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Oct 21 , 2012

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Electronic Voting - the Technology Trust Exercise

by Jon Blanchard
Electronic Voting - the Technology Trust Exercise

Except for specialists intimately familiar with a given technology, most people readily admit they have no idea how most technology actually works.

Thus most technology — from the brakes on your car to the e-banking login on your laptop — are fundamentally just trust exercises. And all technology, particularly technology that amends a process most people can understand, like the paper ballot, has always been challenging that way.

Both Johann Fust and Aldus Manutius, the Bill Gates and Steve Jobs of the 15th century, faced charges of witchcraft and practising the black arts by virtue of the fact that Gutenberg press technology produced books, particularly Bibles, that were identical to one another.

Given the subsequent five centuries of consideration made possible by “the Devil’s handiwork” they pioneered, we assume the charges were simply the result of rapacious ignorance on the part of a society unable to comprehend how printing worked. But that is an unjust assumption made possible, in part, by general understanding about how printing happens 500 years later.

The actual reason Fust and Manutius faced charges was because people at the time understood that a Bible was the result of advanced bio-technology — whereby specialist celibate monks across Europe channelled the actual and current Word of God directly to velum via ink and quill.

And in that context, people could trust a pre-Gutenberg Bible, technology by which all 15th century Europeans assigned power to their kings and recorded the major events of their lives for a thousand years.

While bio-engineered bibles are regrettably heterogeneous and stateful — digitally speaking — they were very reliably engineered and centrally audited to specifically address the many assumed threats facing Bibles across Medieval Europe at that time.

Using only the finest blemish-free lambs for velum and specially bred bird quills signed off by the Papal seat, your Bible was guaranteed not to burst into flames as the Word of God was transposed to the page or when read aloud in public.

Hand-tooled, provably virgin leather and sweet cedar bindings meant that your Enterprise Bible would remain in reliable service right up to, and perhaps beyond, the imminent Rapture.

In addition to many inspirational illuminations for the illiterate — 15th century Bible user interfaces included blank storage for ongoing census data important to the flock, as well as real time Wiki features on the folios using a variety of OS compatible bird quills, available locally on licence to your specialist “Bib-Admin.”

Like the paper ballot and local polling station, there was very little ground to argue any improvement was possible. Moreover, while both homogeneous and stateless — digitally speaking — early printing technology was not without known limitations.

For one thing, at first, printed Bibles generally seemed to catch fire in large piles in the public square more often. Often whole books went missing if the local ink or linen supply was subject to a denial of service attack, a very much more bloody and deadly affair in the 15th century.

So on their own, there was much to argue that these printed Bibles were simply not up to the standard required to address the assumed risks and permit good governance across 16th century Europe.

It wasn’t really until a devastating 95-line malware injection on the Wittenberg Cathedral portal in 1517 by Martin Luther and the resultant 50 years of raging religious war across most of Europe, that the question of Stateful vs Stateless Bibles was finally settled.

First, like the printed ballot, it isn’t really the kind of Bible that is important in the end. It is the outcome of prayers that is important. And in that regard — like electronic voting — the more conveniently accessible Bibles, the better. So, deliberately burning Bibles was definitely off the alter.

If a printed Bible legitimately erupted into flame whilst reading Ecclesiastes, so be it. Legacy bio-engineered Bibles were still readily available to those who liked them that way. Printed Bible nerds were welcome and accounted for in the eventuality of a catastrophic Ecclesiastes event.

Even the British who, typically, wanted Bibles in a language of their own damned choosing.

Burning the Torah, the Pentateuch, was also definitely out. Original source code must always be preserved.

Depending on the situation on the Transylvanian frontier, one might burn a Qur’an — but only if the Saracens started burning Bibles first. And even then there was and still is considerable opinion that revenge burning doesn’t represent best ethical Biblery, printed or bio-engineered.

Burning witches, heretics and Druids went un-addressed, remaining a regrettable administrative duty handled by TWH-1486-certified Bib-Admins using standardized audit and remediation guidelines. Thankfully, the underlying wetware shortcomings were addressed in later platform revisions.

Finally, unlike the NDP National Convention this spring, it was reluctantly accepted that denial of service attacks on Bibles (printed and otherwise) were a fact of life, actually addressable by offering stateless Bible access. A point in favour of printed Bibles.

Thus, agreed common Books of Prayers were cached by all sides — the phone-in Bible if you will — and in the eventuality that either other kind of Bible was unavailable, parishioners everywhere would still be able to get their prayers in before the polls closed Sunday night.

And so eventually everyone, once again, came to trust their Bibles.

Not because a given Bible represented a lowest cost winning bid, but because parishioners knew that in the event of a problem with one kind of Bible, there were at least two backup Bibles warmed up and waiting, sometimes with tea and Timbits. So everyone is absolutely guaranteed that their prayer, if they offer it, is counted.

Halifax’s Dean Smith of InteliVote Systems lost the bidding to run this year’s municipal elections. His experience providing trustworthy election results worldwide is illuminating in regards to what we should be on the lookout for when voting online.

For example, a quick ping on vote.halifax.ca throughout the election reveals that a U.S.-based Amazon cloud-based hosting server was in use (and subject to U.S. Patriot Act rules ) instead of a secured Canadian server.

So, despite the lame setup on the current municipal election, knowing a best practise, hardened, hybrid voting solution does remain available right here in Nova Scotia makes me a lot more comfortable about the long-term trust exercise on a standing process smart people know has every potential to erupt in flames.

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