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Cringely: Why the Best Voting Technology May Be No Technology at All

Cringely, back in 2003:

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?

Update: Lots of email from Canadian readers who say that Canada’s ballots are far simpler than those in the U.S.; fewer candidates and issues to decide on each election day, and thus far better suited to a simple paper-based system. That may be, but certainly electronic voting machines are not necessary — the U.S. held plenty of elections before computerized voting machines existed.

Monday, 7 January 2008