Ensuring Electoral Integrity in 2020

Al Franken cast the decisive 60th senate vote passing Obamacare and virtually everyone now agrees that his initial election in 2008 was achieved through judicially assisted electoral fraud; Clinton buddy Terry McAuliffe was almost certainly elected by felons and illegals; and my personal prediction is that historians will eventually agree that Obama lost the 2012 presidential election to Romney by about 2.5% of the legal vote.

Democracy depends on the integrity of the secret ballot process and fraud, whether mostly real and extensive or mostly imaginary and minor, cannot be accepted. Electoral reform has to find a place near the top of the new administration's priorities list.

In my pre-retirement life as an info-tech management consultant I generally used and praised products from a company called Sun MicroSystems. Sun revolutionized computing, but came under continual attack from more traditional players like IBM and Microsoft and was eventually forced (mainly, in my opinion, because they hired too many people from failed competitors and then listened to them) to sell its assets into a shelter provided by Oracle Corporation which, much to its credit, has maintained them since.

The reason this matters now is that Sun had, uniquely in its industry, the technology needed to prevent electoral fraud in the United States while dramatically reducing the cost of running elections.

The elections management process looks simple: make a list of voters, prepare the ballots, and check off each voter as they fill out and return exactly one ballot.

In reality, it's a little harder: voter registration, ballot preparation, voter identification, and vote counting have all become hopelessly partisan, ridiculously complicated, intrinsically error prone, and hugely expensive. Today's voter lists, for example, are generally thought to include something like 1.8 million dead voters, 6.4 million illegals, 1.8 million ineligible felons, and perhaps 2.7 million people registered to vote in more than one state.

In the modern age, this situation is utterly absurd: an artifact of historical reality, partisan preference, and bureaucratic resistance -- the reality, for example, is that there is no state in the union in which it is technically difficult to create and maintain a near perfect statewide list of eligible voters.

Replacing precinct voting with mail-in ballots creates, as Susan Stanton ("How Voting Really Works: An Eyewitness Account") reported here recently, at least as many problems as it solves -- and these aren't just theoretical: recently reported cases include people arrested for changing mailed ballots during counting process and people finding their advance ballot stolen, completed, and returned without their knowledge.

In principle, electronic voting offers a better solution first because each request to vote, coming from anywhere in the world, can be either authorized or denied by verifying the user's identity and checking it against the list of eligibles who have not yet voted; and, second, because all votes can be collected and counted on the same day -- a consideration whose importance has just been underlined by the fact that an estimated 22% of the 2016 presidential ballots had been cast before the October 28th FBI announcement about reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of an insecure email system.

Unfortunately, electronic voting cannot be done securely with any current voting technology or vote management process because every step in the chain from system set-up to final reporting is subject to multiple fairly simpleminded attacks -many of which cannot easily be detected and some of which are essentially undetectable unless one or more of those responsible comes forward.

Equally importantly, there is no obvious practical short-term way to get a national system in place: as Democratic abuse of the 2003 Help America Vote Act has more than adequately demonstrated, the confluence of states rights, ignorance, bureaucratic resistance, commercial interest, and sheer partisan idiocy can easily turn good intentions into bad results.

This reality defines the opportunity now open to those Sun survivors, like cofounders Scot McNeely and Bill Joy, who have the money, the skills, the connections; and the deep commitments to user-focussed open source attitudes needed to put it all together.

When President Carter chartered the federal Department of Education in 1979, he hoped it would establish and support something very much like the Common Core idea: national standards in both content and teaching that would raise the quality of education for everyone. It didn't happen: instead the department now has an operating budget of about $73 billion; about 5,000 employees; and a 36-year track record in which every increase in its budget and/or span of control has been followed by increases in illiteracy and innumeracy among school graduates.

Worse, the current version of the Common Core ideal as supported by the department replaces Carter's belief in equality of opportunity in education with its opposite: an administrative tilt toward elitism through German-style educational streaming has merged with the left's enthusiastic commitment to rewriting history and reweighting American achievements in service to what a Podesta's email correspondent casually referred to as one of their shared goals: the creation of "an Unaware and Compliant Citizenry".

The Trump administration probably cannot simply drop the Department of Education from the federal roster, but they can reduce its control over state and local funding for education while redirecting its remaining budget in positive ways -- and one of those ways would be to build a private-public partnership to provide and support advanced educational software and materials to the nation's schools.

That partnership, call it "Txen" (pronounced Zen) for convenience, would build communities of contributors on the open source model and deliver the material directly to students and teachers using core Sun technology (Solaris, SPARC, and Sun Ray) in schools -- subject to the condition that the school authorities commit the system, without charge, to electoral authorities during elections.

Despite the fact that the imagined Txen solution would have two networks of around a million devices each, the thing would be relatively cheap to implement and run with more than 80% of what should be about a six-billion-dollar annual budget dedicated to developing and supporting educational materials and methods -- a process to be built around a deep commitment to open source ideals and the placement of Txen paid teacher-evangelists in school districts around the nation.

The trap, of course, is that traditional infotech management would almost instantly sabotage the entire thing first by insisting on programmable displays and second by then acting as if they, not the users, own the system -- the right model for its operation is that of the interstate highway system, and therefore the managerial opposite of the mainframe or wintel stack operation with its tight controls over user action these people are used to.

Thus the real key to success is not the Sun technology, but the attitudes held by Sun's former senior executives combined with that technology: do this right, and everything will coevolve -- but put the people who brought you the FAA, Obamacare, IRS, and hundreds of other federal IT disasters in charge, and failure is practically guaranteed.

Get it right, however, and the Department of Education will finally be doing the job it was chartered to do while local electoral officers will face a simple choice: use a system that's in place, proven, has no setup costs, and is someone else's responsibility -- or develop and deploy a different choice for whose costs and operation they have to take personal responsibility.

That's a no-brainer -- for anyone, and so is this idea because it has the potential to improve education; cut state and local school costs for PC support; save taxpayers hundreds of millions in electoral costs; and, almost incidently, pretty much drain fraud and uncertainty from the American electoral system. 

Al Franken cast the decisive 60th senate vote passing Obamacare and virtually everyone now agrees that his initial election in 2008 was achieved through judicially assisted electoral fraud; Clinton buddy Terry McAuliffe was almost certainly elected by felons and illegals; and my personal prediction is that historians will eventually agree that Obama lost the 2012 presidential election to Romney by about 2.5% of the legal vote.

Democracy depends on the integrity of the secret ballot process and fraud, whether mostly real and extensive or mostly imaginary and minor, cannot be accepted. Electoral reform has to find a place near the top of the new administration's priorities list.

In my pre-retirement life as an info-tech management consultant I generally used and praised products from a company called Sun MicroSystems. Sun revolutionized computing, but came under continual attack from more traditional players like IBM and Microsoft and was eventually forced (mainly, in my opinion, because they hired too many people from failed competitors and then listened to them) to sell its assets into a shelter provided by Oracle Corporation which, much to its credit, has maintained them since.

The reason this matters now is that Sun had, uniquely in its industry, the technology needed to prevent electoral fraud in the United States while dramatically reducing the cost of running elections.

The elections management process looks simple: make a list of voters, prepare the ballots, and check off each voter as they fill out and return exactly one ballot.

In reality, it's a little harder: voter registration, ballot preparation, voter identification, and vote counting have all become hopelessly partisan, ridiculously complicated, intrinsically error prone, and hugely expensive. Today's voter lists, for example, are generally thought to include something like 1.8 million dead voters, 6.4 million illegals, 1.8 million ineligible felons, and perhaps 2.7 million people registered to vote in more than one state.

In the modern age, this situation is utterly absurd: an artifact of historical reality, partisan preference, and bureaucratic resistance -- the reality, for example, is that there is no state in the union in which it is technically difficult to create and maintain a near perfect statewide list of eligible voters.

Replacing precinct voting with mail-in ballots creates, as Susan Stanton ("How Voting Really Works: An Eyewitness Account") reported here recently, at least as many problems as it solves -- and these aren't just theoretical: recently reported cases include people arrested for changing mailed ballots during counting process and people finding their advance ballot stolen, completed, and returned without their knowledge.

In principle, electronic voting offers a better solution first because each request to vote, coming from anywhere in the world, can be either authorized or denied by verifying the user's identity and checking it against the list of eligibles who have not yet voted; and, second, because all votes can be collected and counted on the same day -- a consideration whose importance has just been underlined by the fact that an estimated 22% of the 2016 presidential ballots had been cast before the October 28th FBI announcement about reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of an insecure email system.

Unfortunately, electronic voting cannot be done securely with any current voting technology or vote management process because every step in the chain from system set-up to final reporting is subject to multiple fairly simpleminded attacks -many of which cannot easily be detected and some of which are essentially undetectable unless one or more of those responsible comes forward.

Equally importantly, there is no obvious practical short-term way to get a national system in place: as Democratic abuse of the 2003 Help America Vote Act has more than adequately demonstrated, the confluence of states rights, ignorance, bureaucratic resistance, commercial interest, and sheer partisan idiocy can easily turn good intentions into bad results.

This reality defines the opportunity now open to those Sun survivors, like cofounders Scot McNeely and Bill Joy, who have the money, the skills, the connections; and the deep commitments to user-focussed open source attitudes needed to put it all together.

When President Carter chartered the federal Department of Education in 1979, he hoped it would establish and support something very much like the Common Core idea: national standards in both content and teaching that would raise the quality of education for everyone. It didn't happen: instead the department now has an operating budget of about $73 billion; about 5,000 employees; and a 36-year track record in which every increase in its budget and/or span of control has been followed by increases in illiteracy and innumeracy among school graduates.

Worse, the current version of the Common Core ideal as supported by the department replaces Carter's belief in equality of opportunity in education with its opposite: an administrative tilt toward elitism through German-style educational streaming has merged with the left's enthusiastic commitment to rewriting history and reweighting American achievements in service to what a Podesta's email correspondent casually referred to as one of their shared goals: the creation of "an Unaware and Compliant Citizenry".

The Trump administration probably cannot simply drop the Department of Education from the federal roster, but they can reduce its control over state and local funding for education while redirecting its remaining budget in positive ways -- and one of those ways would be to build a private-public partnership to provide and support advanced educational software and materials to the nation's schools.

That partnership, call it "Txen" (pronounced Zen) for convenience, would build communities of contributors on the open source model and deliver the material directly to students and teachers using core Sun technology (Solaris, SPARC, and Sun Ray) in schools -- subject to the condition that the school authorities commit the system, without charge, to electoral authorities during elections.

Despite the fact that the imagined Txen solution would have two networks of around a million devices each, the thing would be relatively cheap to implement and run with more than 80% of what should be about a six-billion-dollar annual budget dedicated to developing and supporting educational materials and methods -- a process to be built around a deep commitment to open source ideals and the placement of Txen paid teacher-evangelists in school districts around the nation.

The trap, of course, is that traditional infotech management would almost instantly sabotage the entire thing first by insisting on programmable displays and second by then acting as if they, not the users, own the system -- the right model for its operation is that of the interstate highway system, and therefore the managerial opposite of the mainframe or wintel stack operation with its tight controls over user action these people are used to.

Thus the real key to success is not the Sun technology, but the attitudes held by Sun's former senior executives combined with that technology: do this right, and everything will coevolve -- but put the people who brought you the FAA, Obamacare, IRS, and hundreds of other federal IT disasters in charge, and failure is practically guaranteed.

Get it right, however, and the Department of Education will finally be doing the job it was chartered to do while local electoral officers will face a simple choice: use a system that's in place, proven, has no setup costs, and is someone else's responsibility -- or develop and deploy a different choice for whose costs and operation they have to take personal responsibility.

That's a no-brainer -- for anyone, and so is this idea because it has the potential to improve education; cut state and local school costs for PC support; save taxpayers hundreds of millions in electoral costs; and, almost incidently, pretty much drain fraud and uncertainty from the American electoral system.