Sunday, January 6, 2008

Anything is art if it's framed well

This weekend I read an article by Clive Thompson in the NY Times Magazine about the reliability of electronic voting machines. Now that we're in the midst of another exciting (yawn) election year I guess it's a timely subject for the august newspaper that mostly serves the interests of the elite among us. I'm not one of them but luckily for me I do have a browser and some interest in the outcome of who will be #44.

The article is interesting enough but what really caught our attention was in how the issue was framed. He mentions computer errors not once but several times including the extraordinary remark: 'computers do not merely produce errors; they produce errors of unforseeable magnitude'. That isn't our normal experience as anyone who uses an ATM on a regular basis will attest. Can you imagine going to the machine for your $40. quick cash withdrawal and getting either $100. or nothing and saying 'Oh well, it's just another silly computer mistake - you win it or lose it - never mind'. No, you'd be on the phone to the bank in a flash. Computers run the stock market, advanced medical equipment, space exploration equipment, nuclear power plants, household items and your car. Flaws are not acceptable.

He also mentions that voting systems have always been subject to outside manipulation like ballot box stuffing which is true but was never so widespread and dangerous a practice as mandating electronic machines through the Help America Vote Act and then allowing private industry to develope and keep the programming of them secret. No open source code that can be validated by computer scientists at all. So, if they ever do feel like manipulating the national vote tally how would anyone know?

Someone he conveniently forgot to mention was Bev Harris at Black Box Voting who started investigating vote irregularities in 2000 and alerted computer professionals and activists nationwide. The term Mr. Thompson used is 'disgruntled citizens and scared senseless computer geeks'.

Another subject left out of the article was the practice of vote caging. Essentially, this is a trick used to deny large blocks of voters access to registration and is better explained by Greg Palast of the BBC.

Anyway, the article is there if you feel like reading it but my point here is that articles of this type allow those who feel superior to continue doing so. They have been informed by what they consider to be the most sophisticated news organization in the country so nothing the rest of us can say has any relevance to them. The issue has been framed and served on a silver platter and nothing needs to be added.

I did hear one funny thing about Huckabee when he was interviewed by Jay Leno the other night and asked why he thought he beat Mitt Romney in Ohio. He answered 'I guess they preferred to vote for someone like a guy they work with rather than the guy who laid them off'.

Okay, need more tea now. Back later.


Gary said...

We still vote the old-fashioned way in Canada (local, provincial and federal). On a piece of paper dropped into a box. Somehow the results are tabulated that night every time. Even if it took longer, that's better than relying on faulty technology (and faulty electioneers).

Hey, Huckabee is pretty witty, isn't he?

lindsaylobe said...

Hi Susan

I remember in the early days of automation, when the idea of computer error became an excuse for systemic failures and errors by those attempting to avoid responsibility.

Basically our voting system is similar to Canada. We have scrutineers present at all polling booths during elections. Voters names are ruled off from Electoral Roles and you are handed a slip with how to vote material. The election Roles are maintained independently by the government funded Electoral Commission.
If the results for any candidates rely on just a few votes’ difference, a recount can be ordered by the Electoral Commission, to ensure consistant counting and interpeting of carelessly completed slips.

All voting is compulsory and a heavy fine is levied against any individual who fails to vote. The Electoral Commission mantains accurate records for all citizens and there are penalties involved if you fail to notiify any change of address.

It’s interesting to reflect on the fact it seems that one of the unintended consequences of optional voting is the inherent difficulty of maintaining integrity of the data base of registered eligible voters.

I understand Huckabee is a fundamentalist who rejects evolution etc?
Best wishes

fairlane said...

Just who we need as President, another douche bag to have a beer with at the local dive.

Average Joe has a place, and it's not in the White House.

Luckily I live in Louisville, we just got electricity a few years ago. Computerized voting machines are centuries away.

Seraphine said...

If somebody has the will and the power to nudge the ballot process, whether paper or electronic, they will find a way. Our best defense is the vigilance of the ordinary citizenry, which is why I prefer the paper ballot. Realistically, though, more people are voting absentee, so our current system of checks is changing rapidly.

susan said...

Just about everybody I talk to agrees the the electoral system in this country is completely screwed up.. caucuses, primaries, electoral college. What is all this stuff? and it all drags on for ages after which you find the same jerks still in charge.

Gary and Lindsay - Having spent half my life in Canada and being native born English I have to agree the parliamentary system is better. I've explained the process to a number of Americans who are always boggled by the clarity and simplicity of the process. Now G, go back to the beach! Lindsay, mandatory voting is a wonderful idea. It's anything but that here.

fairlane, I absolutely refuse to take any of the Republican candidates seriously but I was doing the same thing when Reagan won. Geez.. never underestimate the stupidity of the US voter. btw: welcome back and I hope all is okay now.

Hi Sera, Of the state voting systems OR has a good one. All registered voters get a ballot in the mail and are free to send them in over a 2 week period where they're optical scanned and the originals are saved in case a recount is required. Takes a lot of the pressure off. What sense is it that everybody has to go voting on a Tuesday in November? If you have a party on Tuesday nobody will come because nobody wants to go out on Tuesday. (An unattributed quote cause I can't remember who said it)