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crypto and public policy

Chads of Electronic Voting

Filed under: General — September 23, 2003 @ 11:45 am

A while ago, I worked on secure, scalable internet voting. It was nice in theory, and we explored some very interesting concepts. In the end, we concluded that, while the technology is interesting, the social and practical constraints make wide-scale secure internet voting completely infeasible.

Now it seems that even non-internet, electronic voting is a bad idea. That should come as no surprise: if we’re not competent enough to operate a tried-and-true paper ballot system, how can we expect to run one electronically? Not to mention that, while most people understand the mechanism of a paper ballot, the electronic touch-screen systems are effectively hocus-pocus to 90% of the population.

Scary stuff. It’s one thing when people disagree on policy or constitutional interpretation and duke it out. It’s a whole different thing when voting is no longer controlled by the people. The very foundation of our democracy is at stake. Unfortunately, this will probably get swept under the rug as “yet another failure of bad engineering, hah hah, those computer geeks are so funny” while the courts continue to mandate “better technology” in a desperate effort to prevent a Florida 2000 deja vu.

Technology is “better” only if operated by competent, trustworthy people. Trustworthiness exists only if there’s enough popular oversight. Thus, advanced technology is simply *not* better if the ratio of competent overseers to users is too low. Technology for technology’s sake can make things worse. Where the democratic process is concerned, we have a duty to strongly question any new technology, from underlying code to usability. Democracy is the ultimate production environment: keep the beta code away, please.

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