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Re: [Demexp-dev] Thoughts on voting machines

From: Brian Hurt
Subject: Re: [Demexp-dev] Thoughts on voting machines
Date: Mon, 20 Sep 2004 22:28:06 -0500 (CDT)

On Mon, 20 Sep 2004, Félix wrote:

> Concerning trust in electronic voting, one should also consider that
> in the democratic experience project, we expect *a lot* of votes.
> The citizens are submitting the questions, the citizens are submitting
> candidate answers, and the citizens vote. Vote can range from general
> concepts (death penalty, age of majority...) down to smaller issues
> (which company is going to collect garbage in my village? Should we buld
> a highway between this city and that one?).

In the US we're not actually a true democracy, we're a republic.  The 
voters don't make the decisions, they choose the people to make the 
decisions- what company hauls away the garbage, wether there is a highway 
between this city and that city, wether we have the death penalty, the age 
of majority, etc., are decided by the people we elect.

> It may be plausible that a single voting session is "attacked" when it
> is very important: if you elect the president of USA with a single
> electronic voting session, some poeple may want to invest a large
> amount of energy to try and tamper it, because there is so much at
> stake. If stakes are "distributed" because of so many issues that
> are subject to voting, it may be more difficult to tamper.

At least in the US, when and how we decide who's the President, including 
such kludges as the electoral college, is determined by the Constitution.  
You'd need a constitutional admendment to change it.  You can do a google 
search for the precise rules on getting an admendment through, but 
basically it ain't going to happen.

That being said, the idea of a technological aide to decision making
processes within online communities strikes me as being a deeply
interesting project.  Ignore electing presidents and school boards for a
minute.  Consider a project like Linux, or Apache.  Or Ocaml.  Currently,
most online communities run along one of two lines: 1) total anarchy, or
2) friendly dictator.  The classic dichotomy from Machiavelli- the true
Frankish state, and the Turkish state.  A very few communities have gotten
beyond it.

But the community as a whole needs ways to make decisions.  Do we include
this patch, or that patch?  This package or that package?  Do we do things
this way, or that way?  Most online communities are the Turkish model-
they have one (or a small number) of non-elected dictators with final say
and absolute power- Linus Torvalds for Linux, for example.  The Project
Dictator (or one of his trusted lietenants- how do you become a trusted
LT?  The Dictator makes you one) makes all decisions.  Is there a way to 
make the decision making process more democratic?

This applies to online communities not centered around programming as 
well.  For example, many blogs have become de-facto online communities as 
well.  Two examples of this are DailyKos and the Free Republic.  These 
communities need to make decisions as well- is this person a troll and 
should he be banned?  Which candidates should we back and encourage our 
members to contribute to?  I'm a member of an online stock-club.  We need 
to make decisions as well- do we buy this stock?  Sell that one?  Switch 

Even online communities that have more structured social systems than pure 
anarchy and friendly dictators have at most an adhoc method of collecting 
votes.  They're generally "secure" in that it's not worth it to rig the 
vote.  But that doesn't mean the method really is secure, nor is it 
optimal- primarily because it's not worth it for any *one* community to 
put the time and effort in to develop a better system.  Were a better 
system already existing, that fit their needs, they'd probably be inclined 
to adopt it.

This is an interesting and usefull project.  In many ways, more 
interesting and usefull than the voting machine project my earlier 
comments were aimed at.

"Usenet is like a herd of performing elephants with diarrhea -- massive,
difficult to redirect, awe-inspiring, entertaining, and a source of
mind-boggling amounts of excrement when you least expect it."
                                - Gene Spafford 

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