As a resident of South Florida, I've mentioned before how I felt about the handling of the 2000 elections. Forget for a moment how something as amazingly not complex as a paper ballot could confuse and befuddle people down here, and instead focus on the aftermath of recounting and recounting. For about two weeks, we had a different recount result every day, and that was with nearly 100% availability of paper records.
Fast forward 4 years, to a point where apparently nobody has learned
anything. Florida has some kind of touchscreen-based e-voting kiosk system in
place that has caused at least one county to skip general elections
last year because they were too expensive, and here we are just months
away from the presidential election.
And that's when I read this article. (The Miami Herlad article it points to is here,
but you need a subscription). Apparently Miami-Dade county lost a
lot of data, has no way to retrieve it, and no way to conduct formal
audits because of that. Oh, and of course these are the machines
that will be used in the upcoming election, and no provisions are being
made for paper backups or any other kind of "hard" audit trail.
But the best part is a quote from Seth Kaplan, a spokesman for the
election department. He says, that the problem can't happen again
and the data is now immune to computer failure, because they are now backing it up to tape.
While a lot of my irritation about this subject has focused on Diebold
and their awful, awful kiosk software in the past, in this case we saw
a failure in the management and processing of the data -- something
equally important as gathering the votes, that up until this point has
never had to be considered. Managing votes in times past meant
keeping boxes of paper ballots and then incenerating them when
finished. Tallies could be kept on a few sheets of paper and
backed up into a computer.
So there was a big gaping hole in the Miami-Dade system, they acknowledged it,
and because of that they are now impervious to any other
problems. I think it's safe to say that these people have never
run any mission-critical infrastructure before. I think it's
probably also safe to say that they've never actually tried restoring
something from an old tape.