On the importance of confidence in voting systems

I was following a series of articles about the Brazilian e-voting system, which apparently underwent a white-hat hack test and survived. It started with this Slashdot article, "Hackers Fail to Crack Brazillian Voting Machines" Problem is that the original article is in Portugese (although remarkably well translated by Google Translation) and is a general news article, without technical specifics.

This took me to this Slashdot article about how elections in Brazil are running on Linux boxes. Interesting, and essentially what we at the OSDV are embarking on. But I was still not satisfied because I was not familiar with the source of the stories and wasn't sure how much to believe everything I was reading. There was also a link to an interesting wikipedia article about Elections in Brazil.

Finally I wound myself to an article from the BBC, originally written in English, which talks about the Brazilian E-Voting system. The article is from last year and is more of an overview of the Brazilian system and does not talk about the white-hat test.

The final quote was, I felt, the most significant in a way:
""The main value of the system is that our society believes in it," heΒ  said" (from How Brazil has put an 'e' in vote)

This quote, from a Mr. Rocha, the engineer who created the first electronic ballot boxes in Brazil, is especially significant to me, because it expresses what I believe too, which is, no matter how good or perfect voting systems are, cryptographically, scientifically or technically, in the end, nothing will work if there's not a general feeling of confidence and trust in it.

An analogy: I drive across a bridge, not because I believe that the engineer that designed it is infallible (don't have time to think about that) or that in fact, it can never fail (there might be an earthquake at just that instant) but, just because, at the core, I have confidence and trust in the system that put that bridge there.

Which is why one needs to be careful about systematically sowing distrust and fear about elections based on exotic technical arguments. Just a personal opinion.
Posted on November 15, 2009 and filed under Politics, Technology.