No Confidence in Current E-Voting Systems

The mismanagement and lack of accountability in electronic voting systems development here in America is truly frightening: Wired News: E-Vote Machines: Secret Testing

The three companies that certify the nation’s voting technologies operate in secrecy and refuse to discuss flaws in the ATM-like machines to be used by nearly one in three voters in November.

Despite concerns over whether the touch-screen machines can be trusted, the testing companies won’t say publicly if they have encountered shoddy workmanship. They say they are committed to secrecy in their contracts with the voting machines’ makers — even though tax money ultimately buys or leases the machines.

I find it grotesque that an organization charged with such a heavy responsibility feels no obligation to explain to anyone what it is doing,” Michael Shamos, a Carnegie Mellon computer scientist and electronic voting expert, told lawmakers in Washington, D.C.

The system for “testing and certifying voting equipment in this country is not only broken, but is virtually nonexistent,” Shamos added.

Although up to 50 million Americans are expected to vote on touch-screen machines on Nov. 2, federal regulators have virtually no oversight over testing of the technology. The certification process, in part because the voting machine companies pay for it, is described as obsolete by those charged with overseeing it.

The mere fact that most of these machines are built by companies led by individuals with very close ties to the Bush Administration should be enough cause for alarm. Couple that with the fact that they are unwilling to prove security or allow for a physical paper trail backup is unacceptable and calls the validity of the whole election process into question. As a digital security professional, this whole thing makes me very nervous. And it’s sad, because this could be a great thing if the policies and practices surrounding electronic voting systems development weren’t so suspect. I am going to vote absentee until this issue of accountability is addressed and I can feel very confident that there is no reasonable chance of error or election fraud associated with electronic voting systems. And you should too, no matter what your party affiliation might be.

The Status Quo

Over the past week there’s been a ton of press on Australia’s political balance between maintaining the ANZUS treaty and cozying up to China. At the center of the issue has been a gaffe made by Australia’s Foreign Minister Alexander Downer during a trip to China in which he suggested Australia might not be committed to getting dragged into another conflict with the United States should China attack Taiwan. Greg Sheridan writes an opinion on the situation here that I found interesting: The Australian: Taiwan gaffe puts delicate balance at risk [August 21, 2004]

Taiwanese are increasingly assertive about their identity as Taiwanese rather than just a subset of China, but they do not want war. Chen has no mandate to bring Chinese missiles raining down on Taiwanese heads.

Thus the anomaly of the status quo is the best result anyone can imagine for the time being.

This requires a rigid symmetry in dealing with both Beijing and Taiwan. If Taiwan disturbs the status quo by declaring independence, it cannot necessarily expect the US and its allies to come to its rescue. Washington has been strongly giving this message to Taiwan’s leaders in recent months and Canberra has reinforced the message.

But if Beijing disturbs the status quo by taking unprovoked military action against Taiwan it has to understand that the US will militarily protect Taiwan. In other words, both sides of the Taiwan Straits need to see that their interests lie in the status quo.

The danger in Downer’s remarks is that they may encourage Beijing to miscalculate, that even Washington’s closest ally would not support it in the event that China took military action against Taiwan and the US intervened. That makes war likelier.

This excerpt from Sheridan’s excellent article (you can read the rest of it here) does well to both outline the realpolitik of the situation in the Taiwan Strait and the severity of Downer’s gaffe.

I hate the realpolitik. It’s just pure unfiltered bullshit, and Taiwan deserves better treatment – both from China, and from democratic nations such as Australia and the United States. I am an idealist, not a pragmatist, and I will most likely always remain so. But even a pragmatist should be able to realize that China’s ludicrous political isolation Taiwan and it’s threats of war and bloodshed are intolerable acts in any case.

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Baby Update II

The cutest thing was when we brought Dylan home and Max’s first reaction was to run back to his room to get his own quilt (that my aunt Peggy made for him) and put it on top of Dylan. Max always wants to hold the baby and help out with everything. Max suddenly looks way bigger now.

Dylan’s special trick is to take big dumps as soon as you put a new diaper on him. I swear he’s doing it on purpose because he’ll stare at you with this I’m-so-innocent look while he’s doing it.