November 8th, 2006


one evening of woo hoo, a lifetime of oh shit

Democrats did well in this election, but both the President and Congress are going to have a really hard time moving forward. Not because of gridlock, but because Iraq is a problem with no good solutions. Sure, voters told Bush that they want change, but I've yet to hear anyone with a concrete plan to disengage from Iraq without a full scale, bloody civil war erupting. If there's a way to do that, the next problem is that it will become a Shiite-ruled nation that's basically an annex to Iran.

And to get back to the horserace, the Senate at this point still looks pretty good for Democrats. Burns is probably toast in Montana, McCaskill is up with St Louis yet to be counted, and Webb is holding onto a tiny lead over George Allen in Virginia. It may be a month before that one is settled.

The one thing I'm really thankful for is that it seems like despite some reported problems, there hasn't been a hint of my biggest fear for this election: vote fraud.

But I sure hope that Bush's brain unthaws a bit, and that the Democrats can work with him to get out of Iraq without it totally going to hell.

Oh, and a local note -- the Democrat Dave Loebsack is up by a very thin margin over Jim Leach, probably the most liberal Republican in the House. It's too close to call, partly because their machines fucked up here in Johnson County, so they have to go back and recount all the absentee ballots -- which amount to 40% of the ballots. In JoCo, you can vote early at polling places all over the county but you're actually voting absentee. So we have our national nail-biter, and our local nail-biter.

I'm of two minds on this one -- the biggest problem I had with Leach is that he is to the left of a lot of Democrats, but he's a Republican, and so enables the nutjobs that have been running things in the House. Now that the Democrats have taken the House, his being a Republican isn't such a problem. He's a good guy, very smart, and has always taken care of the business of our Congressional District very well. On the other hand Dave Lobesack -- the Democrat in the race -- seems like a solid guy as well. Who knows.

The bottom line is this: Maybe -- just maybe -- things will be better now. The country faces huge problems, and I'm hoping that people take addressing them seriously.

Now here's an idea

An open source Electronic Voting system? Face it, a touch screen voting application is about 1/100th as complicated as, e.g. Emacs or GCC. Display some name, field touch events, record the votes, keep people from screwing with it.

The fact that Diebold et al have a) kept their system closed and proprietary, and b) managed to make expensive, hackable, buff-turd voting machines with no paper trail? Inexcusable. I've spent my professional career working on million-plus line programs developed over decades by dozens of programmers. How fucking hard is it to build a secure, redundantly auditable voting machine by comparison? In my book, not very.

Ideally you'd have a machine that let people vote, then recorded the vote on a paper roll, and gave the voter a receipt, and then let the voter compare the votes on their receipt with the vote on the paper tape. Votes could also be incrementally written to a CDR or DVDR.

Tabulation can be securely done with encrypted USB keys transported from the polling place. Before the polls open, the USB keys would be initialized so that only one voting machine has the decryption key for writing, while the central vote counting machine would have a different unique key for reading. If you break or lose a USB key, you have the DVDR as backup. If the DVDR is bad, you have the paper roll.

Keeping the source code open means you have thousands of highly motivated people looking for vulnerabilities and bugs.

Couldn't you do this whole thing in a couple months with a small team of Comp Sci grad students?