Category Archives: politics

Rummy dream

rummy.jpgI just woke up from a dream that I was at a big, formal party which was supposed to be at a fancy restaurant/hotel on the 8th floor of the Prudential Center in Boston, but the building looked nothing like it. Donald Rumsfeld was there, and he was only about 4 feet tall– he was tiny. I thought, “He looks so tall on TV– this is really hysterical! This totally explains the Napoleanoic stuff.” He was making a big stink because the bar at the event didn’t have the scotch he likes. He stormed out, and came back later with two glasses of his scotch. I passed him in the hall and walking around the party a couple of times. The first time I couldn’t help but smirk because he was so short. The next time, he shot me a dirty look because I was smirking again, though I would have sworn he was actually getting smaller: more like half my height.

voting machines: a primer

I’m posting some background information on the whole issue of electronic voting machines. While this issue has gotten some space in the press, it seems paltry compared to how big an issue this could turn out to be. They’re devoting the usual amount to the presidential campaign. But how can the campaign itself matter, if we can’t find out who really won the election? Or worse, that the election results were tampered with, and we would have no way of knowing?

Now, my out look is generally technophilic, but the blind assumption that a high-tech solution is always an improvement over a low-tech solution is wrong as often as any other kind of blind assumption. This voting machine fiasco seems to me to be a real potential problem for our fair Republic, and since it’s not getting reported as much as I think it should, I’m putting this little primer together, so that at least my family and friends will get up to speed and hopefully help raise some hell about the issue.

So what’s the problem? This TechTV/ABC News story gives a great overview. The machines aren’t secure, they can’t be audited (which is actually a bigger issue than the insecurity, since really, no system, not even paper, is free from the possibility of tampering), and while not necessarily damning, but certainly unsettling, the CEO of Diebold (a major voting machine manufacturer), said in a fund-raising letter to Ohio Republicans that he is “committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year.” (More on that story here; originally published in the Cleveland Plain Dealer).

This Robert X. Cringely column examines the problem from an Information Technology angle. That shouldn’t put you off if you’re not in the IT world, because he’s also a good writer, and an IT skeptic, as evidenced here:

Voting is nothing more than gathering and validating data on a huge scale, which these days is almost entirely the province of IT. And like many other really big IT projects, this touch screen voting thing came about as a knee-jerk reaction to some earlier problem, in this case the 2000 Florida election with its hanging chads and controversial outcome. Punch card voting was too unreliable, it was decided, so we needed something more complex and expensive because the response to any IT problem is to spend more money making things more complex.

Cringely’s next column (“Follow the Money: Why the Best Voting Technology May Be No Technology At All“) aims at some solutions.

This opinion piece in the Miami Herald gives some insight into the technical problems with Diebold voting machines, from Avi Rubin, a Johns Hopkins Professor. Rubin also co-authored this paper which is more technical (but really seems to be the first thing to raise the issue), and wrote up this anecdote of being a judge at a Maryland voting station.

I’ll post more on this as events warrant.