Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Plumbing leaks and voting machines

I spent yesterday in Frankfort Kentucky testifying at the Legislature's Interim Task Force on Elections, Constitutional Amendments & Intergovernmental Affairs on voting machine certification procedures and the resulting security of the voting machines. My role was as technical advisor to the Kentucky Attorney General.

Much of the discussion centered on whether the Kentucky certification process (which I've previously written about) should be an "examination" (the term used in the Kentucky statute) or "testing" as the Secretary of State characterized my proposed improvements to the process. (Technically, the word "testing" is an inaccurate description, as I suggested both testing and analysis, but that's not really critical.)

My contention is that the Kentucky certification process is a superficial review, and not even an examination. The word "examination" isn't particularly precise, and after the hearing was over it occurred to me that when I see the doctor for an physical "examination", I expect him/her to do more than just glance over me - I expect him/her to ask about known problems, take vital signs, some basic lab work, a physical exam, etc., and to interpret the results to determine if additional testing is necessary. True, I don't expect a full body CAT scan to search for hidden problems, but even a basic exam is more than just asking the patient "any problems". So what currently happens in Kentucky isn't an examination, by my definition of the word.

I tend to explain things by analogy, and so am always interested when someone comes up with a new analogy I can use. So I was particularly pleased by the comment from Representative Kathy Stein, who noted that she built two houses in the past few years, both of which (naturally) had plumbing inspections ("examinations") as part of the construction process, resulting in certificates from the inspectors. In each case, after she moved in, the plumbing developed leaks due to insufficiently glued plumbing joints (i.e., inadequate testing). As she pointed out, at that point it doesn't matter whether the goal was examination or testing - the important point is to fix the leak.

So too it is with voting machines - while we can debate whether more testing or analysis should be done before approval, the important thing is that the problems get fixed promptly, before the drips of water cause the floorboard underneath to rot and fail.

The good news is that the co-chair of the committee, Representative Darryl Owens asked the Attorney General and Secretary of State to work with his committee on proposing legislation that will strengthen the certification process, as well as address other issues in voting systems used in the Commonwealth.


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