Paranoid party rights
Wednesday February 12, 2003
Anyone who has had any connection with British politics will know the election-night scene: the draughty hall; the trestle tables; the piles of ballot papers; the suspicious agents prowling, ready to holler if a solitary ballot is misplaced. The system is zero-tech, offers a near-ideal combination of secrecy and transparency and (Northern Ireland excepted) has produced a trivial number of failures since the secret ballot came in 130 years ago.
The United States, as we know, has been less fortunate, though it is considered rather churlish and passé these days to mention what happened in Florida, and anyway the system has been reformed: there will be no more butterfly ballots and pregnant chads. The US is spending billions of dollars to "upgrade" voting systems - switching to methods that are far less transparent and even more corruptible. Furthermore, Britain is thinking of following suit.
By 2004, most voters in the US may well be voting by touch-screen systems, provided by a handful of companies, mainly private. Routine oversight of the counting process is effectively impossible. Even in the event of a court challenge, there is no sure way of telling that the votes have been allocated correctly. I asked a spokesman for Diebold, one of the largest firms involved, how a losing candidate would know they had lost. "Our machines undergo a battery of tests undertaken by independent testing associations for logic and accuracy," he said.
Fine - in theory the machines are perfect: we all have computers that never go wrong, don't we? Unfortunately, there appears to be nothing to stop to a corrupt company, a corrupt official or a corrupt (or merely incompetent) programmer subverting the democratic will.
For full story