While Scientists and Partisans Have Appropriate Concerns About the Team Florida Has Commissioned to Investigate
But We're Thankful, At Least, That the National Media is Beginning to Wake Up...Sorta...Kinda...Momentarily...Maybe...
By Brad Friedman on 11/24/2006, 4:17pm PT  

Let's start with Krugman's "When Votes Disappear":

I've been shocked at how little national attention the mess in Sarasota has received. Here we have as clear a demonstration as we're ever likely to see that warnings from computer scientists about the dangers of paperless electronic voting are valid - and most Americans probably haven't even heard about it.

As far as I can tell, the reason Florida-13 hasn't become a major national story is that neither control of Congress nor control of the White House is on the line. But do we have to wait for a constitutional crisis to realize that we're in danger of becoming a digital-age banana republic?

"In danger of becoming..."?!! Okay, it's Thanksgiving weekend, so we'll just be thankful Krugman has decided to finally notice.

He also notes the concerns about the very partisan (natch) Prof. Alec Yasinsac whose been placed in charge of Florida's state investigation despite having "made an appearance on the steps of the Florida Supreme Court during the 2000 recount battle wearing a 'Bush Won' sign," as Krugman reports.

We'll also note that Livermore Labs' Prof. David Jefferson, who spent the last two weeks in Sarasota himself writes in several comments here at The BRAD BLOG that he is more optimistic about Yasinsac and the state investigation over all. Johns-Hopkins computer scientist Avi Rubin reports a similar sentiment on his blog today, defending Yasinsac and concluding about Krugman:

Sadly, I think this incident illustrates that this columnist is willing to embrace whatever circumstances and appearances serve his message with no regard for whether they are legitimate.

While we certainly hope that the Jefferson/Rubin evaluation/hopes end up being the correct ones, we're not sure they are keeping in mind the necessity of even the appearance of impartiality here.

If Yasinsac's group finds trouble in the machines, great. It can be said that even a tream led by a Republican partisan agreed the machines were to blame. On the other hand, if Yasinsac's group concludes there was no problem with the machines, the analysis will receive no confidence from the general public...where such confidence is much needed right about now.

Yasinsac should recuse himself from the team of analysts for exactly that reason, even if the rest of his team at Florida State University --- whom Rubin regards as excellent --- stay on the job. The same is true, and for the same reason --- as we discussed the other day --- for David Drury, who is also on the team, even though he is the man responsible for certifying these paperless ES&S touch-screen systems in the first place for the state of Florida. A "machines worked fine" conclusion from the team, as long as both Drury and Yasinsac are on it, will be regarded as partisan and/or self-serving. Whether it actually is will be completely beside the point.

Moving on then...Even WaPo's E.J. Dionne is beginning to get it. Today, he writes something remarkably similar to what I wrote for ComputerWorld on the day after the election about the huge bullets that the nation just happened to dodge on November 7th. Here's Dionne this morning...

Americans can be grateful that Sarasota County is in Florida and not in Montana or Virginia.

There's nothing wrong with Sarasota, a lovely place. But if the voting snafus in the contest for Florida's 13th District had hung up either of this year's two closest Senate races, we still would not know which party had won control of the Senate.

Supporters of new voting technologies have been patting themselves on the back, saying there were no big voting problems this year. Let them go to Sarasota.
If you believe that these machines operated properly, then you must also believe that I missed my true vocation as an NBA center.

Imagine if 18,000 votes had just disappeared in either of the key Senate races. Or imagine a presidential election in which the electoral votes of Florida were decisive and the state was hanging in the balance by --- to pick a number that comes to mind --- 537 votes. And, by the way, in 2000 we could at least see those hanging and dimpled chads. In this case the votes have --- poof! --- simply disappeared.

He goes on to argue (correctly) that "Sarasota is the canary in the electronic coal mine."

While we might quibble that there is a bloodbath of dead canaries which have long been littering the electoral landscape, we'll shut up today, and again be thankful that someone with a voice at the Washington Post seems to have finally noticed any of this stuff we've been running around with our hair on fire about for the last two years.

Dionne goes on to note another point we've made just once or twice ourselves in the past (emphasis ours)...

If the taxpayer-supported companies that sell this equipment are not willing to be 100 percent open about how their machines and their programming work, they should not be allowed to record and count the people's votes.

And finally, he closes by pointing to the Supreme Court's earth-shattering, and then ever-since-ignored Bush v. Gore decision from 2000:

"[h]aving once granted the right to vote on equal terms, the State may not, by later arbitrary and disparate treatment, value one person's vote over that of another."

Bad news, E.J.. It's been happening all across the country ever since. And despite our best efforts, nobody --- not the courts, not the politicians, not the media --- has been willing to do a damned thing about it.

Let's hope that changes. Even if we won't be holding our breath until it does.