Sunday, May 21, 2006

Inherent Uncertainty

On the heels of the latest reports filed by Harri Hursti, and covered in depth by, Newsweek via now has an article called "Will Your Vote Count in 2006?" The piece strives for "balance" by including the following opposing quotes:
"If Diebold had set out to build a system as insecure as they possibly could, this would be it," says Avi Rubin, a Johns Hopkins University computer-science professor and elections-security expert.

Diebold Election Systems spokesperson David Bear says Hursti's findings do not represent a fatal vulnerability in Diebold technology, but simply note the presence of a feature that allows access to authorized technicians to periodically update the software. If it so happens that someone not supposed to use the machine--or an election official who wants to put his or her thumb on the scale of democracy--—takes advantage of this fast track to fraud, that's not Diebold's problem. "[Our critics are] throwing out a 'what if' that's premised on a basis of an evil, nefarious person breaking the law," says Bear.
Note that "fast track to fraud" are the words of Newsweek writer Steven Levy. That's nice, suggesting it could happen. But instead of being forced to prove that Diebold machines are secure, which he can't do, Baer is allowed to make the argument that the machines are not secure but the company bears no responsibility for any breach. This is precisely at issue in Denver right now where a City Auditor made news for complaining about the terms of the contract he just signed with Sequoia limiting that company's liability for their machines' potential (inevitable) failures.

So where does this Newsweek article take us? Levy is trying to comment that we should be concerned but he doesn't quite grasp the problem. The closest he gets is at the very end:
In other words, it's unlikely that every voter using an electronic voting device in 2006 will know for sure that his or her vote will be reflected in the actual totals.
It is not a matter of being unlikely, and it is not an open question, as the article's title suggests. Unverifiable voting, by definition, produces inconclusive outcomes. We are being asked to have blind trust which will continue to result in a lack of unanimous acceptance of election results. There is no rational basis for confidence in the results reported from elections in America today.

I wouldn't expect Newsweek to offer such paradigm-shattering analysis. Instead, while raising questions and feeding the existing and growing doubt, the effect is to further reinforce the inherent uncertainty which leaves ordinary Americans divided about what constitutes reality. Rather than stating unequivocally that we cannot know for sure the true outcome of an election held under these conditions, Newsweek appears to be giving ground coveted by those seeking to wake up the masses to America's election problems. This classic technique is called a limited hangout.

* * *

GuvWurld correspondent Dennis Kyne was back in the news this week. Amy Goodman interviewed Kyne's lawyer, Gideon Oliver, on her Wednesday Democracy Now program (transcript).

They discussed the Justice Department's new criminal investigation of the NY police department's work during the Republican National Convention in 2004. As chronicled here at GuvWurld, Kyne was falsely arrested, imprisoned, and eventually put on trial. Charges were dropped and the case dismissed after video evidence showed officers had perjured themselves about the circumstances of Kyne's arrest. This made the front page of the New York Times. At the time, 91% of the 1670 convention arrest cases that had run their full course "ended with the charges dismissed or with a verdict of not guilty after trial."

When we can show that cops are lying to get convictions, or simply to cover their wrongful behavior in the field, and we know how often defendants do not have the benefit of video evidence against their accusers, we have identified another type of inherent uncertainty. If you are a juror, think very carefully about what constitutes a reasonable doubt nowadays. Everything is geared toward making certainty impossible. I need no further cause to support local efforts here in Humboldt for the creation of citizen police review board.



Glad to see you are in favor of police review Dave. Can we use your name as an endorser of the police review initiatives? The text and more details are at or contact the sponsors at

We're also looking for any help in circulating petitions in Arcata or Eureka, there's 50 cents a signature available since we need to get them back by June 19.

If the Voter Confidence Committee or any other organization (or individual, business or newspaper) is interested, we'd like their endorsement of the police review initiatives as well.

Thanks again for your attention to this vital community issue.

By Blogger policereview, at 9:34 PM  

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