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A Question of Security, Not Ownership

Saturday, Dec. 23, 2006 2:51 AM

A couple of posts back, I had tried to make sense of Rep. Virgil Goode's anti-Muslim remarks, asking what substance there might be in his concerns about immigration.

It's since been pointed out that Rep. Keith Ellison is not a recent immigrant; his family came to the states some years back.

Like in 1742.

He's not a recent immigrant by any stretch of the imagination, and it's irresponsible fear-mongering to link Ellison's faith to an influx of Muslims into America � or into the halls of Congress.

Shortly before the elections, there was a fuss about a company called Smartmatic, and its subsidiary, Sequoia Voting Systems, which makes electronic voting machines. It turned out that the company was owned by Venezuelan businessmen.

Naturally, because Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez isn't exactly on the White House's Christmas card list, a hue and cry was raised, suggesting that Chavez could influence the American election.

But now, because the company's owners have announced they will sell the company, the federal government is closing its investigation.

So we weren't worried about fraudulent results, we were worried about Hugo Chavez' ability to influence businesses within his country.

If the security of the machines is questionable, it doesn't matter who owns the company. Over a dozen states used Sequoia Voting Systems machines. That's twenty percent of the nation.

To be fair, the Venezuelan elections have been certified by observers, and Smartmatic provided access to the technology (unlike Diebold, which continues to insist evil elections people don't exist, and that bad code and easily-hijacked hardware don't exist if you don't open the box). Still, it's unclear as to how far Smartmatic allowed observers to look.

There should not be an 'acceptable' level of problems for election machine operations. The machines exist for the sole purpose of correctly accepting and tabulating votes from the populace. Security must be based on sound practice, not on wishful thinking, and the overall system must remain sound throughout. It works, or it doesn't.

At its simplest, imagine a soda machine. You put in your money, and the machine acknowledges receipt. You press a button, and your chosen product is delivered. The machine keeps track of its inventory and can indicate, both to the customer and the vendor, which selections need refilling. The cash box contains an amount equal to the cans sold, a simple tally on paper when the machine is serviced. The machine also has protections against fraudulent transactions, as it can correctly scan bills and coins. (And, as most folks can attest, it's sometimes awfully picky about dollar bills, rejecting ones that appear crisp and clean to customers.)

So it should not be the height of arcane science to make certain our election technology is of the highest caliber and reliability.

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