Tuesday was the primary election here in California. Luckily, my polling place is litterally two blocks from my house in a neighbor’s garage. On Tuesday morning, as I waited in a line of 3 people at 7am for the wonderful folks who run the polling station to figure out how to turn on the optical scanning machine, I realized what could be the greatest risk to our Democracy.
Technology and electronic voting machines.
If you were to take a survey of the age of the people who volunteer their time to run most of the election polling places in America, the vast majority of them would fall into the category of senior citizen. This, in its own right, is not a bad thing. But, think back to the challenges that most of the senior citizens you know have with setting the clock on their VCRs. And that’s not even taking into account much more recent and sophisticated home electronics like the latest TVs or DVRs.
And yet, once we start rolling out electronic voting machines, these will be the same people who will have to run them. In general, I feel confident in saying that the technology industry as a whole doesn’t have the best track record for making things easy to use. So, even thought I have not ever seen nor worked with any electronic voting machine, I feel that we (the technology industry, voting machine manufacturers, society in general) may be setting up our democracy for a huge failure.
One of the common statements in high tech revolves around describing what you do for a living: “Describe it so that your mother would understand it.” So, on a similar note, our future electronic voting machines need to be designed such that our mothers (and fathers) could not only cast a vote on it, but also set them up and deal with any production issues that may arise.
This is why I think Apple should make a voting machine. The common statement from nearly ever modern day Mac owner is “it just works”. If Apple can do that for something as sophisticated and mutli-purpose as a modern day computer, image what they could do with a single purpose voting machine!
An Apple voting machine combined with an open source voting software would be a stellar combination.
Which brings up an interesting point. Are there any open source voting software solutions? We never hear about this topic in the media. We only hear about which states have decertified which voting machines or which voting machine was recently deemed ‘hackable’.
Interestingly, after a quick search, I came across the Open Voting Consortium (which I had never heard of before). They describe themselves as a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the development, maintenance, and delivery of trustable and open voting systems for use in public elections. The interesting thing to note is that they don’t seem to be developing an open source voting system. Neither does VoteTrustUSA nor their parent organization Verified Voting Foundation.
In the true sense of democracy, we should have our voting systems be completely transparent. So that anyone who was interested could look in and see how it worked, including independent experts.
I’m shocked that there doesn’t appear to be a true open source voting software initiative yet. But then again, I’m sure Apple isn’t working on their own voting machine either. Probably for the same reasons…just not enough money to be made by making either of these two items in the fashion that has our society’s best interests at heart.