The Only Safe Election Is a Low-Tech Election


After Monday’s Iowa caucus debacle, I’ve determined that Individuals ought to vote by etching our most well-liked candidate’s title right into a stone pill with a hammer and chisel.

Or perhaps by dropping pebbles right into a sequence of urns, as the traditional Greeks did.

Or presumably simply by voting the way in which we voted for a lot of the 20th century, on punch-card machines that spit out paper ballots to be hand-counted by election employees, with zero iPhones in sight.

Mainly, we ought to be begging for probably the most analog election expertise attainable. As a result of what occurred on Monday night time — an extended and complicated delay in vote counting, due partially to a cellular app that was rapidly designed and inadequately examined earlier than being deployed in certainly one of America’s most essential elections — was an inexcusable failure. It induced misery and confusion, set off innumerable conspiracy theories, and began the 2020 election season by undermining belief within the democratic course of.

And all as a result of Iowa Democrats wished a brand new app.

The app, whose title was stored secret by Democratic officers, was in comparison with a “fancy calculator” that was supposed to assist Iowa caucus chairs ship their outcomes to the state Democratic Get together. However as my colleagues reported, it posed issues for caucus precinct chairs all day.

Some chairs weren’t ready to make use of it in any respect. Others had connectivity points, or just didn’t know the way to work the app, and had been compelled to endure lengthy maintain instances on a telephone hotline as an alternative.

There isn’t any indication that any of those technical points modified the outcomes of the caucuses, or that any methods had been hacked or compromised. And there have been nontechnical points which will have added to the chaos, reminiscent of new guidelines and worksheets that had been designed to simplify the caucus course of however appeared largely to have sown confusion.

Regardless, the injury was executed. The hours spent ready for overdue outcomes created an info vacuum, which was rapidly stuffed by conspiracy theorists. By dusk, liberals and conservatives alike had been tossing round allegations of vote tampering and election rigging, and casting doubt over the legitimacy of the caucuses.

Democrats rapidly started blaming Shadow, the tech start-up that constructed the app, and Acronym, a Democratic digital technique operation that invested in Shadow. These corporations do deserve scrutiny, not least as a result of it seems that they uncared for to rapidly reply when studies of consumer points started surfacing on Monday.

(Late Monday, Acronym put out an announcement, saying that it didn’t present expertise to the Iowa Democratic Get together and that it was merely an investor in Shadow.)

However Democrats must also blame their celebration’s management for entrusting such an essential course of to new expertise within the first place — not simply in Iowa however in locations like Nevada, the place Democrats reportedly deliberate to make use of the same cellular app to tally votes in that state’s caucuses this month earlier than altering their minds on Tuesday.

It’s sufficient to make you surprise: Have these celebration officers ever been to a polling web site or a caucus venue? They don’t seem to be pristine WeWorks with blazing quick web connections and a military of Geek Squad employees on name. They’re largely highschool gyms, nursing houses and church basements with cinder-block partitions and horrible cellphone service. The individuals who work at them are volunteers, and lots of are — how can I put this delicately? — members of the technology that also refers back to the TV distant as “the clicker.”

Utilizing a proprietary app to report vote totals is the sort of factor that sounds easy on a start-up’s whiteboard however totally falls aside in a chaotic real-world atmosphere, the place connections drop, telephones malfunction and poorly examined apps pressure underneath a surge of visitors. Add a military of frenzied ballot employees, impatient voters and twitchy information media, and also you would possibly as effectively have requested the caucus employees to whip up their very own JavaScript.

I’m not against expertise in political campaigning. Wish to use Fb adverts to drum up donors? Go for it. Wish to put your voter database on the blockchain? Be my visitor.

However with regards to the precise enterprise of registering and counting folks’s votes, lots of the smartest tech consultants I do know fiercely oppose high-tech options, like “paperless” digital voting machines and cellular voting apps. In spite of everything, every bit of expertise concerned within the voting course of is a attainable level of failure. And the bigger and extra interconnected the technical system, the extra weak it’s to an assault.

“Lots of the main opponents of paperless voting machines had been, and nonetheless are, laptop scientists, as a result of we perceive the vulnerability of voting tools in a approach most election officers don’t,” stated Barbara Simons, a pc scientist and board chair of Verified Voting, an election safety nonprofit, in an interview with The Atlantic in 2017.



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