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PRIVACY Forum Digest     Saturday, 11 November 2000     Volume 09 : Issue 24


            Moderated by Lauren Weinstein (         
              Vortex Technology, Woodland Hills, CA, U.S.A.
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        Sanity in the Election Process
           (Lauren Weinstein and Peter G. Neumann)

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     Quote for the day:

        "There are two kinds of people in this world: Those that enter a
         room and turn the television set on, and those that enter a room
         and turn the television set off."

                -- Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey)
                   "The Manchurian Candidate" (United Artists; 1962)


Date:    Sat, 11 Nov 2000 13:29:47 PST
From: (Lauren Weinstein; PRIVACY Forum Moderator)
Subject: Sanity in the Election Process

                        Lauren Weinstein
                        Co-Founder, PFIR - People For Internet Responsibility 
                        Moderator, PRIVACY Forum 
                        Member, ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy

                        Peter G. Neumann
                        Co-Founder, PFIR - People For Internet Responsibility
                        Moderator, RISKS Forum 
                        Chairman, ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy


"Sanity in the Election Process"

November 11, 2000

The continuing controversies over the results of the recent U.S.
Presidential election, particularly concerning the vote in Florida, have now
apparently begun to hinge on technical issues relating to voting systems and
ballots, especially in terms of machine vs. manual recounts, voting
irregularities, voter confusion and complaints, and other related issues.

We feel that several critical points are being misunderstood or
misrepresented by some parties to these controversies, particularly in light
of Governor George W. Bush's campaign having taken federal court actions
attempting to block manual recounts of the vote in several Florida counties.
Regardless of the outcome of those particular court actions, the following
points are crucial to consider.

1) As is well known to election officials and voting system vendors, but
   historically not advertised to the public at large, all voting systems
   are subject to some degree of error -- electronic and mechanical systems
   alike.  Punchcard-based systems are no exception, for which a variety of
   known problems can occur.  These include poor ballot layout (currently a
   major issue regarding the "butterfly" Palm Beach County ballot), machine
   reading errors (often relating to incompletely punched ballot selections,
   usually in the form of "hanging chad"), paper fatigue, and other problems.

   In general, so long as the interested parties both have observers
   participating in manual recounts to assure a consensus on the
   interpretation and tabulation of the cards, manual recounts provide the
   MOST reliable mechanism for counting these cards accurately, particularly
   due to the common hanging chad problem which often reads as "closed" (no
   vote) when processed through automatic reading machines.  Indeed, manual
   counting is still prevalent today in England and Germany.

   It is true that manual recounts tend to boost the number of votes
   counted, again due to hanging chad and other problems noted above.  This
   suggests that if concerns are present regarding the fairness of a manual
   recount only in particular counties, the obvious solution is to manually
   recount in ALL Florida counties, and to manually count ALL votes (not
   just a sampling).  Yes, this will be slow, and potentially expensive.
   But if the will of voters is not to be subjugated to technical flaws over
   which they have no control, this would be the only fair course.

2) While all voting systems have "normal" error rates, these errors typically
   are not of great significance so long as the margin of victory is
   significantly larger than the error rate, which is usually the case.
   However, this does NOT suggest that systemic errors in the voting process
   are of insignificance and can simply be discarded in close elections
   where the error rate DOES matter.  

   In particular, the Palm Beach situation from the VERY START of election
   day showed all the earmarks of systemic problems.  Voters complained of
   ballot confusion in great numbers, harried precinct workers provided
   conflicting and apparently often inaccurate information to voters about
   the ability or inability to correct spoiled ballots or other ballot
   errors, and warnings regarding the confusing ballot situation failed to
   even reach all affected precincts, among other obvious problems.  These
   problems occurred all through election day in Palm Beach County.  The
   statistically anomalous results of the voting in that area regarding
   votes received by the Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan would appear to
   further validate this analysis -- the dramatic vote skew observed clearly
   does not result from "normal" voting errors that can be reasonably
   discounted or ignored.
   Unlike the typical error rate expected in most elections where
   significant quantities of voter complaints are not received, the Palm
   Beach situation, with its extremely atypical and alarming set of
   complaints and problems throughout election day, would appear to put those
   votes in a category that cannot be simply swept under the rug, and that
   appear to be deserving of immediate redress, adjustment, and/or
   revoting.  These widespread voting problems in Palm Beach County were
   clearly not the fault of "inept" or "moronic" elderly voters, as some
   persons have arrogantly suggested. 

3) Attempts to short-circuit the process of correcting the injustices and
   technical problems discussed above, through calls for rapid "closure" or
   the simple accepting of inaccurate and unjust results (particularly in
   Palm Beach County) "for the sake of the country" should be rejected.

   We should not attempt to resolve this situation through quick "solutions"
   or calls for concessions.  These same issues would be present even if the
   candidates' current positions were reversed.  The critical questions
   shouldn't even be focused on the candidates at all, but rather on the
   VOTERS themselves, who appear to have been shortchanged by technical
   issues, procedural problems not under their control, and now by attempts
   by politicians to hurriedly dispose of this mess through vague references
   to the public good -- a route that would leave the affected voters
   effectively disenfranchised.

There are two efforts that need to take place.  First, the problems of this
particular election, as discussed above, need to be dealt with in a
deliberate and fair fashion.  If that involves courts, manual recounts, and
revoting, both inside and perhaps outside Florida, so be it -- they're all
part of the procedures that we have in place.  Let's get it right -- we
should not be treating voters as disposable peons.  If we do not take a
proper course, whoever ends up in the White House will be viewed by at least
half of the U.S. population, and probably much of the world, as not wholly

Secondly, we need to look long and hard at the election process around
this country, taking note that calls for radical departures from current
widely-used systems must be viewed with extreme care and skepticism.  In
particular, Internet voting must be considered to be extremely problematic
(please see the PFIR Statement on Internet Voting -, and "Hacking the Vote" -  One major reason to look
skeptically upon these hi-tech systems is that their potential reduction in
voter privacy and lack of rigorous audit trails fail to allow true recounts
to occur when the integrity of the voting process is called into question,
and such questions can arise in electronic as well as mechanical voting

We stand at a crossroads where the existence of fundamental flaws in our
election system have finally been exposed to the public.  It is no longer
tenable for the powers that be, with a gentleman's agreement or a nod and a
wink, to steamroll over these flaws -- and the will of voters -- for the sake
of convenience and expediency.  We can start down the path toward ensuring
genuine fairness and integrity in the voting process by making sure that the
election of last Tuesday is resolved in a manner that not only serves the
candidates, but more importantly the will of the voters themselves.

   = = = =

Lauren Weinstein
(818) 225-2800
Co-Founder, PFIR - People For Internet Responsibility -
Moderator, PRIVACY Forum -
Member, ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy

Peter G. Neumann
(650) 859-2375
Co-Founder, PFIR - People For Internet Responsibility -
Moderator, RISKS Forum -
Chairman, ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy


End of PRIVACY Forum Digest 09.24

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