Brave New Ballot

by on October 24, 2006 · 2 comments

I’ve finished reading Brave New Ballot, Avi Rubin‘s new book on the hazards of e-voting. Brave New Ballot is something of an oddity; it’s virtually a tech policy tell-all. It provides a personal, in-depth look at his crusade against paperless, unverifyable voting from July 2003, when he and his grad students started work on their famous report detailing the flaws in Diebold’s source code, to November 2004, the first presidential election since the widespread adoption of e-voting. We get to meet his allies in the e-voting fight, his opponents in the computer security community and among state officials, and a variety of other figures who shaped the e-voting debate during 2003 and 2004.

The most depressing thing I learned from the book is that Diebold’s response to the Felten paper was part of a pattern. When Rubin described security vulnerabilities in their products, Diebold could have taken the opportunity deployed smoke and mirrors to discredit the study, just as they did with Felten’s study last month.

Even more disturbing was that many state election officials, especially those in Georgia and Maryland, reacted the same way. They could easily have taken the paper’s criticisms back to Diebold and demanded immediate actions to address the flaws Rubin identified. Instead, at least as Rubin tells it, they were some of Rubin’s most dogged critics.

Rubin’s book is delightfully readable. I read it cover to cover over the weekend. It’s structured as a personal narrative, but Rubin does a good job of weaving in the technical and theoretical arguments against paperless voting along the way.

In addition to being a good introduction to the e-voting issue, I think it’s also worthwhile reading for aspiring geek activists in general: Rubin describes himself as relatively apolitical prior to his involvement in the e-voting issue, and he offers some insights on striking a balance between being an activist and being an independent, objective expert. He discusses the mini-scandal that erupted when it was revealed that he was on the advisory board of one of Diebold’s “competitors.” Rubin says (and I believe him) that the connection was tangential and the company wasn’t really a Diebold competitor. But that didn’t stop his critics from bringing the issue up any time they needed a convenient way to discredit him.

All in all, it’s well worth the read. I encourage you to grab a copy.

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