What Can Science Do For Us? – Nothing Unless We Pay Attention

American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting, “”Science for Public Confidence in Election Fairness and Accuracy”  <read> statements by Ed Feltion and Arlene Ash.

it’s mathematically impossible to verify that the code they run will behave properly under all circumstances, which means that the best we can do is provide a verifiable and auditable record of the vote, allowing problems to be identified retrospectively. Even that’s difficult to reconcile with our expectations for anonymity; in describing the challenge of creating an algorithm that simultaneously encrypts and anonymizes the votes, Felten said, “we’ve reduced this to a previously unsolved problem—we’re really good at that in computer science.”

Until that problem is solved, many states are opting for optical scan voting or printing voter verifiable receipts, which can allow a post-election audit to identify significant problems. But running these audits raises a whole new series of issues, some of which are less a technical challenge than a matter of how carefully we want to listen to what an rigorous analysis of a vote tells us…

This, from Ash’s perspective, represents the crux of the problem. We have sophisticated statistical tools that we rely on for everything from medical research to verifying the flow of money through Las Vegas casinos but we simply haven’t chosen to mandate that they be used to verify election results. Even in cases like the elections in Sarasota, where they were deployed, the results were deemed legally irrelevant unless they provide an indication that election results were distorted by malice or intent. Sloppiness or incompetence, apparently, is acceptable, despite our country’s promise to respect the intent of the voters.


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