World on Fire

Voting + secretive software * no paper trail = distrust

If you’ve been reading the news, you’ve no doubt heard about the many problems with voting machines — and the conspiracy theories that abound about them. Observers have noted that in Florida, counties that used optical-scanning counters registered landslide-class Republican wins, despite the fact that polling data indicated both parties were in a dead heat. The Democrats have even started raising hell about it. The press isn’t writing a whole lot about it, probably because, sadly, I think they’re worried about seeming like left-wing flakes.

The thing is, one needn’t be a Democrat to be worried about whether electronic voting machines screwed things up (though it probably helps). No, the problem is that America’s electronic voting machines were doomed to create this level of distrust. It’s in their architecture.

After all, with no paper trail, there’s no way to prove how people really voted. Thus there is no way for the Republicans to definitively shut the Democrats up about this. Just as problematically, there’s no reason for the Democrats to trust the results. And, worse, the software on these machines is closed-source — and the companies who make it will not allow anyone who so desires to scrutinize the code for insecurities. These companies simply ask that people “trust them”.

The lesson? Secrecy doesn’t work. The culture of corporate silence around these black boxes is bound to produce paranoid fears in those who lose the election. Until they’re open and transparent, it will be impossible for losers to have faith in the electoral system.

(Thanks to Jason and Rachel for this one!)

blog comments powered by Disqus

Search This Site


I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

More of Me


Recent Comments

Collision Detection: A Blog by Clive Thompson