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Electronic Voting Technology Solutions in Search of a Problem

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Our tech guru gestured enthusiastically towards the printer while asking me, "How's the new id-enabled printing going?"

"The what?"

"Id-enabled printing - no more searching for your printouts. Just send your documents to an online printer hub then walk to any printer in the building, touch it with your id and your document prints right there."

"But no one searched for printouts before. There are printers within 30 feet of every cube."

"Now it's even more convenient! Took a few hundred programming hours, but it was well worth it."

"Who's benefiting from this technology? Did anyone request this service? Does it help anyone work more efficiently? What problem did your team just spend thousands of dollars solving?"

It was at that point that my tech guru repeated, "Id-enabled printing - no more searching for your printouts" though in my mind he had said in a thick Nigel Tufnel accent, "but these go to eleven."

How's this related to electronic voting? New York voting booths used to be very simple: the curtain closed behind you for complete privacy, you flipped the switches for the candidates you wanted and when you were done you pulled a heavy lever. One line, a simple and transparent process, and excellent privacy.

Last week I waited on one line to obtain my paper ballot. I then walked to the opposite side of the room to a wait to use a metal stand where I blackening the circles on the voting form. I then walked over to the scanning machine to wait in the next line. A volunteer stood in front of the machine eagerly helping people insert the completed form into the scanning machine while inspecting everyone's selections. Three lines, more complicated and opaque process and no privacy.

What was gained by this technology? What problem was solved? Were costs saved by replacing functional equipment with new electronic scanners equipment? I know it took more time for me to vote. I know my privacy was sacrificed.

I certainly doubt there was any gain in security. In the days of Landslide Lyndon and the dead voting in Chicago it took considerable effort to steal an election. The biggest fraud in the 2000 Florida vote was not Chadgate, but was the electronic cleaning of the voter rolls - a classic case of the "streetlight effect" where the focus was on the well-lit rooms filled with people studying chads and not on the computer code that caused much more damage.

When I ran fraud analysis teams, our largest fears were from sophisticated computer-based frauds such as stealing millions of customer's personal information not the occasionally person taking a stack of mail. These computer-based frauds had a lower incidence rate but much greater potential for impact. Electronic voting systems aren't impenetrable and when fraud happens, the speed will be faster and the scale will be larger.

I am a huge proponent of leveraging technology but before the next great innovation gets rolled out, besides considering things like the costs, privacy concerns, consumer inconvenience, risks, etc. can someone please make sure we consider what problem is being solved?