Hacking Democracy

Have you seen the HBO documentary Hacking Democracy? I watched it on Google Video a few hours ago. I have spent the intervening hours trying to collect and articulate my thoughts.

To say I am upset is an understatement. I am horrified. I am distraught. I am devastated.

I love my country. I am so proud to live in this grand experiment that has survived for 230 years. I believe in the principles our country and our government was founded on – the separation powers, the strength of our constitution, the power of the citizens to effect change each and every time they go to the polls. I believe in our system and I believe that our system is robust enough to correct itself when we find it out of balance. I have seen our system in action and it is a beautiful thing.

And I believed, until a few hours ago, in the vote. I believed that when we, the people, go to the polls, our votes are treated with respect. I believed in the process. I believed in the honesty of the process. Yes, I know about election tampering and history like Tamminy Hall. But, in the big scheme of things, I really believed that our votes were fairly and accurately recorded and counted in every election. This is part of our heritage, our traditions and it is our constitutional right.

And then I watched Hacking Democracy. I watched as the touch screen voting machines consistently recorded the wrong vote. I watched as the scan-tron voting machines were hacked without a trace that anything had been done to them. I listened to John Kerry concede the 2004 presidential election again and I realized that he knew, or at least suspected that all was not right with the election results.

We, the people, have a love hate relationship with computers. We love computers because they make so many tedious and labor-intensive tasks so much faster like counting; like counting votes. They promise to be so much more accurate. And computers don’t have political affiliations so we can trust them. Right? We hate computers because for the most part, we, the people do not understand them. They are magic boxes that carry out these tasks at lightening speed, but we are never sure how they do these tasks. But, we, the people, really like the convenience, so we carry on allowing these computers to perform these tedious and labor-intensive tasks.

The problem with the magic box approach to computers is that computers are not magic. They are very fast, but very stupid machines. Computers can only do exactly what they are told to do and people programmers mostly are giving the computers the instructions. Since the majority of we, the people, cannot read program source code, we have to trust that the programmers have written the code properly and not inserted anything they shouldn’t have. And programmers mostly work for someone else, so they are told what to tell the computers to do.

So, at some point, someone told the computerized voting machine to change some of the votes and thus change the outcome of an election. And I am horrified. Our votes may or may not have been fairly and accurately recorded and counted.

I am horrified. I believe that every citizen, regardless of party affiliation should be horrified. And once each citizen is horrified, he or she needs to tell everyone. And then every citizen should contact every elected official to tell them and to insist on a federal criminal investigation into the tampering and possible tampering with these voting machines.

And finally, I think it is time to step back from technology. We should return to paper ballots that our counted by hand, by people. I know this will slow down election returns. Maybe we should change our expectations. Our votes, our right to effect change every time we go to the polls, are too important to trade for an award show mentality on election eve. We, the people, deserve to be heard in our own voices and without tampering with our votes.

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