Thurman Speaks Again About Continuing To Move Slow with Voting Systems

I wrote about voting systems on 13 November 2005 and sent that writing to the Arizona Republic. The Republic opted not to print/post that letter. I've found it necessary to write again about voting systems after reading the Arizona Republic on 6 January 2006.

On 6 January 2006, the Arizona Republic had a story titled: "Activists upstage Jan Brewer at re-election announcement."

I was happy to see the Republic used the word "activists" because Brewer categorized the activists as "anarchists." I don't know who these "activists" are, but I do know some computer professionals thank them for their efforts. The Republic article quoted activist Mike Shelby saying "this is a civic issue" and some computer professionals believe Shelby is 100% correct.

Some computer professionals wear t-shirts that say "question technology." Does that make us anarchists? Some computer professionals know e-voting will be a non-issue in one-sided elections, but that close elections could result in anarchy. Does that make us "conspiracy theorists?" I answer both of my questions: Computer professionals who care about social responsibility are not anarchists, nor are we conspiracy theorists.

The Republic quoted Brewer saying, "I have instituted procedures and rules and security measures that in effect, if followed, will not allow any miscounting of votes. I have all the confidence in the world that there will be no problems in 2006."

Brewer's use of the phrase "if followed" provides her with an escape hatch if problems occur. How nice for her. She will always be able to say she said "if followed." Some computer professionals are not allowed to use phrases like "if followed."

Brewer says "there will be no problems." The word "no" implies zero. Brewer is telling us there will be zero problems. In a non-close election this is a moot point, but with a close election, Brewer must be 100% correct when she says "there will be no problems."

Brewer says her procedures "will not allow any miscounting of votes." The phrase "will not allow any" implies zero. Not one, not two, not three or more... zero. In a non-close election this is a moot point, but what if it is a close election? Brewer is telling us they have tested every 'what if' scenario. Some computer professionals would claim this feat nearly impossible (especially if any closed systems are used).

Brewer is confident there will be zero problems because she has "instituted procedures and rules and security measures." Some computer professionals would question the "security measures" particularly if certain "closed systems" comprise one or more components of the computing system.

Brewer is claiming her system has zero defects. Some computer professionals hope there are zero close elections because we know how difficult (some claim it is impossible) to have a computing system with zero defects. Brewer may get lucky, but if she doesn't, then what for the state of Arizona? A close election that experiences computing defects could result in anarchy.

The remainder of this document is the first letter I wrote on 13 November 2005 about voting systems.

I sent this document to the following recipients on Sunday, 13 November 2005, at around 6:30am.


	Reply to Jan Brewer (Saturday, 2005.11.12)
	"Voting lawsuit is an insult"

At the most recent annual meeting of the CPSR (Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility), we pondered what should be our primary issue of focus. Many were considered: Internet governance, RFID usage, cyberterrorism, privacy and civil liberties, women in computing, broadband deployment, voting systems, etc.

The CPSR was started by a group of computer researchers at Xerox PARC to "help them integrate their work life with their social concerns." In 1981, Severo Ornstein created an "electronic discussion group on the Xerox internal electronic mail network concerned with the threat of nuclear war."

Severo Ornstein was at the 2005 meeting of the CPSR and he was adamant that "voting systems" needed to be our number one priority. In a nutshell, Severo knows that when it comes to voting systems, just one defect ("bug") is one defect ("bug") too many.

I don't know what technology gurus Ms. Brewer seeks her techno-advice, but if her consultants don't include people such as Bruce Schneier or Peter Neumann or Severo Ornstein (and others), then caution needs to be practiced when it comes to deploying voting systems built using early 21st century technologies.

Voting systems in 2005 are probably "just good enough" in one-sided elections (we get lucky), but they are probably "just bad enough" in close elections. In other words, in a close election, Ms. Brewer and the state of Arizona will have wished they hadn't been so easily insulted.

Creator: Gerald D. Thurman [gthurman@gmail.com]
Created: 13 November 2005
+ switched an erroneous 2006 to 2005