Thursday, September 21, 2006

Die Diebold Die!

Today witnessed a strange sight indeed. After a plethora of problems popped up in Maryland's primary last week, Republican Governor Robert Ehrlich has now issued a call to "scrap" the Diebold machines and move back to paper ballots.
We literally cannot afford to see take place the events that took place on primary day. We were lucky during the primary that there was low turnout.
That's an odd take on elections in any sense, but Ehrlich clearly sees the danger, even if his benighted Democratic state officials do not. Both the state senate president, Mike Miller, and the administrator of the Maryland State Board of Elections, Linda Lamone, derided Ehrlich's call, claiming that a move back to paper at this late date "cannot happen." Miller went so far as to say, "it will not happen." The motive seems clear enough: both these Democrats endorsed the move to e-voting and sunk $106 million into these dreadful and unruly machines. The thinking appears to be of the inertial kind, something along the lines of "but ...but ...we approved and endorsed these machines, we can't change now," that refuses to admit, not only the previous debacle but the now expected one.

Erhlich has good reason to fear these machines, as do we all. As a Republican governor in a fairly blue state (though that is changing) and facing a tight race against Baltimore mayor Martin O'Malley, he rightly sees that screw ups on election night will help neither him nor O'Malley and has the potential to throw the outcome, once again, into severe doubt. He's already battling the Democratic state senate and a doubtful win will not strengthen his mandate. He might even fear the easily hacked Diebold machines, since it is Democrats who are in charge of the election board in Maryland, which is usually the opposite situation to ones we're used to hearing about. I have my doubts about this being an issue, though. Dems don't strike me as anywhere near wily or driven enough to actively hack the vote in a large scale manner.

Maryland legislators and election officials, however, say that the system is "too stressed" and cannot accomodate more change at this point. I've got news for these people: the system didn't accomodate change in the first place. And that was a direct result of Diebold's actions.

Less than weeks before the primary and unbeknownst to most election officials, Diebold arbitrarily decided to throw e-poll books at polling stations rather than use the traditional voter registration books. Poll workers were almost uniformly untrained on these machines; they had never seen them before. But there were functional hangups when e-poll books routinely crashed after about 40 voters had checked in. Hilariously, Tom Feehan, Diebold's project manager for Maryland, claimed that the e-poll books had been tested ... maybe:
I believe they were tested, but they may not have been tested through 40 votes.
Which, in Diebold's world, means that on the 41st vote, the things robustly crashed. Of further note is that a Diebold project manager apparently doesn't know whether testing was done but only seems believe that this happened. Nor does he appear to have any sense of what kind of testing occurred and that it may not have been sufficient. Clearly, it was not sufficient.

There is nothing obviously difficult about reverting back to a system that has been used for decades and only more hassles are expected by "moving forward," as bureaucrats and politicians are wont to say. But state election officials appear to be more concerned with saving face over their adoption of Diebold hardware than doing the right and sensible thing. That they did this against the advice and recommendation of Ehrlich, who has been wary of the machines for sometime, is probably more of a reason to them for staying the course toward what most now expect will be an election night disaster.

Maybe our electoral system will get "lucky" again in November and voter turnout will be low. And if it doesn't, Diebold will make sure that not too many citizens will get to vote anyway.


Blogger PJB said...

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12:53 AM  
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10:57 AM  

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