Lecture Sixteen--ICS 131 F00--16 Nov 2000

Review of Lecture Fifteen

OSHA rules made the Federal Register

put somebody in charge


fix the problem
pay medical costs and part-time compensation

Computer Health and Safety
Really important
Things you can do to prevent problems, alleviate problems
Responsibility of organization
         Children are a special problem
Final question: prepare a computer health

and safety program for UCI students

what should the students do?

what should UCI do?

Lecture Sixteen--How can Hi-Tech change things? Three examples

1. Web publishing--Hoping web success strikes twice, NY Times, 11 Nov

•Denis Dutton

•New Zealand, University of Canterbury, Christchurch

•Arts & Letters Daily


out-of-print books

not economic for traditional publishers

$12.95 to download

print on demand

•Connections--Small world
Jaques Derrida, essay on

Fred Crews



2. Blackboard: new uses for technology

A. Source material for a course on Lizzie Borden

•Pretty regular course format

•Unique course material

•Primary source material

B. Classtalk

•Millionaire devices

•wired, wireless

•student feedback

•Doug Engelbart's version

C. Wireless internet access

•college campus

3. Shopping in Palm of the Hand

Wireless shopping with handhelds

Pretty crude right now

Example: compare prices

Example: find things

4. Morals

Customizing, small amounts, single copies, cut distribution costs

compare to traditional publisher

Make information available in classroom, outside of classroom

more information

easier access

Bring information down to execution point



1. Presentations on Wednesday

2. Quiz 5

Lecture 17--Computer people

WSJ, 15 Nov 00, B1 +

Bounds, Wendy and Silverman, Rachel Emma

The Really Early Midlife Crisis

What price glory? personal tales of the dot-com trenches

3. Final lecture--two weeks from today

4. More on computers and elections--cpsr.org

e-mail, website

5. Quiz 4 grades

6. More on computers and health

Stolberg, Sheryl Gay and Gerth, Jeff.

High-tech stealth being used to sway doctor prescriptions

NY Times, 16 Nov 00, A1, A20

Freudenheim, Milt. Big companies lead effort to reduce

medical errors, NY Times, 16 Nov 00, C19


Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR), a public

interest organization that focuses on the benefits and risks to society of computer technology, offers the following answers to frequently asked questions about computer-based voting technology.

Q: Why do vote counting systems produce different totals when the ballots are recounted? Shouldn't machine counts and recounts of ballots produce repeatable, reliable results?

A: Many people have wondered why a computerized vote-counting system

would have any significant inaccuracies. Some have publicly speculated that such variation must be the result of deliberate human action. Some people believe that computerized counts will always be more accurate than human counts, because of inevitable "human error."

However, computerized vote-counting systems are complex, prone to

several kinds of error. Well-designed vote-counting systems minimize these errors. Some systems, particularly older systems, are not so well-designed,and are more prone to error. To illustrate this problem, we will describe some reliability problems with the oldest type of computerized ballot still in use, the Vote-O-Matic(tm). This system was once very popular and is still used in many places, including 15 Florida counties: Broward, Collier, Dade, Duval, Highlands, Hillsborough, Indian River, Lee, Marion, Osceola, Palm Beach, Pasco, Pinellas, Sarasota, and Sumpter.

The following describes reliability problems associated with one phase of the elections process: gathering ballots and running them through readers. Problems may occur in other phases, included materials design and printing, polling place administration, voter education, and vote tally software. By focusing on this one phase, we do not imply that the other phases are trivial. Conducting elections is demanding work, in all phases. Also, this paper focuses on errors. Elections frauds certainly have arisen in the history of American politics, but to our knowledge no fraud has been alleged in the ballot counting process for this election. Some level of error is inevitable when counting Vote-O-Matic ballots, however.

CPSR has been studying Vote-O-Matic-type vote counting systems for over ten years. Experts, including CPSR's own project personnel, have concluded that the Vote-O-Matic system has inherent accuracy limitations. Furthermore,careful manual counting of Vote-O-Matic ballots should always be more accurate than machine counts.

The Vote-O-Matic system uses as a ballot the Hollerith punch card, also known as a "computer card." This once-common card is roughly 3" by 7", with small rectangular holes. For Vote-O-Matic cards, each hole in the card represents a vote for one candidate (or in favor or against a ballot measure). The ballot is counted by feeding it, short-side first, into a reader. (The card is made with one corner clipped, so that the correct end of the card is fed in first.) The reader has lights and sensors. When a hole passes over the sensor, light shines through, and the hole is read as a vote.

Hollerith cards were used for the 1890 census, and millions and millions of critical activities between then and the 1970's. Thus, one might expect the Vote-O-Matic system to be extremely reliable. But important differences between the standard Hollerith card and the Vote-O-Matic card make the Vote-O-Matic far less stable and reliable. There are three main problem areas:

- ballots

- ballot reader machines

- what happens when a ballot reader reads a ballot

* Ballots

The ballots use essentially the same card size and hole positions that IBM adopted in 1924 soon after they bought Hollerith's company. However, the cards are not the same. Hollerith's approach was to punch a hole in a solid piece of paper. Vote-O-Matic cards are pre-punched. Each square "chad" is held in place by a small wad of paper fibers at each corner. The vote then makes a hole by pushing the chad out with a round stylus. However, sometimes a chad will be partly punched out or will snag on something and be pulled out, creating what is known as "hanging chad."

Hanging chad can be attached at one, two, or three corners. Chad attached at one corner are usually torn off by the card reader or in handling. Chad attached at two corners are also often torn off, unless the two corners are on the side of the chad that is fed first into the card reader. Then, often,the chad will be forced back into the hole, only to flap open again later. chad attached at three corners are also usually forced closed by the card reader. Handling the cards can also change the status of hanging chad. Some studies have been done on chad, but there are many independent variable and complicating situations, so the preceding is a generalization.

These pre-punched cards are also reportedly sensitive to changes humidity. The reasons have not, to our knowledge, been studied, but it is likely because the chad loses and gains moisture faster than the bulk material. Thus taking a box of Vote-O-Matic cards from an air-conditioned room to a humid evening to another air-conditioned room will have unpredictable effects. It may take the cards some time to settle down after the ordeal.

The pre-punches also make the cards less rigid than a normal Hollerith card,and thus more prone to bending. Bent cards often cause problems during reading. The trailing edge of the card is uneven, because of tabs from where the write-in tab was detached. The faces of the card are not as smooth as a regular card, again due to the pre-punches.


* Ballot Reader Machines

So far as we know, there are no longer any manufacturers of Hollerith card readers. High-speed card readers have a lot of precision parts. Existing readers must be periodically rebuilt, but many companies no longer exist and the remaining manufacturers, so far as we know, no longer offer maintenance contracts on the units. Elections is about the last market left for Hollerith card readers. Elections companies buy up equipment from counties as they move away from Vote-O-Matic systems, and sell it jurisdictions still using Vote-O-Matic.

Elections aren't a particularly hard life for a card reader, since a reader is only used for a few days a year. Still, the readers eventually need to be rebuilt, which elections companies do with a dwindling supply of spares,hangar queens, and whatever rebuild protocols they devise. Still, some parts age more on calendar time than with use. As the readers age, they become less reliable and more prone to error and breakdown.


* What Happens When a Ballot Reader Reads a Ballot

Ideally, a stack of ballots is sucked one-at-a-time from the input hopper to the output hopper of a card reader, each being counted accurately. However,sometimes two cards are sucked through. This is probably because pre-punching makes small ridges on the bottom of the card, and an identical pattern of small troughs on the top. The ridges tend to get caught in the troughs. Also, feed mechanisms have to be engineered with consideration of the air cushion between the cards, as one moves relative to the other. This air cushion will not have the same properties for Vote-O-Matic cards as for normal cards, due to surface roughness. For whatever reason, misfeeds happen.

Hanging chad can flip open and closed. Detached chad can become stuck in the feed path, increasing double feeds and misfeeds. Detached chad can jam two cards together, increasing misfeeds. In some machines, detached chad can jam over the light or sensor, causing holes to not be read until the chad blows out of the way. Detached chad can migrate from one card to the next.

Chad that was not detached before, but merely buckled or only detached on one corner (which counts as "not an open hole" in many jurisdictions) can catch on other cards and become hanging chad or be torn loose.

The read process can be quite traumatic to a Vote-O-Matic card.


Q: Is counting ballots by hand more or less reliable than counting them by machine?

A: A human count of Vote-O-Matic cards should almost always produce a significantly more accurate result than automated reading. People cannot count cards as quickly as a card reader, but a card reader is much more limited than a person in how it can handle and read a card. Any damage a card has sustained can confuse a card reader or cause it to malfunction. People are better able to deal with such problems.

Unfortunately, reading a Vote-O-Matic card by machine changes the card. Cards that have had one or more trips through a high-speed card reader will appear different to a human reader than they would have when freshly punched by the voter.

Erik Nilsson, an election technology analyst for CPSR, believes that the Vote-O-Matic system should be replaced. "For a quarter century, election experts have been calling for the Vote-O-Matic system to be retired. The results of the 2000 election show that it is now time move beyond this temperamental antique."


Q: Would Internet voting solve this problem?

A: Internet voting is often suggested as a solution to election counting problems, but has many problems of its own, for example:

- If people voted from home, it would be very difficult, perhaps

impossible, to assure that those who vote are who they say they are.

Someone could vote for one of their family members, for example.

- If people vote from home rather than in a polling place, vote secrecy and privacy could be compromised. Elections in many democratic societies, including the U.S., are based on the promise of secret ballots, where only the voter knows who he or she voted for (unless he or she chooses to tell others).

- A home-based Internet-based voting system would favor people who have computers and Internet connections at home. Such amenities are not possessed by all citizens in the U.S.

- Purely electronic ballots leave no paper trail, so electronic subversion of voting records could be difficult or impossible to detect.

- Voting from home could destroy the sense of shared civic responsibility and pride that most people clearly feel when they go to an actual polling place to vote.

On the other hand, Internet voting could offer the following advantages:

- Customized presentation of voting choices, for example voter-selected font size

- Reliable vote tabulation

- Access for the disabled, and rural

- Can handle large numbers of voters

Computers, of course, can and will be used in elections. One approach that could provide the advantages without many of the disadvantages would be to provide Internet terminals in polling places. Voters would come to the polling place and identify themselves, as they always have. Vote-O-Matic and other outdated, unreliable systems would be replaced by more current technology. Each polling place would have a "manual" backup system on site, for when the network connections or computers fail (as they surely will) or when a voter is simply unable to understand how to use the computer.

A home-based Internet voting system is completely out of the question until access to the Internet in the U.S. is universal. Until such a time, adopting a home-based Internet voting system would be unconstitutional. Today we are far from universal access. For example, in some urban poor districts, 14% of households lack even basic phone service, much less Internet connections. On some Indian reservations, the percentage of phone-less households is even higher: 40%.

Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility was founded in the early 1980s by computer scientists and engineers who were concerned about the use of computer technology in military applications, particularly the Strategic Defense, or "Star Wars", Initiative. In the mid-1980s, the organization branched out to include other issues, such as electronic privacy, freedom of speech, and the use of computer technology in elections.

For further information, please visit CPSR's website:

http://www.cpsr.org/issues/voting.html or contact the CPSR office

at 650-322-3778 or cpsr@cpsr.org to be directed to experts in the area of Internet voting.

Susan Evoy * Managing Director


Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility

P.O. Box 717 * Palo Alto * CA * 94302

Phone: (650) 322-3778 *

Email: evoy@cpsr.org