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A really bad idea in the history of bad ideas

By johnboy 13 August 2008 34

The Canberra Times reports that electronic scanning is going to count the vital preferences on our ballots.

Having spent more years than I care to think of working with the results of electronic scanning I wish I could say I share their faith in machine ability to accurately read hand-writing.

Remember this is a fall-back after they arsed up electronic voting, which has now been withdrawn despite no public admission of what went wrong.

And here’s one for the conspiracy theorists. Hand-writing recognition anyone?

“Ah wait,” I hear you cry, “If the hand-writing recognition can identify voters surely it can at least count the votes right?”

Well if it can only correctly identify 20% of voters it makes a lousy vote counting system but still a massive potential intrusion and of great interest to political number crunchers.

I’m sure this is not happening now. But I’m in no way keen on opening this tempting path.

Anything that can be done often seems to be done eventually.

We can wait a few days for our election results, and we can afford to pay people to enter the data.

UPDATE: Thanks to Jonathan Reynolds who has chased up the EC and confirmed that the electronic voting will be continued, but still in an extremely limited implementation.

What’s Your opinion?


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34 Responses to
A really bad idea in the history of bad ideas
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Jonathon Reynolds 7:49 am 21 Aug 08

Found this: http://www.elections.act.gov.au/pdfs/scanningconsultationpaper.pdf

Still looking for more details on what they will actually be using for the election.

peterh 2:47 pm 13 Aug 08

johnboy said :

From what they’ve been saying I think they have to be parity checking as each ballot is scanned rather than batch processing.

Frankly both options have serious consequences.

best to stick to manual counting.

otherwise the wrong lizard might get in…

johnboy 1:09 pm 13 Aug 08

From what they’ve been saying I think they have to be parity checking as each ballot is scanned rather than batch processing.

Frankly both options have serious consequences.

peterh 1:03 pm 13 Aug 08

johnboy said :

Dalryk the software will have to store the image somewhere, (i’ll guess as a TIFF).

Who gets access to that data in the future is my concern. In the past there was physical security to that data and duplication would have been a massive undertaking.

I’m going to assume each ballot will be 5MB scanned.

Call it 200,000 ballots for the sake of simplicity and you’ve got a terrabyte of data. So an ~$1,000 storage array which tucks under the arm can carry it away. (feel free to correct my maths anyone)

Suddenly it is amenable to a level of analysis which it was not previously and I think we should maybe at least have a conversation about that before deciding to proceed.

Even if you lacked a handwriting sample to tack a ballot to a voter you could still, over multiple elections, build up a profile of individual voting patterns.

JB,

using OCR with storage facility will complicate this requirement. Using ICR, through a sheet feed scanner of 1000 pages, single sheet, with auto recognition and image purge functionality will mean that you will have

a) a pile of freshly scanned documents
b) a tally as defined by a scanner and the ICR software
c) opportunity for lots and lots of mistakes re marking, pressure of the voter (re handwriting, not the mob), and other forms of problems,
d) some poor soul who will need to crosscheck the results in a team, sorting through all the votes – much like a tally room.

we aren’t ready for automation yet. they need to find another way to present the vote to the public, perhaps via a touch screen system at a kiosk.

paper based is still too difficult for a computer program to represent efficiently.

peterh 12:56 pm 13 Aug 08

Aurelius said :

PeterH, while ‘worst idea in the history of Stanhope Police State’ is a fairly contentious title, I think electronic ballots would pale next to “Oh, let’s not tell anyone the fire’s coming.”

but we aren’t talking about the other glaring omissions jon has made…

I reckon ‘just tell them we’re going to spend several million dollars building a demonstration facility’ might be up there as well, given the topic is hard to swallow.

miz 12:41 pm 13 Aug 08

I predict that there will be no man hours saved, and if there is a recount it will probably have to be done manually anyway.

Typical ACT Govt, like the little brother, always going ‘hey, I can be the first to do . . . . [insert radical idea here] and show ’em we are the [choose from] coolest, most progressive, most human rights aware, most radical, most politically savvy !’

Why don’t we also have aromatherapy and foot massages by masked robots on the way in to the polling booth, to REALLY make voting day an exciting technical experience. Fair dinkum.

johnboy 12:30 pm 13 Aug 08

Dalryk the software will have to store the image somewhere, (i’ll guess as a TIFF).

Who gets access to that data in the future is my concern. In the past there was physical security to that data and duplication would have been a massive undertaking.

I’m going to assume each ballot will be 5MB scanned.

Call it 200,000 ballots for the sake of simplicity and you’ve got a terrabyte of data. So an ~$1,000 storage array which tucks under the arm can carry it away. (feel free to correct my maths anyone)

Suddenly it is amenable to a level of analysis which it was not previously and I think we should maybe at least have a conversation about that before deciding to proceed.

Even if you lacked a handwriting sample to tack a ballot to a voter you could still, over multiple elections, build up a profile of individual voting patterns.

Aurelius 12:29 pm 13 Aug 08

PeterH, while ‘worst idea in the history of Stanhope Police State’ is a fairly contentious title, I think electronic ballots would pale next to “Oh, let’s not tell anyone the fire’s coming.”

peterh 12:20 pm 13 Aug 08

dalryk said :

I feel the title of this post is unwarranted.

Number recognition is pretty simple from a computer scanning point of view. And pretty reliable. Potentially *more* reliable than hand data-entry, which is the alternative (since you pretty much have to use a computer to tally the results in our complex system).

So, bad idea? not so much.

And as for handwriting recognition from a bunch of numbers? A, the software isn’t designed to do that. B, even a human handwriting expert couldn’t do it. And C, why in the hell would anyone outside of a police-state want to do it?

Worst idea in the history of bad ideas? maybe something like ‘Communism’, or ‘using mercury to treat headaches’ might better fit the bill.

what about:
Worst idea in the history of the current ACT Government?
or
Worst idea in the history of canberra?
or
Worst idea in the history of stanhope police state?

dalryk 12:16 pm 13 Aug 08

I feel the title of this post is unwarranted.

Number recognition is pretty simple from a computer scanning point of view. And pretty reliable. Potentially *more* reliable than hand data-entry, which is the alternative (since you pretty much have to use a computer to tally the results in our complex system).

So, bad idea? not so much.

And as for handwriting recognition from a bunch of numbers? A, the software isn’t designed to do that. B, even a human handwriting expert couldn’t do it. And C, why in the hell would anyone outside of a police-state want to do it?

Worst idea in the history of bad ideas? maybe something like ‘Communism’, or ‘using mercury to treat headaches’ might better fit the bill.

peterh 12:13 pm 13 Aug 08

Jonathon Reynolds said :

Computer Says no….

ROFL!

priceless…

johnboy 11:37 am 13 Aug 08

Jonathon Reynolds said :

With electronic counting there is at least a fall back position whereby a manual count of the physical ballot papers can still be undertaken.

Agreed JR.

But I still prefer scrutinised double manual entry with cross checking. To “Computer says…”

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