Tales Of Our Times
By JOHN BARTLIT
New Mexico Citizens
for Clean Air & Water
Political Tug Of War Stifles News Of Voting Technology
Voting in the 21st century is at the juncture of three working cultures that diverge so widely they barely speak the same language. Yet, the business of voting systems has the greatest built-in importance across societies. Trouble at the juncture is certain. That trouble, though, now shows new and healthy signs of moving into a forum known for its rare ability to force the exchange of information.
The first language is politics. The big parties keep us notably well informed about partisan thinking. By the same token, the parties keep us woefully ill informed about composite issues.
A second language is for voting companies’ explaining their systems. For U.S. elections, three companies dominate the supply of voting technology—Election Systems & Software (founded in U.S.), Hart InterCivic Inc. (U.S.), and Dominion Voting Systems (Canada). Worldwide, some 19 companies got their start in countries as small as Holland or as populous as India.
The third language in voting issues is that of technical schools and specialized non-profit groups. A name that fits them is the detective teams. This set is the most independent of the three cultures and also the least recognized.
A big turning point for voting issues came in 2000. The Bush v. Gore presidential election that year ended in legal challenges of voting problems and then a U.S. Supreme Court decision on December 12.. The need to improve matters was clear. That same month, the president of Cal Tech and president of MIT announced the formation of the Voting Technology Project at Cal Tech and MIT. The project on voting systems now has 20 years of data, findings, and usable fixes.
A partial list of non-profits, with the dates of their founding, has a distinct tone of trained scrutiny. One of the oldest is Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility. It was founded in 1983 over concerns about the effects that computers have on military operations and took up voting issues a few years later. Other working groups include the Verified Voting Foundation (2004), the Open Source Election Technology Institute (2006), and the National Election Defense Coalition (2013).
Mindsets show themselves in lingoes. A long-running political dispute surrounds what one big party refers to as “voter suppression” and the other party refers to as “flimsy voter IDs.” The Voting Technology Project (VTP) deals with all the components, in their full technical scope. Thus, VTP says they work on “making the process of voter registration more secure and more accessible” mixed in with “evaluating methods of voter authentication, and their effects on the election process.” Cultures differ. In politics, sound bites are generic and curtly one-sided. In technical talk, issues to be dealt with are detailed and multi-sided.
The strange dynamics of the 2020 election afford new ways of shining light into neglected corners. After months of hearing snarly accusations that their voting systems were part of “rigging” the election, Smartmatic International has filed a lawsuit claiming $2.7 billion in damages against various players in the Trump campaign. Dominion Voting Systems has filed a suit claiming $1.3 billion in damages due to kindred attacks on Dominion. Counter suits are threatened.
Companies can be as stingy with facts as is any political party. In lawsuits, both sides would do well to bring in detective teams on voting systems as witnesses who do not work for vendors or for political parties. Day in and day out, people talk past one another on voting issues and change topics before anything can be concluded. Court procedures do better, since judges have the tools and the mandate to force people to exchange information on the same subject.
Watch politics, the companies, and the detective teams all work in a few trials, tempered by the courtroom’s firm and well-honed rules. Watch democracy shine anew.