Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The best audit is the one even granny can do

The importance of being able to audit a voting system in every stage of an electoral process, both during and after Election Day, is undeniable.

The necessary audit mechanisms go from a revision of the source code of the systems involved, to the vigilance of the votes’ chain of custody, including several quality control and accuracy checking processes in between.  

Many technocrats run the risk of emphasizing whitebox-type tests, which involve revisions to the source code and even requesting that the code be 100% open, in many cases placing its importance over the importance of citizen control or the vote´s chain of custody.  

Although it is useful to review the design and the deployment of the software to be used in an election in order to detect undesirable behaviour, both malicious and involuntary, it is no less true that these reviews will involve (for most electors) trusting a third party.  It’s unlikely that the average Joe, lacking IT knowledge, will be able to verify and certify that the programming code of a given system is fully correct.

Even more, the same technocrats that demand a thorough and public review of the voting system’s source code, will surely state that it’s impossible to know, without resorting to complex avant-garde systems, that the software installed in a voting machine was exactly the same that they reviewed. These procedures would be, once more, only available to a minority.   

On the other hand, controlling the chain of custody of votes is a procedure that any citizen can carry out, regardless of his political affiliation, his role in the electoral process or his level of technical expertise. It’s a control than can be carried out even by those who haven’t voted (this excludes the revision of the printed voting voucher, which can only be performed by someone who actually casts a vote).

From printing the “zero” voting record at the start of the electoral process, until checking that the voting records from the machines match the ones published and the official tally results, including the verification of the proper register of the vote in a physical voucher; these are all tasks that every citizen, with no restrictions whatsoever (with the exception of being physically present for each one), can carry out in a full and thorough way, without the need of specialized technical knowledge.

It is strange that those who demand greater openness and transparency in matters regarding e-voting, would recommend a complex technical process that will only be available to a minority over citizen verification, available to everyone with no further limitations other than individual will.
Rui Santos