High-tech voting needs transparency

Enlisting technology creates a whole new set of problems in the election process.

With touch screens, there are no hanging chads, but there is typically no paper trail either. There are glitches, unusual crashes and security loopholes. Then there are “conflict of interest” relationships between the electronic machine manufacturers and the Republican Party.

How can such problems exist in a country that prides itself on cutting-edge technology?

Let’s look at Australia, which used electronic voting in 2001. A private company, Software Improvement, designed the system code based on specifications by independent election officials. The software code was then posted so everyone could see it — making it a truly “open” source.

In open source software, everyone from an “alley hacker” to an expert can take a look and point out what the security loopholes are. Then they get fixed or “debugged” and the code becomes more robust and not easily hacked. The code is then verified and validated by an independent company, and the machines are then tested. Every step of the process is transparent.

Why couldn’t this happen here?

Well, in the land of the free, software codes used by e-voting companies are proprietary. They are kept secret by a contract between the private company (like Diebold or ES&S) and the government, which is the client. Examining the software code would require a court order.

If anything, Election 2004 should be a wake-up call. We must demand accountability and transparency at every step. Elections must be decided by the people, not by flawed programs with “mystery” glitches.

Shelley Delos, a media activist and IT specialist, can be reached at pww@pww.org.