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Technology

What’s Easier to Rig—the U.S. Presidential Elections or a Slot Machine?

DiscoblogBy Lizzie BuchenApril 15, 2008 1:09 AM
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Steve Freeman, a visiting professor at the University of Pennsylvania, compared the vulnerabilities of the two in his book, with some pretty alarming results. Among the problems he found: –Unpredictable voting machine software is kept secret, while gambling software must be kept on file with the state. –State inspectors randomly inspect gambling machines to ensure their software and computer chips haven’t been tinkered with. Voting machines don't need to be checked, and no one knows what's in them anyways. –Slot machine manufacturers are subjected to background checks, while no one knows whether voting machine programmers have been convicted of, say, fraud (video). –Gambling equipment is tested and certified by third parties, while voting machines are certified by companies of the manufacturer's choosing (and payroll). –In case of dispute, gamblers have access to round-the-clock investigators who can analyze machines. Disgruntled voters can (sometimes) file a complaint that may or may not be investigated. So on the surface, the black box doesn't seem to be any better than hanging chads. Yet how much longer are we going to have to be inefficient Luddites? In the two years since Freeman's book was published, there have been some changes to the system. Voter-verified paper records—which allow a voter to review the machine's accuracy, and remain with the machine to become the official record of the vote—are now required in 30 states (although manual audits in randomly selected precincts are only mandated in 17). But not all of the changes have been in the positive direction. According to an e-mail from Freeman, "the technology has not become more transparent. The entire election process, incredibly, has become even less so." He notes one particularly interesting development—the military may be counting your votes. For other newsworthy developments, check out Freeman's blog.

Image Credit: Daquella manera/Flickr

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