Brave New Ballot

The Battle to Safeguard Democracy in the Age of Electronic Voting

Aviel D. Rubin -

ISBN: 0-7679-2210-7

Morgan Road Books, Copyright 2006

"Brave New Ballot" by Aviel Rubin is quite a surprising read and was honestly enjoyable. For someone who isn't "tuned-in" to most political matters, including the topic of electronic voting, I found this book to be informative and interesting on a few levels. Even though at times Rubin appears to show disdain for those in the political arena who have no "computer security experience", which may be up to 99% of the United States population (my estimate, not his), his concern for honesty within the democratic voting process is quite clear.

The book starts off with how Rubin became involved with the concerns about electronic voting. From there, he provides accounts of legal, professional, and personal opposition to his findings and opinions regarding security issues with not just the machines themselves, but the process as a whole. One particular example involves Kim Zetter from Wired News, who Rubin openly admits was right in her assessment of his failure to disclose his past business association with VoteHere (a company assumed to be a Diebold competitor). Rubin admits his mistakes, which is quite a refreshing departure from the "CYA" mentality often shown by those who do make mistakes but fail to admit them.

As the story is told, Rubin tells of his experiences testifying to Congress, becoming a registered election judge, and the effect on his personal life and family as he tries to continue to research electronic voting and explain his stance for the need for paper ballots in addition to DRE (Direct Recording Electronic) vote recordings. At times, methinks "the lady doth protest too much", meaning Rubin often takes jabs at his former (or current?) opposition. His points are usually well thought out, but some of the snipes in the book probably should have been edited out to maintain his objectivity.

"Brave New Ballot" isn't generally an overly technical book, but there's enough geekery included to keep techies interested and yet not turn off non-technical readers. Code snippets, basic principles of cryptography, and an explanation of a "hack the machine" contest held in one of Rubin's classes at Johns Hopkins University show that Rubin has a good understanding of the technical side of electronic voting, but those with more of an interest in the behind-the-scenes politics probably won't be disappointed with Rubin's tales of election day polling areas and Congressional hearings. Clocking in at 280 pages, the book isn't too long, but I did find myself skimming the last few pages of patriotic rhetoric.

Rubin is straight-forward in his assessment of the security of electronic voting and why he believes electronic voting processes could be improved. At times, he seems somewhat snarky towards his opponents, but his positions are explained well for those with little background knowledge in the subject matter. Rubin's writing style is generally clear and direct, and "Brave New Ballot" should capture the attention of anyone interested in the electoral process, especially regarding electronic voting, regardless of political affiliation.



p. 35 "Computers are no longer a novelty." YA THINK??
p. 266 "In our democracy, dissent is not merely a right, it is an obligation."
p. 267 "America deserves a foolproof voting system." ... and deserves a .gov grant...

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