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SCOTUS Voting

If you haven't seen it yet, you really should take a look at this post over at Political Arithmetik. Fascinating display of median voter theory made somewhat tangible.

But how much is it [the Alito nomination] likely to matter for the alignment of the Court? Both sides will claim much but the evidence is not so much.

More important for those pundits making their paychecks pontificating on TV about the coming shift in the court, things might not be so easy to read:

If Roberts and Alito turn out to be near Thomas and Scalia, Kennedy will actually be closer to the liberal wing. As such, a stronger conservative wing of the court could drive the swing vote to the left.

Not being a student of the SCOTUS, I'm not too aware of the real power behind the Chief Justice role. I'd suggest that the agenda-setting power (primarily the role of presiding over the process that reviews which cases to hear) of the Roberts position might have some ability to consistently keep the conservative faction in control of the general path of the Court, but that could be entirely moot.

Text 70932 to vote for...

The Swiss will soon be voting via SMS messages from their cell phones. The Swiss style of democracy involves a great deal more voting events than the US counter-part, so it seems natural that they would be among the pioneers for making voting easier for the masses.

Of course, my concerns about the fallibility of electronic voting still apply. The ease of hacking cell-phones has been proven in graphic detail. See: Paris Hilton, once again gaining infamy by being incredibly comfortable with recording devices. Indeed, the article linked to highlights a major problem: the "security" of computer networks isn't always the weakest point in the chain, so efforts to create bleeding-edge security algorithms may be largely pointless.

Plus, this technology still doesn't appear to have a paper trail. Which may not create too much worry in the Swiss cantons when the votes may be re-done with little effort and little loss of voters from frustration, but could be catastrophic in something like a presidential election. Since phones don't have printers on them (yet?), a mailing with a statement of who you voted for (a correctable record, in effect) might solve some issues.

Most importantly, though, is figuring out when "text" became a verb. In my class last night my frustrated professor requested that a fellow student "text your friends when I'm done talking; the clicking is maddening." Didn't he realize that he might have been disenfranchising the woman?

E-Voting Issues At Wired

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There are a couple of good articles on issues surrounding e-voting up now at Wired:

An Introduction to E-Voting
E-Vote Guidelines Need Work

The Introduction covers a number of things that have been brought up around these parts before.

One of the most alarming things from the "Guidelines Need Work" story is this bit:

"One problem with the Diebold code was that it had large, complex multi-logic statements with no comments (from the designers)," Rubin said. "That wouldn't pass this standard."

I know of few professional programmers that would ever let a serious piece of software out of development without proper commenting. The lack of it indicates sloppy work that was likely done by third-rate teams with more interest in getting out the door than getting it to work. Which means there is more than one significant problem. First off, that the code was allowed into use uncommented means that the writers of the original guidelines were beyond incompetent. Secondly, that Diebold allowed such shoddy work out its door indicates that the committee that is purchasing Diebold's services has chosen the worst example possible of "the lowest bidder". The question of whether or not the code was usable is entirely beside the point. More important is the fact that guidelines are being desigend by woefully uninformed political agents with little incentive to do anything other than "looking like they're doing something".

This strikes me as a political-committee created problem being addressed by yet another political committee. By adding paper-trails to electronic voting machines, you now add in the need to stock paper, reload machines, and, most importantly, require that the printout be easily verifiable by the voter. The original problem was that the ballots -- in a design approved by political agents unrepresentative of the entire population -- were often confusing (the troubles with lining up names and boxes in "butterfly ballots", for example). If the new design has to make both the machine and the new paper easily verifiable to someone for whom the paper ballots were confusing, then you've simply added a new level of useless complexity. Why not spend the money on making better paper ballots? The paper trail would exist, less money would be spent, less staff would be required at polling stations, and the question of hacking computers would be eliminated.

Meanwhile, the continued distrust of computer voting that results will certainly undermine voter confidence the only real leap I can see as worth the effort: the choice to vote online. (N.B.Yes, this is rife with problems, but the reduction in transaction costs, the spread of "voting places" to every library with a modem, while retaining paper ballots for those without access to a computer would achieve, I believe, enhancements in turnout that would be worth the cost of supplying something like unique bar-code printouts for each voter so that a quick recount could be achieved in the case of hacking/fraud. I still think the turnout we have now gives us a very good estimate of the true population, but there is certainly nothing wrong with more people voting.)

File Under: "Government, Proactiveness of"

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