Politics, emotions and technical issues: To vote or not to vote, looking at both sides

November 29, 2005

Yesterday, I talked to a few technical people who have been involved
with the electoral process. I inquired about the things they have done
in audit of the software and the machines and after digesting what they
said I wrote the post last night. Basically their message was that they
were comfortable that the possible flaws in the system had been removed
and with the removal of the fingerprint capturing machines from the
process, they were capable of saying that it would be quite difficult
to cheat in the upcoming process, even if the possibility of a very
tricky and novel Trojan horse could not be eliminated. Thus, I
concluded and wrote that we had to go and vote. This is still my
opinion based on all of the technical details given to me by various
people in the last two or three days after it became known that the
sequence of votes could be easily determined using a shareware program,
which could be downloaded by anyone for free from the Internet.

I was taken aback by the strong reaction today by political parties,
most of which had decided not to participate. I had thought the
discovery of the problem with the sequence was also a victory, that
would give voters more confidence in the system and would drive out the
vote.I also found that most comments in my post were against the
participation by the opposition in the upcoming elections to the
National Assembly. In fact, I was also surprised that nobody ( Not one!) in the
comments supported my idea of going to vote, which was (and still is)
based on technical aspects.

Today I also talked to a political friend, discussing the issues and I
think he put it very well from his point of view, in the following
fashion:

Imagine you have been involved with some tough political negotiations.
You don’t trust the other side and you are trying to get things to be
as positive as you can for your side. You give and take for a while,
you win some and lose some. For the last year and half (and three elections) you have seen
hundreds of millions of dollars spent on voting technology which you
disagree with, but you have come to believe only a few things about. One
of the few things you believe in, because you have been told with a
straight face, time and time again, is that it is impossible to know how people voted: the vote of each person is absolutely secret. Then the following things happen in sequence (and it is not a pun):

1) You are told by a group of technical people which you don’t even know) that
this is not the case. The sequence of votes is easily known by
inspecting the hard drive. They not only tell you, but proceed to show
it and prove it in front of the international observers and the CNE.

You bring this up and the reaction from Jorge Rodriguez, President of
the Electoral Board is: Impossible! Smartmatic, my people, my technical
people, have all told me this is simply not possible. This is simply an
attack on the CNE, you people are trying to boycott the whole process.

A meeting is held in which the technicians prove it to the point that it can not be denied.

2) Another meetng is held with the head of the CNE, showing him the
evidence that the sequence can indeed be known. On the advice of his
technical people he offers: We will erase the hard dives within 72 hours
of the vote removing all evidence and traces of it.

You go back to the technical people and they laugh at you. First they
tell you, the machines have a UBS port, so, at each polling station
anyone can simply copy everything and have the information, you simply
can not have control over 27,000 voting machines for 72 hours. Second,
there is no truly reliable way of erasing the information on disk.Any
reformatting, rewriting or erasing of the disk leaves traces of the
earlier information and basically the only possibility is to destroy
the 27,000 hard dives.

3) You go back and tell this to the Head of the CNE, who once again
shows his ignorance of these matters. At this point he offers to
disconnect the machines, which certainly does not sem to help much as
even if they are disconnected they keep the sequence which can be used
later to know the votes.

4) Finally you get him to accept the removal of the fingerprint
machines. This eliminates the correlation unless somebody at 27,000
voting tables keeps a precise record of the orderof each voter. This
seems acceptable, until the annoncement is made publicly and the same
guy who promised the world, says this is simply a concession to lower
abstention and threatens that even if they are being graciously removed
in this election, they will be there a year from now for the 2006
Presidential election.

At this point you give up. You simply can not go on accepting that this
guy is running the voting process. Forget it, we are out.

How would you feel, he says?

I understand, this has become emotional, political and even personal.
There has been lie, after lie, after lie and manipulation after
manipulation. These guys can no longer accept this. And that is why
they made their decision. It is a political and somewhat emotional
decision.

But, I still think that technically, there was sufficient guarantees
from opposition technical people to assure us a fair electronic voting
system. But the cheating and deceit (and ignorance!) on the part of CNE
President Rodriguez has been truly unbelievable. He lied and he used
hundreds of millions of dollars to violate the law and the secrecy. And
apparently, nothing will happen to him. Such are the ways of the
revolution.

So, here we are, four days to go. We still don’t know if Primero
Justicia will or not go. But I get the feeling it does not matter. The
level of confusion and mistrust on the CNE is such that I appear to be
a very miniscule minority that thinks that we should go vote. I
understand them, but I suspect that unless all parties withdraw and the
international observers back that position, not voting may even be a
more damaging alternative to voting. Obviously, if I have no
candidates, I will not vote, but it just does not feel right. We shall
see.

One Response to “Politics, emotions and technical issues: To vote or not to vote, looking at both sides”

  1. Aswin Says:

    When I came to Venezuela in the early sixties, my faehtr-in-law often warned me to stock up supplies in view of an imminent coup. I did the best I could on a Bs.1620 monthy income. Maybe most of his warnings were based on unfouded rumors but I know some were coup plots nipped in the bud. Be that as it may, for years we had a small stock of dry goods para el golpe that only petered out in the late eighties. Sometimes I say that I had helped keep those distant coups at bay and that, due to my lack of prevision, was somehow guilty of F-4.My pantry cabinet aside, prevision and plannind for different scenarios , withoout discarting even the most improbable worst case ones. I would like to belive that the MUD is on that track.


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