Will your vote really count? Hanging Chads vs. High Tech

Surely you recall the infamous “hanging chads” of the Bush/Gore election….that’s what Congress was trying to avoid when it voted to switch over to electronic voting machines six years ago. If asked, you could have warned Congress that when it comes to electronics, one should never underestimate the malicious power of troubled teens, evil terrorists, representatives of the esteemed Nigerian Chamber of Commerce, and most dangerous of all perhaps, stealth 85-year-old poll watchers. 

Congress surely could have used some unbiased technical advice from the now defunct Office of Technology Assessment (once their most reliable source of science and technology advice on policy matters). Instead, they are facing this mess (from Scientific American):  “with another presidential election less than three months away, many e-voting systems are fraught with security glitches, and the technology has yet to prove itself as the solution voters were looking for. Such systems could allow voters and poll workers to place multiple votes, crash the systems by loading viruses, and fake vote tallies”

If you were given the opportunity to hear the pros and cons of mandating electronic voting machines and presented a mechanism to share your thoughts with Congress, you probably would have told Congress to think more carefully about their decision to do so. And, at the very least, Congress should have been able to turn to their most trusted source of science and technology policy advice.  

I suspect, between the OTA and us, we would have simply suggested a ban on silly people from entering  voting booths rather than a complete overhaul of a system that appeared to work well for 99% of the country. But alas, the OTA was closed 14 years ago. Hence, the mess. The list of “reasons we need the OTA” continues to grow. As does the justification for including public input in major sci/tech policy discussions.

We weren’t asked about our opinions six years ago when Congress opted for the electronic machines but boy do folks need our help now. Help wanted: Election Day techies to monitor e-voting mess.

Transparency, democracy, basic civic rights and common sense….all reasons Congress should reopen the Office of Technology Assessment and mandate mechanisms for public participation.  Check out this  petition to reopen the OTA with citizen participation. 

Here’s hoping the electronic voting machines are both fool-proof and immune to those senior citizen hacker/poll watchers.  (I’m on to you, Agnes!)

Cheers!