Efficiency Isn’t Always Good

by on November 9, 2006 · 2 comments

Techdirt points out an especially serious example of e-voting gone wrong:

In one of the stories we spotted yesterday about e-voting glitches, it was amusing to see (at the very, very bottom) the idea that “no major problems” were reported for e-voting in Florida. Florida and Ohio, of course, are the two places where e-voting stories have raised the most questions, and there had already been a number of reports of e-voting problems in Florida voting last week when their early polls opened. So, it looks like ABC may need to revise that “no major problems” report, as the EFF points us to a report saying that 13% of the electronic responses in Sarasota County included no vote for Congressional Representative. That means that somewhere between 8,000 to 10,000 people who voted for other things, like governor, appear to have not voted for House Representative–and no one seems to have a good explanation. It’s certainly possible that all those people decided to go “none of the above,” but it seems unlikely–especially since similar undervoting was not seen in other counties covered by the same Congressional district. Also, there were complaints all day about the e-voting machines not properly recording votes in that county. So, while people are asking for a recount… there’s nothing to recount since the machines did not record the votes. Amusingly, the EFF also notes that the very same county had a referendum on the ballot about the e-voting machines, and the people overwhelmingly voted to scrap the machines and bring back paper ballots. So what was it the press was just saying about no major glitches with e-voting?

One of the things that makes computers incredibly useful is that automate routine tasks so they can be done without human supervision. That’s fantastic for most tasks, but it’s a disaster when the task at hand is recording votes, because it means that if there’s a programming bug, it will do things the same wrong way with each and every voter. And because the counting process is totally opaque, no one notices until it’s too late.

E-voting machines may streamline the voting process, but that’s actually not a benefit at all. A slow, labor-intensive voting process means there will be more human eyes around to spot mistakes early enough that they can be corrected. But because we delegated the process to a computer, there were no human beings in a position to notice the problem.

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