I need to correct two mis-impressions about the TrustTheVote Project that were presented to me by couple of election reform advocates.

  1. One advocate is in favor of an election method using paper ballots that are all counted by hand, and all counted by machine — the combination being one where each of the two counts is a check on errors or fraud in the other count; and
  2. The other advocate is essentially against the use of technology to count ballots, because the practice is inherently opaque — that is, it is argued that for non-technical people, open source systems are no more comprehensible or observable than proprietary black box systems.

So, how is it that the TrustTheVote Project is not part of the problem (as they stated it) of counting votes with computers?

There are actually several parts of the answer, so I’ll be spacing them out over a few posts. But for starters, I was struck by the claim that current voting systems are pernicious because they prevent “the public right to know and authenticate results” of elections.

I agree that any purely digital vote-counting method is opaque. But I don’t agree that a voting-counting method is necessarily opaque because it includes digital methods. The choice and methods, of various techniques and technologies, is the choice of local election officials, and each local choice will have varying degrees of transparency — no matter what the TrustTheVote Project produces.

So, where we (the TrustTheVote Project) differ with these advocates is that they, almost by definition on this issue, are seeking to sway the future choices of election officials on how to count votes.   But we on the other hand, are working to give election officials some technology ingredients for their own local recipes — ingredients that enable transparency and the public’s ability to know how an election was conducted.

— EJS

2 responses to Transparency: Machines as Part of the Problem?

  1. Preston L. Bannister

    It does not matter if the “vote-counting method” is opaque.
    It DOES matter if the vote is opaque.

    Once again, I am going to invoke Lampson:
    http://bannister.us/weblog/2007/04/30/more-reliable-voting/

    If the voter can verify their vote, you radically increase the risk for anyone who wants to subvert votes. In the end, it does not matter how votes are counted. It does very much matter if a vote can verify that their vote counted.

    (Yes, of course it matters how votes are counted. The intermediate process can limit risk. But the end-to-end check is primary.)

  2. Valerie Lane

    Thank you for addressing this critical issue of national concern. I look forward to reading your additional comments on this subject. and hope you will clarify the following. In this post you proposed to correct two misimpressions about the Trust The Vote Project.
    However, when you present the concerns raised by election integrity advocates about “the public right to know and authenticate results” of elections you fail to comprehensively address this critical issue. The problem is not about creating and giving “election officials some technology ingredients for their own local recipes — ingredients that enable transparency and the public’s ability to know how an election was conducted”.
    Your enhancement is not addressing the “the public right to know and authenticate results” – the right for all citizen’s …not technical surrogate’s or “trusted officials”, to have meaningful access for observation and opportunity to validate each and every election process for themselves, in real time.
    When the public can not see and validate every election procedure, with the obvious exception of the secret ballot marking, we do not have a truly democratic election process.
    “Transparency” is the lead word in your title and you intend to provide ingredients “that enable transparency and the public’s ability to know how an election was conducted.” Without full, unobliterated transparency and without complete, unobstructed disclosure the public right to know is violated. When we can not see for ourselves and thus assume the personal responsibility to bear witness to each and every step of our elections – our democratic rights are violated.
    You state that “The choice and methods, of various techniques and technologies, is the choice of local election officials, and each local choice will have varying degrees of transparency — no matter what the TrustTheVote Project produces.”
    You seem to be defending your virtue by saying that you are not responsible for the degree of transparency provided by local election officials. The public deserves to have an equitable system of voting that assures complete and unequivocal transparency of the entire voting process for every citizen in every voting jurisdiction. By your own admission this technology does not support a uniform method of complete transparency. Thus it is not possible to uphold your principle of “integrity assurance through open source.”
    While I believe the intentions of those engaged in the Trust The Vote Project are noble, it is unfortunate that these individuals have not yet properly addressed the fundamental issues which are the foundation of this crisis.