November 10th, 2004

wtf, double u tee eff

Another coincidence...?

"I believe in coincidence. Coincidences happen every day. But I don't trust coincidences."
-Garak to Dr. Bashir, DS9

The election mishaps and errors that are coming to light are distressing. To think that our democratic elections may have been manipulated, even by error, is disconcerting. Of course, there are system glitches—anyone who works with technology knows this. That's why you plan for them and expect them. You program for them, you trap errors, you spend countless hours on security. When you're talking about something important, say like a financial statement, something that goes to auditors, or reports that go to your CEO, you put in safeguard after safeguard after safeguard. Point of sale systems are meticulously QA'ed so sales aren't lost and to prevent cards from being overcharged. In the worst of cases where failsafes can't correct the problem, you halt for administrator intervention to prevent corruption of data and log everything so that the problem can be traced. You know that you can expect but can't always depend on a machine to add 1+1 and come up with 2. Failing memory cards, bad power, an overheated CPU all can cause electronic systems to behave unpredictably. Unnoticed problems and mistakes cost money—lots of money, even your job. You want lots of checks and balances on important systems. At the end of the day, you at least have to be able to say you did everything you could to have anticipated for common problems. So...

This is our electoral process. I have to ask: Where are the safeguards? Where are the checksums? For God's sake, where are the audit logs? Conspicuously never written into the software? On Wall Street, financial systems have to record everything—every transaction, every ounce of minutia. Everything is logged, right down to their IM conversations. They're required to by law. We're not required to, but our web servers record every detail of every visit. If needed, we can reconstruct everything a given user did on a given visit and reconstruct his visit from when he arrived at our site until when he left or closed his browser. It's tedious, but we can do it. So when problems occur or complaints arise, we can back track and find out exactly what happened. For this reason, when equipment fails or programs crash, we may lose time, but we won't ultimately lose orders. And the results of our web traffic can hardly shape the direction of the citizens of our country. So tell me again, why did Diebold, a company that builds ATMs and understands this better than anyone, build an unauditable election system?

if these were all mere random mistakes, glitches, and errors, which they could in theory be, then probability theory applies and tells us that all sides should have an equal number of glitches, mistakes, and errors. The errors, while distressing and unacceptable, should wash—or at least come closer to it. But so far they don't—not even close. Of course, this could be explained by coincidence, but I agree with the Cardassian: I don't trust coincidences.

A fair electoral process is the bedrock of our system of government. Without it, we stand for nothing because we become the very thing we so love to ridicule. So how was this allowed to have happened? How were these glaring conflicts of interest overlooked? Know that this isn't about this past election, the "errors" likely won't make a difference one way or the other. But this is about our future.

"Those who vote decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything." -Joseph Stalin

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