Category Archives: politics

America is a divided country

Boing-boing’s humorous take on secession. There’s a strong element of truth in this. I was watching a debate last night contrasting the voter turnout in the US with that in the UK at the last eleection. UK politicians generally believe that elections shouldn’t be decided based entirely on religious or moral issues. The differences between the 2 major political parties are a lot less tangible than in the US and can be reduced towards attitudes to tax and public spending (and even then the differences are arguably minimal as they must react to changes in the world economy)
However, in the US it’s always seemed like republicans and democrats sit on two opposing political fences with democrats sneering at republicans for being unsophisticated and republicans lambasting democrats for being amoral and ungodly. The reality lies somewhere between this polarised map of the US. (i.e. My political colours would be more democrat than republican but I must admit that Colin Powell and John McCain are sophisticated, smart and quite moderate in many ways and I have much respect for them, while some democrats are quite infantile in their attacks on “republican hicks”) It’s an interesting debate but I can’t help but feel that it leads to gross simplification of the issues and flawed foreign policy. Still, as a TV pundit pointed out “It’s democracy in action. The country may be divided but after the results people will go home and get on with their lives. There will be no rioting in the streets”

Art imitates life (for e-voting anyway)

E-voting is a very sensitive issue in Ireland. It was due to be introduced for local and MEP (Member of the European parliament) elections in may of this year but real concerns about the reliability and security of the proposed system caused it to be abandoned to the embarassment of the current government. Many computer science academics, myself included, were distinctly worried about the proposed system based on disclosed implementation details, it’s closed nature and many glaring flaws in both hardware and software that would have mandated the use of a Voter-Verified Audit Trail (VVAT). So we created petitions and discussed the pertinent issues with politicians across the media. As happens, this was often portrayed as academics having a left-ish political agenda. It seemed like we weren’t allowed to disapprove of the system on purely technical grounds. Perhaps a degree of intellectual hubris is desirable when a politician explains to a computer scientist that “the system can’t be hacked as it’s not on the internet”…. No kidding!

In the US, Diebold elections produces a similiar system. It’s equally flawed and controversial. Basically the Diebold offerings General Election Management System (GEMS) produces two tables for vote counts and precinct summaries which may not match. They should but the hack to falsify results is quite trivial. Not very comforting.

Well the creators of the popular computer game The SIMS have seized on the debate by introducing e-voting into their hugely popular life simulation game. Their ‘Dumbold’ system:

is programmed with cheats, bugs and easter eggs, which you can discover and read about by playing around with it. It demonstrates and simulates some alarming problems with real world electronic voting machines, with many surprising effects and subtle interactions

I particularly like the feature where Baxter the Chimp (catchy name, I’d vote for him) erases election votes. So if you’re planning to run for office in a major western democracy you could do far worse than practive your electioneering skills with Baxter.

Why the US should adopt Approval Voting

Excellent article from kuro5h1n here. This illustrates the fundamental flaws in the US electoral system i.e. essentially forcing the voter to choose between 2 deliberately polarised viewpoints (democrat or republican) when they may share neither. Approval voting is different in that it allows the electorate to vote for all the candidates or choices that they endorse. Indeed, this electoral system is favoured by the United Nations. The article is well worth reading, pointing out that the US electorate doesn’t necessarily imply its citizens as their right to vote isn’t protected by the constition. Yes that wasn’t a misprint! Americans have a constitutional right to bear arms (a right that many of them exercise to the hilt of their fully automatic assault rifles) but not to vote. This right is reserved for the members of the electoral college system who, theoretically at least, may arbitrarily distribute the votes as they see fit. And even if you do vote, the chances of it being accurately counted are much lower than could reasonably be expected. The US has a long tradition of voting fraud, even in Florida!