Thursday, October 19, 2006

Systems to prevent voter fraud

Voter fraud is a problem. It has always been a problem (as long as democracy has existed), and I'm sure it will always be a problem. A while ago I saw a news story in the form of video of a man testifying before the US Congress that he was hired to create a program to hack the computerized voting system in Florida. He claimed that as he understood it, he was writing this program so that future attempts at fraud and hacking could be more easily identified. I paraphrase: "It only took a few lines of code to insert a few extra thousand votes on whichever side you wanted them to be."

India has another sort of problem all together. For one they use paper ballots with pictures for the different parties and candidates. This results in several problems which are equally difficult to solve. The Indian press has been reporting on these problems and the government's efforts to solve them. One significant problem are armed gangs coming with fake ballots to stuff the ballot boxes. This has been solved with each of the voting centers being heavily guarded with armed police. So what if it feels like martial law when you go to vote. All those men with guns are there to protect democracy...

Another problem involves tampering with votes after they have been cast. For that they put giant padlocks on the metal boxes in which the votes are placed.

The third and perhaps most serious problem you might think would be individuals who attempt to vote more than once, or at more than one voting station. Since many people here don't carry government identification (there are no ID cards like drivers licenses that people carry regularly) instead the resort to a semi-permanent form of body modification. Like a club in New York, or a theater where they stamp your hand, once you have cast your one and only vote, they put a plus sign in ink on your finger and fingernail. Since there are multiple elections, for district representatives, ministers, etc., they reserve different fingers for different elections. In this way they mark you as a citizen, as one who has legally and rightfully participated in the democratic process.

In some ways it seems silly. In America we have computers for that, and you can only vote at your registered center where you are listed on a roster. You have to present proof of identity, but in the end they don't mark you in any way. And yet marking seems like a good idea. That way you can see who cares and who doesn't. On election day if you run into your friends, and you don't see black ink on their fingernail you can chastise them, and tell them to go participate in their democracy. That's what Democracy is supposed to be for. For that matter maybe it should be a tattoo. A small one, to be sure. But still, a small unique mark for each year that you vote. How brilliant would that be?

Video of the congressional testimony on vote machine hacking.

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