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Of Dead Trees and Democracy

by brainpan (Monk)
on Nov 10, 2000 at 16:50 UTC ( #40926=monkdiscuss: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

I want to begin this dialog by saying that I voted "Enough with the US-Centric polls" in the most recent monastery survey. However, all of the ballot (re)counting in Florida has again raised the question, "when will the electoral process in the United States (and elsewhere for that matter) transcend the need for dead trees to be necessary participants in the process?"

I know that one of the main concerns when computers are introduced into this system is preserving the anonymous vote. What thoughts would my fellow monks have about possible ways to keep the vote anonymous and yet guarantee that each registered voter is able to vote once, and only once? Simply controlling the terminals used for voting would seem an obvious, if not flawed solution. Introducing the internet into the equation would take advantage of some of the "advanced" features of integrating computers into this operation while adding a whole new set of privacy / security issues.

I'm sure that there are many facets of this issue aside from security and anonymity that would also need to be considered. What might some of those be? Potential solutions?

And no, I don't own 27 pairs of sweatpants.

Replies are listed 'Best First'.
(jcwren) RE: Of Dead Trees and Democracy
by jcwren (Prior) on Nov 10, 2000 at 18:00 UTC
    Several people I hang out with one of the amateur radio repeaters have mentioned this, also. "Why don't they just computerize the whole damn mess?"

    I'll be highly surprised if we see this in the next 20 years. The MAIN reason that it won't happen is that punching a piece of paper is tangible evidence of having voted. While the system is flawed, and can (and has) been spoofed, it's relatively reliable. A voter holds a piece of paper in his/her/other hands, and knows that they have voted, and it will be seen (except in Florida, where there seems to be lots of stupid people).

    I know that we can all make a case that a computerized system would actually be more reliable, but like a cashless society, I find it highly unlikely anytime soon. It's about emotional security. It's about distrust of computers by a large section of the population (I'm one of them). It's about the cost of deployment. It's about security. It's about reliability (you can still send e-mail and not know if got there or not, and it's been 25 years).

    There's also the issue of poor area voting. Punching paper is something that can be done when the power goes out. Are you risk a some controlling entity deciding to cut power to a large area of a state, as part of a voter terrorism campaign? (backup power systems, you say? At what cost, to whom?) Hell, ol' Jesse Jackson is already screaming discrimination, and all they had to do was punch holes in paper. Low tech has these problems, you think he's gonna trust real tech?

    A better method would be to vote on your tax return, and only if you're a producer. File late? Tough beans. Welfare receipent? Then why should you be allowed to vote? Society is supporting you, you play by our rules (and this includes mandatory non-permanent sterilization for both sexes, while on welfare. I'm not paying for them to have children.) Don't file a tax return? Why should you be allowed to vote?


    e-mail jcwren
      "A better method would be to vote on your tax return, and only if you're a producer."

      It seems to me that the logic of this argument opens the door to the related idea that the more you "produce", the more your vote should be worth. I think that America is overly plutocratic as is...I'd hate to see that tendency increase. All people have a basic and equal right to participate in their own governance. Period.

      "this includes mandatory non-permanent sterilization for both sexes, while on welfare. I'm not paying for them to have children"

      As for forced sterilization (yes, even if temporary), I find that disturbing in the extreme. We all, as taxpayers, pay for things we don't like. I'd rather not pay for corporate tax breaks or anti-missile systems. The proper response for people having children on welfare is to reform welfare and make sure we in no way reward those who choose to continue to have children, not to take away their right to do so. I think that one falls under "pursuit of happiness" ;)

      ~monk d4vis

      Thanks for the reply. Your points are well taken. Having some tangible record of voting would indeed be an enormous benefit of the current system; coincidentally all of the things that make it unwieldy are also functions of it's tangibility :/.

      Overall I would tend to agree with you, however it's worth pointing out that voting on your tax return violates both the anonymous vote (offhand I can't find where that guaranteed), and infringes on the rights of many legally qualified voters as prescribed by Amendment 14, Section 2 of the Constitution: the right of any voter shall not be "... in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime..." etc., etc.. As you say, voting on your tax return would tend to exclude many people. If we're going to start infringing on people's rights to vote, I propose that we start with a basic civics test, mandatory with every ballot cast; anyone scoring below 85% has their votes automatically piped to /dev/null (or /dev/landfill, if we're still using paper ballots).

      And no, I don't own 27 pairs of sweatpants.
        The civics test wouldn't be a bad idea, except now days, I don't that enough people could
        actually pass the test, even if you set the minimum score at 70%. If you don't believe that,
        watch the "Jaywalking" part of the Late Show with Jay Leno. He asks people some very simple
        questions, and they fail horribly. It boils down to the simple fact that a good majority of
        do not care anymore. Please understand that this is merely my opinion, because there are a lot
        of people who do care to do their civic duty, and they try to make an informed and rational decision.

        There can be only one!
        The problem with a civics test is that there were "civics" tests in some areas of the south to keep blacks from voting.
        You'd have to fix the schools before this could even be attempted.
        And yes, some people's lack of knowledge appalls me.
        Anecdote: "That looks like something Jacqueline Kennedy would of worn"
        "Who's she?"
        It devolved from there.
        While I completely agree that all citizens should have a good knowledge of the workings of their government, to be realistic in an age when millions of Americans (and Canadians I'll admit) are functionally illiterate, do they really need to know (Warning: stupid example meant to offend the fewest readers possible, else I would have mentioned gun control) the text of the constitution to know they don't want their neighbours collecting live WWII munitions in their basement?
RE: Of Dead Trees and Democracy
by KM (Priest) on Nov 10, 2000 at 22:55 UTC
    First, the dead tree issue.. just use recycled paper :) Then no more tree will be harmed.

    Personally, I like the paper ballots. I like to see that in fact my vote is recorded on this paper, and *I* see it go into the ballot box. It makes me feel like I have cast my vote. An electronic mechanism to do this for me is something I don't want. Although, I like the booths with the levers. But, I don't want to vote on a kiosk, or via a web page, or any other means where I can't visibly see my vote, and know it is going where it is intended.

    Now, what concerns me more then how we vote, is what we vote for. We don't vote for the predident, we vote for who we think should get a vote from the Electoral College (EC). They then cast the votes for the president. And, they do not need to vote with the popular vote of the state. They can, and have, voted opposite. Some states mandate that the EC vote with the states popular vote, however, the EC has free will and can still vote as they wish. The state could then take legal action, however, the vote stands as cast by the EC. Even more disturbing to me, is that the EC could abstain from voting (just as any of us can). Just the idea that they can do this outrages me (even though I don't know if it has been done, but the potential is there) because if you have 10 million people in a state vote, and the EC decides to abstain, then 10 million votes are nullified and none of them mattered. Personally, I don't think anyone should have this power in a Democracy.

    To summarize, I think the EC is antiquated, and should be disolved. I also believe that the president (just as mayors, governors, etc...) should be elected with the popular vote, by paper ballots.


      Excellent points about the electoral college, et al. Even with all of the disagreement over this election I'm hearing one thing fairly consistently from both sides: the electoral college has outlived it's usefulness. I know that a fair portion of this is just part and parcel of the pseudo-obligitory blame casting game, but I'm hoping that even after one of the upper middle class white guys finally wins / doesn't lose the 'gator wrestling match, securing the the presidency, there will be enough momentum left to invoke a change in the EC process.

      And since I'm feeling particularly ornery, I'm going to point out that technically we do not live in a Democracy. Recite the first five lines of the Pledge of Allegiance with me:

      I pledge allegiance
      to the flag
      of the United States of America
      and to the Democracy
      for which it stands....

      That is the way it goes, right?

      And no, I don't own 27 pairs of sweatpants.
        I'm postings this in here because I can't acctually responed to ybiC's post.

        I've been doing some reading on the American electoral process and American presidents, and I'm going to take a stab at the reasons for the existence of the Electoral College. Now, not being American, I may miss the mark be a lot, but what else is new?

        It seems to me that there was a choice regarding the election of a president. Either by popular vote, or by selection of Congrees. It was decided to do a combination to prevent Congrees from picking "favourites" (notice the 'u' :), and the people from making foolish choices.

        Learning Perl or Going To Die Trying
        "the electoral college has outlived it's usefulness..."

        I've been out of high school too many years, and history never was my best subject.   What   *was*   the original purpose of the Electoral College?
        it's pronounced "why-bick"...

        I goofed and improperly closed some HTML on this node originally.   tilly++ for code to put here that fixed it, but duplicate un-editable node 41054 remained, waiting to be deleted.   vroom++ for quickly fixing results of my blunder.   And before I forget, apologies to brainpan and others for temporarily messing up the thread.

        Post went something like this:

        It's been too many years since high school, and history was never my best subject.   Just what was the original purpose for the Electoral College?

        While the thread was hosed, Adam /msg'd these *highly*informative* links from the Federalist Papers and the EC WebZine.   Adam++

RE: Of Dead Trees and Democracy
by Albannach (Monsignor) on Nov 10, 2000 at 19:29 UTC
    From what I've heard there are a number of US States already using video touch-screens in their polling stations in this election, and some have also experimented with Internet voting (for more local elections I believe). The touch screens apparently preserve "an image" (dunno what exactly that means) of how you voted, but that won't seem sufficiently tangible to most people in cases of a re-count. On the other hand, it has been mentioned that voting among the young (who are usually not very attentive) would likely increase significantly with the addition of high technology ("yea dude, you gotta try the latest rad voting app, it's hellacool!").

    Here in Canada, the current major opposition party is keen to get Internet voting in place so that they can have referenda on any and all issues at a whim without spending hundreds of millions on administration (yea, I bet they'll spend that much on the doomed software contract, but maybe I've been reading comp.risks too much). I'm not so sure we really want all the population voting on all the decisions though.

    Finally (for me, for now ;-) there is the major question of accessibiltiy. I think most monks know enough about systems and hopefully about security to judge whether or not to use a new system themselves, and they would certainly have access, but what about the vast majority of the population who have no clue at all. Even though most now have good access to computers, do we want them using Win95 to cast votes on the Internet? Do they want to vote with their spouse/kids/parents/employers looking over their shoulder (electronically with monitoring software or physically)?

    In summary, there are many other things more seriously wrong today than voting in North America, and I think we can certainly tolerate a slow and steady change in voting technology more easily than a rapid one - the risks of the latter are too great.

    Those of you within range (whatever that may be) might want to catch this Sunday's Undercurrents on CBC TV here in Canada, which promises to look at technology trends in voting. It's usually an interesting show, if not technically deep, and Wendy (the host) is cute.

RE: Of Dead Trees and Democracy
by jeorgen (Pilgrim) on Nov 13, 2000 at 21:21 UTC
    On paper
    Paper is good. It could be used just at the user interface level, and then converted into computer communications in the next step. I suppose this is the way it is used in the US today? In this way you can always trace back to physical data that is taint-resistant ("taint" in the perl sense, not ink spots! :-).

    On the legal manouevres
    If there is a process on how to vote, and if the parties has agreed on the technicalities beforehand, it's not fair play to cry foul afterwards, for tactical reasons. I do not support Bush politically, but in a democracy it is of utmost importance to play by the rules. It's the only thing that sets it apart from non-democracy. A good thing with all the fuss is that the US voting process gets some apparently long-needed attention, regarding spoofing, intimidation, and design, and legal procedures, and electorate-or-not, and...

    On the bipartisan system
    From what I've heard on CNN, it seems that an awful lot of the post-election work, and the pre-election approval is done by the two big parties. That's a bit strange I think.

    On the power of the presidency
    That the president is the big fish in D.C. is a consequence of the cold war. The president steps forward as the leader during war time. Historically AFAIH (As Far As I Heard) the congress has had more power than now. Let it swing back again.


      > Paper is good. It could be used just at the user interface level, and then converted into computer communications in the next step.

      Yes, this is basically what happens now. The paper ballots are filled out, (either by scribbling in a box or punching a hole in the ballot) the votes are tabulated by a machine and then the final tally is forwarded to the appropriate people.

      > it's not fair play to cry foul afterwards

      Did I cry foul? I just said that it had brought up an issue related to counting ballots.

      > I do not support Bush politically, but in a democracy it is of utmost importance to play by the rules

      (1) In any political system it's important to play by the rules. The only real thing that changes from system to system is how much it hurts when you're caught trying to violate them.

      (2) As brought up by me in this node and responded to by extremely over here, the United States is not a democracy, despite the popular notion to the contrary. According to your home node you're not an American, so I'm basically just bringing this up again because I think it's ridiculous how many Americans make it through civics class and don't even recall what basic system of government we have, much less how it's supposed to work.

      (3) Reading this at face value makes this sentence a non sequitur. Reading between the lines enough that it makes sense yields an accusation of Bush trying to cheat somehow. If I'm misinterpreting you please let me know.

      The president steps forward as the leader during war time.

      His leadership is certainly more pronounced in wartime, but he has no more actual power during a war than at any other time. In any urgent situation (declaring war, etc.) the actions of the President are quite likely going to be passed through the Legislative branch for the required approval with very little opposition, but this approval is still required.

      > Historically AFAIH (As Far As I Heard) the congress has had more power than now. Let it swing back again.

      If everything went according to plan, the power of the Federal Government would be divided evenly between the three branches: Executive (the President), Legislative (the House of Representatives and the Senate), and Judicial (the Supreme Court). This three pronged system is intended to provide a system of checks and balances to keep any branch from overstepping it's boundaries. Sadly, this system is somewhat lopsided as of late.

      And no, I don't own 27 pairs of sweatpants.
        brainpan writes:
        Did I cry foul? I just said that it had brought up an issue related to counting ballots.
        I didn't comment specifically on your post. I have to go back and see what you wrote.

        and brainpan wrote:

        Reading between the lines enough that it makes sense yields an accusation of Bush trying to cheat somehow.
        Well, I try to express myself clearly, but unless you mistakenly typed "Bush" for "Gore", it was misunderstood. I am politically active here in Europe as (unpaid, part-time) webmaster of LYMEC where e.g. the British LibDems youth organisation is a member, to give you a frame of reference. What I *think* is that I would favour Gore before Bush politically, but that I think following procedures is more important than him (Gore) winning.

        brainpan writes:

        In any political system it's important to play by the rules. The only real thing that changes from system to system is how much it hurts when you're caught trying to violate them
        Maybe it should be important to play by the rules, but many systems are based on not playing by the rules. This is what Milosevic did, this is what Djukanovic in Montenegro seems to do somewhat according to some statements from local liberals (I'm incidentally from Sweden, which has way too high taxes and a mindset I don't always agree with, but is very stable and uncorrupted). This is what happens in Tanzania, with the occupation of land, although their supreme court is blocking it, and that just shows how tough those court guys are, still fighting to uphold the law (the rules) despite threats from the government. What a country needs is rule of law, especially regarding property and commerce.

        Look at Hong Kong for how far a place could come with just rule of law (and sadly no democracy, until the British made some kind of last-minute attempt to install it before the Chinese take-over). As soon as people realise that they will have to, or with impunity can, break the rules it's going downhill from there. Then you have lost one of the most important tools in the community toolchest, to communicate unambigously and explicitly what rules need to be followed. And these rules can then be criticized and changed in a public debate.

        I'm sure there are rule changes needed in the US election system, but that should be done between elections, not during them.

        If the Democrat people first design the Palm Beach voting paper, and then approve it before the election, they do not have much of a case. The individuals who have filed suit have more of a case, since they can claim that they are the victims of incompetent Democrats and/or snotty election workers. They are as citizens (or I suppose in the US case as registered voters) formally outside of the bipartisan structure. But, you can be registered as a voter with one of the parties? What's that?

        DISCLAIMER: I could have at least as many opinions and criticisms and suggestions on my own country or Europe. I'm no US-basher, on the contrary.

        POST SCRIPTUM: Is there a way we could separate political discussions from the rest of the perlmonks system?

        Update: I just realised that it is me who is pushing it out from technical considerations into a larger question of procedures and legislation, moving it away from programming. It's just my natural instinct :-)


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