Computers in Election Vigils - take two

Jecel Assumpcao Jr. jecel at
Fri Oct 9 16:39:03 CDT 2015

John Robertson asked:
> >After the fiasco about the Deibold machines changing votes during the 
> >Bush election of 2000, Brazil opted for them?

To which Alexandre Souza replied:
>     Yep. Welcome to the land of the stupid.

Ok, I think we need some facts, here. Note that from the very first time
I used one of these machines to vote and noted that they typed in my
voter ID number using a little keyboard which had a cable going into the
voting "cabin" to prep the machine for my vote, my opinion of the whole
thing has be very negative. After all, I had only their word that they
were not saving my ID along with my vote - there was no hardware
limitation against it doing this. And I was not impressed to see a whole
PC used where a simple Z80 could have done the job my better. That said,
not everything is as bad as the above comments imply.

Brazil's government is divided into three parts: executive, legislative
and judicial. The first two use public elections to fill their ranks
while the third uses appointments. There is a special section within the
judicial branch which runs elections for the other two branches. This is
a full time section that does nothing but elections, with a federal
judge running the national TSE (superior electoral tribunal) which
controls the state based TREs (regional electoral tribunals).

When TSE decided to switch from paper ballots to voting machines in the
mid 1990s, they created a detailed specification and allowed interested
manufacturers to bid for the contract. Unisys was the winner for the
pilot stage, and several places tried the machines in the next election.
It was considered a success and a contract for enough machines for the
whole country was awarded to Procomp, the winner of this second round.

In the 2000 election for US president, the big deal was the messy
recounts of votes in some Florida districts that used very old voting
machines with punched cards. These machines had been used for decades
with no problems, but the close results of that particular race brought
the "hanging chads" to everyone's attention.

Over the next few US elections, Diebold machines started to be used and
caused a series of problems. Shortly after this, Dielbold bought the
brazillian company Procomp and so  inherited the contract for
maintenance and new machines for TSE. The designs of the voting machines
used in the USA and Brazil are unrelated and that the same company is
now involved in both is an accident of changing corporate structures.

One problem with the TSE/TRE scheme is that any lawsuits involving
elections are judged by the very people running them. As you might
imagine, they very rarely (if ever) find themselves to be wrong. On the
other hand, it is supposed to make it harder for frauds from candidates
participating in the elections.

Just so this is not completely off topic, I should mention that the
second generation of voting machines were based on the Cyrix MediaGX
processors, before they were bought by AMD and used in the One Laptop
Per Child. So though this was the late 1990s, we are talking about the
386/486 level machine - classic!

-- Jecel

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