Transparency: Machines as Part of the Problem?

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.