate votes securely. This software could even be written in BASIC so that most Baby Boomers could understand it. The Internet connection is unplugged and we're ready to vote by 8 AM.

With the ultra-simple software that I envision, each voter would be clearly instructed to press just one key a number key from 1 to 4 for example to vote, upon which the voting machine will emit a loud beep telling everyone that voter has voted. (Am I boring you?) The "voting machines" could also be programmed to refuse to allow further voting for 30 seconds or so, during which time no amount of hammering on the keyboard by a disgruntled voter will matter.

Once all the votes have been cast, the curtains are drawn away from the voting machines which are programmed to proudly display their vote counts for all in the room to see and party hacks to note down for the final audit. All the computers could then upload their results to multiple servers for processing. If more local oversight is demanded, at the start of the voting, one of the voting machines could be randomly chosen for auditing and voters at that booth told to also register their vote on separate paper ballots for comparison.

At the end of the day, the PCs would be given to schools, disadvantaged families and so forth. Everybody wins.

And this is just a start. Once we see low cost Android powered tablets, think how sexy touch-screen voting will seem. Android is open-source, right? I'd sooner trust Google to run elections than Diebold anyway.

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Would this all be any harder to manage than what is already done? Would it cost any more? Where in such a scheme could someone possibly fix an election?


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Peter Dearman is a Canadian teaching English and living in Taiwan. He is concerned about the generally high level of bad things happening in the world today, especially on the matters of depleted uranium, repression in Burma, stolen elections, organ (more...)

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