Manual vs Automated

Last week I read a short article about a forensic investigation on a voting machine used in one of the battleground states. There was one word in the piece that disturbed me to the point of losing sleep, i.e. algorithm. Somehow the word algorithm flies in the face of the performance of a voting machine. I’m sure there is a very good reason for using algorithms in such a device, but I sure as hell can’t understand it.

As an engineer who dealt with designing machines most of his life my design would have had a very simple function, count and add. I am sure the two words are redundant since counting is a form of adding. So let’s just say I would have designed the voting machine to do one thing, count. Of course there would be multiple counters inside, one for each candidate being voted for. If I wanted to doll it up and charge more money for my design I would have added a total count summary for each candidate, and a simple feature to compare the votes of competing candidates with a highlight on the candidate with the most votes. End of design. Not a single algorithm is needed or used. I suppose to determine the winners an algorithm could be used.

What is an algorithm? A set of instructions. Here is an excerpt from an article explaining algorithms

” An algorithm, for the non-programmers among us, is a set of instructions that take an input, A, and provide an output, B, that changes the data involved in some way. Algorithms have a wide variety of applications. In math, they can help calculate functions from points in a data set, among much more advanced things. Aside from their use in programming itself, they play major roles in things like file compression and data encryption.. Still confused, I am too, so let me explain it another way like graphically.

Notice that all the questions in the boxes have two possible responses, yes or no. Each response takes you to another branch with a new question, and the same possible responses, yes or no. This goes on until the question is answered or until one gets bored and walks away from the conversation. Facebook and Twitter use very complicated algorithms to screen your activity on their websites.

If you are still confused, then ask yourself if your Local Congressman has the brains to figure it out? If he can, he is probably configuring the algorithm to win the election without getting any votes at all.

What confuses me is why anyone would want to ask questions internally in a voting machine when the original question is answered very simply as yes or no. In fact, in voting you only answer yes to the candidate you select, and ignore the one you don’t want. Your vote then goes to a tally counter to keep count. At the end the counters display the number of votes each candidate received and after that it is a matter of comparing the number of votes to decide the winner. That comparison can be handled by an algorithm. So I guess I would have to use an algorithm in my design. Any other form of algorithm used has to make assumptions which are input by the machine owner. These assumptions may be used to cheat like hell and to steal elections. There has been a lot of conjecture on the part of some politicians that these machines are responsible for electing Hugo Chavez and Nicolás Maduro, his successor, into office in Venezuela.

In my opinion there is no place for algorithms in a voting machine. We have too many elected officials in place to handle the counting process. How simple would it be to have them read and record the counters in any machine that counts votes?

Machine voting is only one complication in the voting system. COVID-19 caused our brainy Congressional leaders to invent a new scheme for voting. They seemed to have a problem with people coming in to vote under the age old polling place system. Too many people will be in one place and spreading the virus they said. It is much better to vote by mail. If I had to choose voting by mail, I would take voting on a reliable certified algorithm free voting machine over the current vote by mail system. My reason for choosing the machine over the current manual mail system will be the source of separate post.

2 Responses

  1. Unless we complicate it we cant solve it 🙂
    Having said that, I suppose at some stage the world will consider using an Internet based voting system and reduce the election machinery…

    • A real invitation for hackers to ambush the process. We will need an ironclad secure internet. I won’t be here to see it happen.

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