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My Thoughts on the Time Cover Story: "Can This Machine Be Trusted?"

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My thoughts on the Time Cover Story: "Can This Machine Be Trusted?"http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1552054,00.html

The single unsubstantiated sentence "So far, at least, Murphy's Law
has been a bigger problem than fraud," sets the tone for the whole
article. There is no indication the authors have done even minimal
research into how big a problem fraud might be. (Reading Freeman and
Bleifuss' book on 2004 would be a start. And there is anecdotal
evidence from 2002 all over the place, e.g. the logic-defying defeat
of Max Cleland) . The whole point is that computer fraud can be
almost impossible to detect, let alone prove. You have no way of
even knowing that it's happened. So how can you say it's no big problem?

The Time article seems to suggest that critics of computerized voting
are historically ignorant. "Perhaps the biggest fallacy in this
debate is the notion that elections were perfect before Congress
decided to hold them on computers." But that is exactly the
point! Elections were never perfect. The
do-it-to-him-before-he-does-it-to-us mindset goes all the way back to
the early days of the republic. (Read Andrew Gumbel's book, "Steal
This Vote".) Election fraud is as American as apple pie. So when
you throw computer technology (and the ability for one hacker to
affect thousands of votes) into this mix, it is nothing short of toxic.

All this said, I don't see the Time article as a total loss. It did
manage to put on record the fact that a lot of computer scientists
are extremely concerned and that some public officials regard paper
trails as necessary, if only "to build confidence." The general spin
that there's no serious problem out there except for a lot of sore
losers, however, seems willfully ignorant.

Cheers,
Michael

 

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Michael Bein is an interested Canadian (and transplanted Kentuckian) who is still chasing the rat he smelled in November 2004.

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My Thoughts on the Time Cover Story: "Can This Machine Be Trusted?"