03 June 2006


Via Tristero at Hullabaloo, I learn that Robert Cringely describes a situation in which pencil, paper, and people are the best solution to a big data processing problem—elections.
The Canadians are watching our election problems and laughing their butts off. They think we are crazy, and they are right.

Forget touch screens and electronic voting. In Canadian Federal elections, two barely-paid representatives of each party, known as “scrutineers,” are present all day at the voting place. If there are more political parties, there are more scrutineers. To vote, you write an “X” with a pencil in a one centimeter circle beside the candidate's name, fold the ballot up and stuff it into a box. Later, the scrutineers AND ANY VOTER WHO WANTS TO WATCH all sit at a table for about half an hour and count every ballot, keeping a tally for each candidate. If the counts agree at the end of the process, the results are phoned-in and everyone goes home. If they don't, you do it again. Fairness is achieved by balanced self-interest, not by technology. The population of Canada is about the same as California, so the elections are of comparable scale. In the last Canadian Federal election the entire vote was counted in four hours. Why does it take us 30 days or more?

The 2002-2003 budget for Elections Canada is just over $57 million U.S. dollars, or $1.81 per Canadian citizen. It is extremely hard to get an equivalent per-citizen figure for U.S. elections, but trust me, it is a LOT higher. This week, San Francisco held a runoff mayoral election that cost $2.5 million, or $3.27 per citizen of the city. And this was for just one election, not a whole year of them.

We are spending $3.9 billion or $10 per citizen for new voting machines. Canada just prints ballots.

This in the course of an article describing yet again the verification problems in electronic voting.

BTW, that wasn't even Tristero's main point, which was actually linking to the new, long article in Rolling Stone which argues vigorously that yeah, the 2004 election was stolen after all. I knew that there had been a number of reports of dirty pool in the '04 election, but I hadn't taken seriously the possibility that it swung the election. The Rolling Stone article had me beginning to change my tune, but James Joyner at Outside the Beltway and Farhad Manjoo at Salon pick the article apart pretty thoroughly. So yeah, the 2004 election was dirty, but W really did win.

1 comment:

Sea's Blog said...

I appreciate the info and your conclusions.