Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

California Should Wait Before They Laugh at Iowa Caucus Debacle

Forward-thinking Democrats of Iowa thought they would improve matters, but Technology made it worse.

On Monday, the much-anticipated results of the Democratic Iowa caucus were not available once the event ended. An app that had been designed to report results automatically from the phones of the precinct chairs either did not download, did not work, or was too complex for the user to figure out. It took two days for the Democrat party's election officials to parse through the precincts' reports to come up with some numbers that they declared definitive.

If Iowa's Democratic party had conducted the election the old-fashioned way, they would have had results that night. And everybody would have believed those results.

Instead, the forward-thinking Democrats of Iowa thought they would improve matters. They told caucusgoers they were "streamlining" the process and "bolstering fairness" by introducing technology.

Technology solves every problem, after all, and makes everything better, particularly if it's computer technology.

The result was that the technology fell apart and now the public - not only Iowa but also the entire country - is questioning the results of the caucus.

Guess what? The State of California is also going to use new technology in the upcoming primary election in March.

The new tech involves "voting machines" and a computer database of registered voters. And while a "voting machine" initially sounds suspicious, it's actually the database that worries us more.

Via some reasoning that is inaccessible to us, state officials and legislators decided that more people would vote (or perhaps more of the type of people they would like to vote) if they got rid of the neighborhood precinct voting by which California has conducted unchallenged elections for the past century or so. Instead, voters are going to have to make their way to a "voting center."

Because there are far fewer voting centers than there were polling places, they are not necessarily within walking distance of your house. Most people will have to drive to them and also find parking. (Hey, what happened to our concern about sustainability? Geez, I hope nobody thinks anyone is going to take public transportation to go vote.)

Once at the voting center, a prospective voter gives their name to the poll worker who looks them up in a "secure" database of registered voters. Seeing the prospective voter has not yet voted, as noted in the database, the poll worker marks them off on the computer directs them to a voting machine.

The voting machine is nothing more than an electronic ballot-marking device. It is not connected to the Internet or any other network. The voter uses a touchscreen to mark their choices, and those choices get splashed onto a paper ballot. The touchscreen allows a choice of font and size, and the machine includes a headset for those who can't read or are blind. The voter gets a chance to touch and review the paper ballot before inserting it back into the machine and a secured ballot box.

The attention that election officials have given to encouraging trust in the electronic voting machine is telling. They made a point of creating a stupid machine that is not connected to the rest of the cyberworld. They enabled a voter to handle their paper ballot, and they are sticking with a paper-only trail for counting (and possibly recounting) votes.

Where the state is waving their hands in a "don't look here" manner regards that computer database of voters. This database is most assuredly connected to the Internet. In fact, such connectivity is precisely how it works. Instead of having to go to your local precinct polling place where your name is quaintly printed on a piece of paper, you can vote from anywhere - precisely because this connected database is (supposedly) keeping track of your name, voter registration status, and whether or not you have already voted.

The state is counting on people blithely accepting that a poll worker is looking their name up on a computer. We're used to having our names looked up on a database - at the airport, registering for school, in the rewards program for CVS. We trust these databases to know us, our addresses and phone numbers, and the amount of money we've spent at CVS this year so we can earn rewards points.

But how can the state prove the security of this database? This database is indeed connected and thus vulnerable to potential hacks. But even if the database were secure, there is no way the state can prove it and assure the public's trust in the election results - that voters only voted once and that they were actually eligible to vote.

In 2018, California instituted its "Motor voter" law, which automatically registered to vote everyone who came to the Department of Motor Vehicles, either to register a car or get a driver's license. Since California allowed illegal aliens to get driver's licenses at the same time, they were automatically registered to vote with the proviso that the Secretary of State would weed them out after the fact.

In the first year of implementation, the motor-voter system was found to have produced 100,000 errors. Remember those illegal aliens who were supposed to be weeded out? 1,500 of them ended up registered to vote.

Why should we believe this voter registration database is free of error at its outset? Why should we believe it will work when it comes to noting when voters have already had their vote?

When big, savvy corporations like Sony Pictures and Experian can get hacked, it's hard to believe a far less savvy, and much less motivated state government can avoid the same fate, particularly when the stakes are much higher.

I'll take my name crossed out on the paper at my local precinct.


Reader Comments(1)

TML writes:

On Caucus Day, the Iowa Democratic Party experienced an unusually high volume of inbound phone calls to its caucus hotline, including supporters of President Trump, Mandy McClure, communications director for the Iowa Democratic Party, told the Des Moines Register. The unexplained, and at times hostile, calls contributed to the delay in the Iowa Democratic Party’s collection of results, but in no way affected the integrity of information gathered or the accuracy of data sets reported. Right wing domestic terrorists at it again.