A while back, I wondered: “How long can the equilibrium of technically incompetent rulers lording it over technologically advanced societies be maintained?”
Possibly not much longer at all. Via InstaPundit, we find Robert X. Cringely’s diagnosis of the touchscreen-voting … uh, situation (emphasis added):
In the case of this voting fiasco, there was a wonderful confluence of events. There was a vague product requirement coming from an agency that doesn’t really understand technology (the U.S. Congress), foisting a system on other government agencies that may not have asked for it. There was a relatively small time frame for development and a lot of money. Finally, the government did not allow for even the notion of failure. By 2004, darn it, we’d all have touch screen voting.
Oh, and there are only three vendors, all of whom have precisely the same motivation (to make as much money as possible) and understanding (that Congress would buy its way out of technical trouble if it had to). This gave the vendors every reason to put their third string people on the project because doing so would mean more profit, not less.
One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, somehow expecting a different outcome. In this instance, the issue isn’t whether Diebold and the other vendors were insane (they aren’t), but whether the government is.
Cringely’s analysis is worth reading in its entirety for its insight into how project management in IT usually works, which is to say, not well.
Returning to the problem at hand, here’s your geeky analogy of the day: if this doesn’t get fixed in the next few months, the effect on American democracy will be analogous to acid rain from a cometary impact turning Earth’s oceans into vitriol — the annihilation of the base of the marine food chain. The reliable exercise of the franchise is the base of the electoral food chain. Cast enough doubt on enough results and the legitimacy of every elected officeholder dissolves like the calcareous shells of so much phytoplankton doused in nitric and sulfuric acid. Publicly-funded bureaucracies suddenly and explicitly become the tools of an arbitrarily-chosen oligarchy, and one that doesn’t even know enough to demand elementary accountability, at that.
Others have suggested that the election of 2004 may be pivotal, as important as, say, 1860 or 1932. Since most such 72-year cycle arguments rely on astrology or numerology, I remain unconvinced. But unless the homeostasis characteristic of American society operates on the voting security issue, universal suffrage could become, at least temporarily, a bad joke in the next eleven months. Not knowing who’d been elected President until December 13th last time around was one thing. What if we didn’t know who’d been elected to anything 5 weeks after the election, and had no good way to find out?