RONNIE DUGGER Programmer P.J. Lyon same two years, were the beginning of the the current period in the history of computerized democracy, which so far has been characterized by the turmoil in the leading company, a choked-back, but penetrating unease about vote-counting security, some rancor and name-calling, and several fresh undertakings of reform. Burnham said mournfully that his work “fell like a goddam rock,” and it is true that follow-ups in the rest of the press were rare, but some critics about computerized vote-tallying who had been relatively isolated in their own communities were emboldened to slog forward. In 1986 in Boston and last October in Dallas at the Doubletree Inn during a two-day conference, some of the skeptics taught each other what, refracted glint by richocheted conjecture, they had been learning in their home precincts. Because of Burnham’s work the Markie Foundation, according to the relevant program officer, transformed its original interest in the futuristic technologies of computerized voting into funding for the new study on the integrity of computertabulated elections by Roy Saltman; a conference on Captiva Island off Florida in 1987 on the security of such elections; and currently used computerized vote-counting systems by ECRI of Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania, a nonprofit engineering and technical research organization \(which was originally named the Emergency Care Washington, D.C., a quasi-governmental association of local election officials and vendors, which is led by Carol Garner of Austin, has commissioned new work on the general problem, and Election Watch, formed from the small group of persons who met at the Doubletree, is keeping an eye on the Election Center. In Illinois as well as Texas, advocates of stronger laws on electronic vote-tallying were able to pass them in 1987, although not much yet has changed in consequence. Rick Fulle, the deputy director of voting systems in Illinois, said his state now obtains, and holds until 60 days after each election, the source codes for counting votes in the form of executable object-code \(that is, source code in binary machine language which is ready to be fed directly into the does not have the authority to obtain and examine the codes themselves. SOME BROAD QUESTIONS THE QUESTIONS THAT ARE suggested by the computerization of democracy are neither narrowly legal nor limited by the special situations of any one state. Although the topic has had little or no public currency, the issues it suggests could hardly be broader or more profound. Should computer codes that control the counting of public elections be the secret property of the election companies? Should the programming of the counting of public elections be left to these companies or should public agencies do . it? Computer recounts of elections counted by the computerized punchcard systems seldom produce exactly the same total figures as those of the original count and sometimes even give different numbers of total votes cast. “We ought to be able to produce elections 100 percent the same,” scientist Saltman said during a conference of election officials in San Francisco. “If we can’t do that with computers, then what are we using computers for?” Elections in the United States are decentralized, but computer technology, because of its recursive efficiencies, speed, and ease of operation, works powerfully to centralize vote-counting. Which tendency should prevail? Would there be anything wrong with transmitting for tabulation all electronically cast votes for President to central state computer centers or to a federal computer center in Washington? Is there a prudential or a political limit to the technological simplifications of voting that should be permitted? Could each citizen be issued a political credit card, good for one vote on election day? Will it be all right, technology permitting, if, as recently suggested by a columnist in the magazine Computerworld, people vote by push-button telephone? Why not even more simply, by a phone call that is voice-printed? Should local election officials let citizens and reporters watch central computers counting the votes? In some of the major Lauderdale, election chiefs say yes. In others, such as Houston and the City of Chicago, they say no. “It’s an enclosed room,” said David Leahy, supervisor of elections for Dade County, “but we have glass walls through which people can observe that whole process. I think it’s very important.” On the other hand, “Let me tell you why I don’t,” said Anita Rodeheaver, the county clerk in Harris County. “My computer room is a very small room. I don’t need people in there who don’t know what’s going on. I don’t need ’em there. I don’t think that the press has a right to be there.” The computer room is her office, she explained further; in answer to a question. During the counting of the Presidential primary, in Cook County last March, the reigning county clerk, Stanley Cusper, Jr. , told me he had no objection to my watching the central computer counting the votes, although all I would see, he said, would be “a mainframe with a lot of red and blinking lights and stuff, all from modems from remote stations being pumped in.” But soon thereafter a tense Robert Logay, Cusper’s chief of elections, countermanded the permission his boss had given. “No, you can’t,” Logay said. “We’re not trying to keep you from seeing anything. We can’t have 30 people or one person wandering around and interrupting the tabulation.” When I returned to Cusper to ask him about his subordinate’s declaration, the county clerk replied: “Well, they say they can’t permit unauthorized access, so I guess the answer’s gotta be no.” What accounts for the prevailing silence about the issues posed by computerized vote-counting among almost all officeholders and local and state election officials? Is it better to keep silent about these matters and to concentrate, perhaps, on improving election administration, or is it better to deal frontally with doubts about counting votes in computers? Roy Saltman, who had labored across two decades to improve votecounting computer security, believes that focusing too much on the election companies jeopardizes the public’s trust and therefore the national welfare. “I think what’s being called into question is the whole fabric of society,” he exclaimed to me one afternoon recently in his office at the National Bureau of Standards. To the opposite effect, computer scientist Frederick Weingarten at Congress’s Office of Technology Assessment warned that “computers in some sense institutionalize vulnerability to an extent that if it ever does happen, it’ll be too late. . . . It would be a disaster for this country, total political chaos. . . . You don’t know who’s President.” As a preface to certain other questions raised by this subject, we may review some information about a situation pending in New York City. The City of New York is preparing to buy the direct-recording eleccomputerized vote-counting equipment, on 12 NOVEMBER 11, 1988
You May Also Like
The Texas Rangers are tasked with investigating corruption and crimes by public officials. Those officials are rarely held accountable.