If you don’t know Ars Technica, it’s a site of really good commentary on technical issues for computers of all kinds.Â These people know their stuff in a serious way.Â And they’ve got nothing but gloom to report with regards to the machinery of the 2006 elections, especially in “battleground” states.
Primary and early e-voting problems point to gathering storm
No business in America would put someone with no computer expertise in charge of a multimillion dollar information technology (IT) purchase. However, this is precisely what we’ve done with our election officials. Good, well-meaning but technically naive bureaucrats all over the country have been sold huge, complex, untested computer systems that masquerade as simple “voting machines.” These officials have been put in charge of a massive IT procurement project, and they simply are not qualified.From what I understand, a typical scenario goes something like this: a vendor representative comes in with a demo unit that looks nice and has enough functionality to make it through a closed-door demonstration in front of a technically illiterate audience of county and state election officials, who’re wowed by high-tech glitz. In support of the purchase, the vendor produces “test results” and “evaluations” from so-called testing companies that are on the vendor’s payroll (see Lou Dobbs’ recent reporting on this issue).
What the county officials don’t know is that the individual voting machines are basically alpha test units (these officials probably don’t even know what an “alpha test” or “beta test” is), and these machines don’t really fit together into anything like a fully functional election system. Furthermore, the election officials have no clue how to evaluate a large IT purchase (again, they think they’re buying “voting machines” and not networked computers); and they don’t have a paid or volunteer staff with enough technical know-how to handle a large-scale IT deployment. What they do have, in the vast majority of cases, is a volunteer army of dedicated but untrained senior citizens, who’re given the impossible task of doing support and maintenance for machines that are fragile, finicky, and insecure.
This is what most of us face on November 7th, as we head to the polls in one of the most important mid-term elections in living memory. The stakes have never been higher, and the machinery of democracy has never been in such a state of broken-down chaos.