e-Talk Radio: Yourdon, Ed, 21 November 2000


What is your take on that?

Ed: Well, I think that is probably true; although, I heard reports, I have not been able to confirm them, that the accuracy rate on some of these voting machines, the electromechanical ones where you flip the switch, is sometimes as high as 8% to 10%. I do not know what the average is, but I do not think any of us quite realize how error-prone and vulnerable all of this existing technology really was, because in the past, it did not really matter. Whoever won the election did so by a large enough margin that even if there was some error introduced into it, we did not really notice it. I think that is probably what has shocked everybody. The whole political back and forth accusations is kind of to be expected because, clearly, both sides do want to win. But, I think that most of us expected that if we walked into a voting booth that had even a 40-year-old machine, but one where you flipped the switch to indicate that you were voting for this person or that person, that it would be registered properly. And now we are learning that quite possibly this is not true.

Carol: Do you think that with the errors that we have ever found in error that somebody we thought got in, the past, actually had not?

Ed: That I do not know. I was just watching something on the news this evening that apparently in the state of Texas there have been at least 50 recounts over the last 20 years, I think probably at the county level. Then there was another issue on the news this evening that this famous concession speech that President Nixon made in the 1960s election, which was also rather close, about how he was not going to challenge anything and so forth. This turns out to be a myth and notwithstanding what he himself said, the Republicans in several different states did challenge the vote and asked for a recount, which obviously did not change the outcome, Kennedy still got in. I think this is part of the process and occasionally it bubbles up to the point where we all take a look at it if there is an extremely close vote or some extreme allegations of fraud. But as I have said, I think most of us have just assumed that we were using reasonably reliable technology, even if it was punch cards. This whole vocabulary that we have now become aware of, dimpled chads, pregnant chads, hanging chads and God knows what else, this is a revelation, I think, for most of us. It may be something that the voting officials have dealt with quietly in the background for all these years. I think this is a perfect example of what a normal computer project team would be faced with in a business environment with all of a sudden the business user saying, "Oh, my gosh, this system that we have been using for payroll or order entry or whatever that we have suddenly discovered that it is inadequate." We just lost a 3 million dollar account or that we just underpaid or overpaid our employees by 3 zillion dollars and we have to do something. We have to get the latest technology. That is part of what is going on these days. I have heard various reporters saying that everybody should have an ATM card and that way you could vote down at your local shopping mall or at your local bank. The assumption is

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