Published by the Center for the Study of Language and Information. Distributed by the University of Chicago Press.
A number of earlier books have examined computer-based voting and concluded that it's a supremely bad idea. Primarily, these have focused on explaining the basic security issues and the contemporary context for the popular market. In Broken Ballots, Douglas W. Jones, a computer scientist at the University of Iowa, and Barbara Simons, a retired IBM research scientist and former president of the Association for Computing Machinery, have written the book that's really needed: a comprehensive historical and technical account of just why it's dangerous to place the control of our democracy in the hands of a few technology vendors.
The public remains dangerously unaware — in part because of the media's refusal (again) to do its job — of the technological threats to honest elections. Read this book to understand the situation, and what we can do about it.
For almost a decade now a little-known but fierce policy debate has been going on in the U.S. over the role of computers and Internet technology in elections — the “voting technology wars”. Election officials, vendors, and various interest groups have pushed for hurried adoption of these technologies, initially to replace the punchcard systems that were at the center of the controversy in the Florida, 2000 election debacle, and more recently for various other cited reasons. Ironically the technology community that one would ordinarily expect to be leading the push for computerized and Internet voting has been arguing strenuously for limitations on the use of electronics and software in elections because of the severe security, reliability, and privacy dangers they pose. Computer security experts, more than anyone else, are keenly aware of the many ways they know of to rig or disrupt a computerized election, and they know how profoundly difficult the technical problems are that would have to be overcome before fully computerized elections can be safe.
Broken Ballots tells the story of voting technology evolution over the last century, concentrating on the last decade. It is a fascinating, wonderfully readable, accessible, and accurate account of both the history of the controversies and the technical issues involved by two nationally prominent computer scientists who know the subject deeply and have been personally engaged in fighting for election integrity for many years. While there have been many articles and even a few books that have touched on the subject, no other work even comes close to capturing the full story as this one does. It is superb writing and superb scholarship and offers yet another case study of the limitations and unintended consequences of too much technology applied too fast.
Broken Ballots is the definitive source of information about voting technology, past and present. But it is not purely focused on technology issues; it also thoroughly examines the policy issues surrounding the use of various voting technology. Most importantly, it documents the history of how these issues have been dealt over the centuries.
The authors were directly involved in making some of that history in the last decade. This recent history is a particularly fascinating case study of many aspects of the making of policy about the use of technology, including the roles of business, election officials, politicians, activist, and technologists.
It is not possible to understand elections without understanding the technology that makes them function (or malfunction). This book is essential reading for anyone who cares about elections.
Broken Ballots is simultaneously a detailed history and a fascinating analytical narrative into the evolution and social construction of our voting technology and processes in the United States. There hasn't been a ‘must read’ manuscript like it since Joseph Harris' book on election administration in 1934.
Jones and Simons thoroughly demonstrate the struggles in which our country — the epitome of democracy — has engaged over most of our history to improve how we cast and count votes. The conclusion can be hard to stomach: while we've learned a great deal from these struggles — modern elections are more inclusive, robust and accurate — the constantly changing backdrop of policy, society and technology combine to create a moving target towards which we must be ever vigilant.
Like Harris’ work was to the 20th Century, Broken Ballots will likely remain the definitive examination of voting technology in the 21st Century.