By Martin Bosworth
In response to my criticism of a policy paper decrying paper audit trails for electronic voting, report author Daniel Castro claimed that I wasn’t addressing all the tenets of his argument and wanted me to take a closer look at his work (the paper can be found here). I’ll answer each of his comments in turn:
1. Paper audit trails have many limitations, which many discussions of paper audit trails do not consider.
My argument isn’t that paper auditing is perfect and flawless. Far from it. No system is perfect, and every technology is going to have the capacity for error and malfunction. No, my argument is that your policy paper espouses the idea of an “all or nothing” approach to vote auditing systems, where everything has to be electronic and supporters of paper-based auditing are “technophobes” (Your words, not mine), while glossing over the many substantial problems and dysfunctions found in current electronic voting technology. The fact that we’re still talking about paper audit trails and paper balloting in 2007 is a criminal indictment of how badly the electronic voting industry has failed to provide accurate, secure electronic systems, far beyond any reasonable expectation of error. This Techdirt article is a good summation of my point–instead of complaining about how long it takes to count paper ballots, we should be asking why these companies can’t create reliable, usable, and accurate machines.
2. We state in the paper that we want Congress to require that all e-voting machines have durable, independent, verifiable audit trails, but we should not mandate that these audit trails be paper. Many other (and arguably better) options exist, such as audio audit trails or video audit trails. Many of these other audit trail technologies work better for people with disabilities.
I don’t have an argument with this at all, as disabled-rights organizations have a legitimate beef over the fact that many old-fashioned paper-based systems can be difficult to use. Disenfranchisement of disabled voters due to inaccessible systems or processes is a serious problem that electronic voting or combinations of electronic and paper voting can address. But imagine if we tried to create a voting technology that was capable of ministering to the needs of every different type of disability, from the blind to the deaf to the paraplegic. Your think tank’s employers would scream bloody murder even more than they do over letting independent auditors look at their code. As it stands, many existing electronic-voting technologies are cumbersome to use for both the disabled AND regularly abled to use, which leads right back to the initial problem of voter disenfranchisement.
Why can we not use multiple forms of voter-verifiable and third-party verifiable technologies? Why can’t it be paper-based, audio-based, AND video-based? The more, the merrier, I say. Our democracy can only be better served by utilizing as many avenues for verifiable, accurate voting as possible.
3. Finally, what we really want is for better voting technology that allows â€œend-to-end verifiabilityâ€ or â€œuniversal verifiability.â€ This is the cryptography that we discuss in the latter part of the report, in systems such as VoteHere and Scratch & Vote (not mentioned in the paper, but also an option is Punchscan). We say that this is the goal we should be working towards â€” fully verifiable voting systems where a voter can verify that his or her ballot has been counted in the final vote tally BUT cannot prove to another voter how he or she voted. If you do not understand how this could work, then read the paper. We explain the cryptography behind it â€” and if our explanation does not convince you, then we provide references back to the academic papers that first proposed these ideas.
Again, I did read the paper and I actually like how these technologies work, but that’s not the point I am making. I am completely in favor of adopting the state of the art in electronic voting technology on every level–but that, again, is not the point I am making. My point is embodied in statements of yours such as the following:
The success of these groups reflects the high degree of polarization and distrust in politics, as well as the
emotional investment many people have in elections. Many opponents of electronic voting machines are
motivated by a distrust of technology, anger at election results, and conspiracy theories about voting companies.
You’re not going to win a lot of converts to your position by calling the opposition kooks and nuts, Daniel. You should know better. And any participant in a democracy should have an emotional investment in elections–it’s the cornerstone of what makes a democracy work. What is my point? Well, you actually make it for me a few paragraphs later:
In areas from online banking, to health information technology, to aviation, Americans trust computers every day with their lives and livelihood, not because computers are infallible, but because the benefits of technology significantly outweigh the risks.
What do all of these areas have in common? They can all combine modern and old-fashioned technology to provide the best of both worlds. I can bank online and get a paper printout of my bank balance. I can set up a doctor’s appointment online and he can keep a paper record of it in his office, while I print out a record of the transaction. Even in aviation–I can fly on a plane with a printed copy of my ticket that I bought and reserved online. This was the point I was making in my original post–that these systems work because of multiple avenues of verification. They all happen to be paper in this case–they don’t have to be, but the fact that they are is quite telling.
In sum, you haven’t really addressed any of the points I’ve made either–that your think tank’s support of a “no paper” position is mostly due to your being supported by tech industry heavyweights, that you do opponents of pure e-voting a disservice by insulting them, and that there doesn’t have to be an “all or nothing” stance in this issue. Our democracy demands safe, accurate, and reliable voting systems. They don’t have to be fast, but they DO have to get the job done and done right. Accuracy IS more important than convenience in this regard, and security–not to mention best practices–have to be endemic to the process.