Sunday, August 5, 2007

Congress is from Venus; Californians are from Mars*

* Note: Any references in this piece to planetary bodies or their names are intended to be gender-neutral.

I don't know if anyone else has noticed this, but as I read the documents from the top to bottom review and decertification of e-voting systems by California Secretary of State Debra Bowen and her team, I'm stunned by the contrast between these documents and what passes for election integrity legislation in the US Congress. Venus and Mars have more in common than these proposed laws and regulations do; but one thing's clear: not un
like Venus, Congress is full of hot air!

Consider that on Venus (where Congress resides), even the most basic voting system security precautions such as keeping election management systems (EMSs -- the computers that program ALL the voting machines and ballot scanners in a jurisdiction) off the Internet and the public switched telephone network, have not been included in legislation (such as H.R.811), while on Mars, Bowen and her team have mandated the use of no less than three isolated EMS computers to perform ballot definition programming, central tabulation and reformatting of memory cards -- with nothing but "air gaps" between them (and presumably without wireless transceivers that might be used to bridge those gaps).

Unlike the babbling on Venus, the Martian language is crystal clear too. There is no reason to have to ask a court, a Congressional committee, or a team of Martian lawyers and expert witnesses to interpret it months after an election has been held. This is inevitable on Venus though where the language in the Congressional legislation is barely readable -- even by native Venusians.

There's even an extensive DRE (touchscreen voting machine) ban on Mars, and all the Voter-Verified Paper Audit Records created by the banned Martian DREs have to be hand counted! A portion of the other Martian ballots will have to be hand-counted too, using a risk-based approach and an adjustable sample model with a desired confidence level (e.g., 99%) that the winner of each election has been called correctly. Statisticians and auditors on both planets have been advocating this for years!

But on Venus, Congress is saying that no more than 10% of the paper ballots have to be hand counted, no matter how close an election appears to be. Imagine that! The Venusian Congress is supposed to judge the elections of its members, yet it's the Martians who want to be confident that the winner of each election is called correctly!

Finally, on Venus, those who have proposed a compromise of limiting the purchase and deployment of DREs to the numbers necessary to meet Help Venus Vote Act (HVVA) Accessibility requirements for disabled voters, were actually accused of "ghettoizing" such voters! Yet on Mars, this is exactly what Bowen has decided to do to ensure election integrity.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, I've been thinking of changing the name of this blog to "Election Integrity: Science Fiction", but maybe there's still time for Congress to get their Act together on this issue. After all, some of their key members just happen to be from Mars, uh I mean California.

Let's not forget to thank Debra Bowen and her team for all their great work!

1 comment:

nancy said...

I decided not to take offense at your assigning Venus to Congress, even while the original title with this analogy equates Venus with the female and Mars with the male. I decided that it is appropriate that California's female Secretary of State be likened to Mars the warrior, having felt a bit of a democracy warrior myself the past few years, and thus decidedly un-Venus-like.

My experience with Congress on this issue similarly had me thinking they are definitely not living on the planet Earth, but more that they are in Alice's Wonderland. That lovely place where the Queen rules by lobbing easy "off with their heads" cannonballs, and mad hatters hold teas filled with nonsensical conversation.

And, the theory that Wonderland's creator was heavy into drugs plays nicely into the Congressional Wonderland analogy as well.

But the reality is, our Amazon Warrior from California reminds me a bit of Wonder Woman. Which leads me to my oped on same. With a shameless plug, I refer your readers to it:
"Voting Integrity Advocates and the Magic Lasso of Truth."

I refer to this because although I think you are on the right track about this otherworldly Congress, I also think you need to whack aside a little more brush to clear the path wide open.

Specifically, we need to take a big old machete to the technoelection brambles in your election integrity path. Hack off the "opportunity to verify" myth, for instance, because an opportunity to verify machine markings has nothing at all to do with the RIGHT TO VOTE.

It's an obstacle on our path to election integrity.

And hack off the audit schmaudit trail. Because post-election audits to see if computers have functioned as we like have little to do with getting it right on election night. (Notice I don't say "function as designed" because in the case of our elections more often than not we don't actually WANT them to function as designed, since they are designed by criminals, after all.)

So the Martian democracy warriors of California have done us all a great service by decertifying ALL the technoelection crap, including opscam machines, but they fell shy of the next real step to creating democratic elections.

Which is, of course, the self-authenticating, simultaneously self-auditing, checked and balanced, advanced system of democratic voting: the time honored, fully observable, hand marked, hand counted, paper ballot election.

Maybe the Venusians, Wonderlanders, criminals, whatever and whoever they are in Congress, need to stop drinking the water in DC. But until they emerge from whatever induced fantasyland they are living in, we can thank Debra Bowen, warrior for democracy, for opening the floodgates through which the rest of us can now charge through.

The last vestiges of the technoelection smokescreens are beginning to be blown away.

And if you're not sure what I'm talking about, just ask your friendly local offical and congressional rep this one, single question:

"Do you support secret vote counting in the United States of America?"

If they don't, and if you don't, then please justify technoelections.