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Tuesday, September 28, 2004

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 Reboot the vote

If you are old enough to remember the first Apple Macintosh computer from 1984/5, you probably recall the paper clip trick. Sometimes (okay often) the system would crash and the only way to eject a floppy disk was through the use of a straightened paper clip.

You would think that in 20 years we would have advanced beyond this hack, but apparently not.
Along with more than two dozen eager international election observers, I recently had the pleasure of observing a live demonstration of one of the controversial electronic voting machines that are in place to record and tabulate millions of American votes on election day.

Results, as they say, were mixed.

Approximately five minutes into the audience participation portion of the Election Systems & Software (ES&S) demonstration, the iVotronic machine inexplicably froze; no amount of touch-screen prodding could elicit a response. Not a problem, the ES&S presenter assured bemused observers. All that was required was a system reboot, a bit of technical wizardry that was accomplished with the assistance of a straightened paperclip.

I work in the tech sector. If a vendors can't get a machine or software to work properly during a controlled demo, there is no chance in hell that I will buy their product or hire them. So, what should we expect on election day? Maybe some more of this.

If you are looking for the silver lining, it is in California. Herr Gropenfuhrer signed the voter verified paper trail bill, ensuring that all Californians will have auditable elections by 2006. It requires all electronic voting machines to produce a voter verified paper trail by January 2006, in time for the next statewide election. The law also prohibits the Secretary of State from certifying paperless electronic voting systems after January 1, 2005, and prohibits counties from purchasing such voting systems after January 1, 2006.

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