Why voting machines still suck

Significant government funds go into snooping on citizens and outrageously sophisticated weaponry. How about a little scratch for the basic instrument of democracy?

Government is up to its neck in tech. From IRS computers calculating taxes to computerized parking meter systems all the way to modern weapons systems, government at every level is utterly tangled up in computing.

It's always easy to criticize government as being overly bureaucratic or adorned with enough red tape to make a million dresses for Lady Gaga. But the fact of the matter is that governments tend to make extremely good use of technology when it suits them -- such as spying on their own citizenry or developing missiles that can travel hundreds of miles and hit a shoebox -- and become abominations when it doesn't.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Paul Venezia also has an explanation of why politicians should never make laws about technology. | Ultimately, locking down the Internet won't work; just ask Barbra Streisand. | Subscribe to InfoWorld's Data Center newsletter to stay on top of the latest developments. ]

For an example of the latter, look no further than the state of voting machines in the United States. Yes, after years of outrage and legal challenges, there are still problems -- big ones.

Lapses persist everywhere, from systems that can be compromised by someone with an eighth-grade education and $26 to voting machines that helpfully hack themselves. Just about everyone who's ever used a voting machine that lacks a paper receipt gets the bitter joke: Without the paper trail, how can you have manual recounts? Heck, even elections in Venezuela have that.

Years continue to go by without any sort of controls, regulations, or reliable testing of electronic voting systems that are used by millions of Americans to cast their ballots. State governments have a much firmer grasp on how to interface with car computer systems to fail an inspection if ODB-II error codes are logged than they do with electronic voting.

At the federal level, we've seen several horrible bills introduced (and passed, in some cases) that are designed to curtail online rights and actions and provide for government intervention in Internet-based communications. If only there was such pressure to ensure that every vote is counted and to prevent false tallies in the very process that built this country.

In an era of unprecedented communications ability and unprecedented technology, problems with the hardware required to cast a secure ballot are simply unacceptable. Yet they persist and apparently few people seem to care.

Of course, there's a simple solution to this problem: stringent regulation of companies that produce voting machines. I'm not talking about the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines or random auditing -- I'm talking about stem-to-stern regulations on electronic voting machines, absolutely mandatory paper receipts, and required security clearances for those responsible for designing, programming, and repairing the systems. I've never been a fan of politicians making laws about technology they don't understand, but this isn't legislation about the technology itself. It's legislation to prevent a serious, contemporary, human problem that arose with a new century.

I greatly appreciate that when I buy a steak at the store, I have a high expectation that the USDA regulations have ensured it won't kill me. I only wish I had the same trust that any modern election was accurate.

This story, "Why voting machines still suck," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Paul Venezia's The Deep End blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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