Greater Transparency for Slots Than Voting (Priorities Folks!)

120px-Slot_machine.jpgNews from Underground has a priceless posting comparing the steps states take to ensure the accuracy and security of slot machines and e-voting machines. Here are some highlights. Nevada requires vendors of slot machines to provide it access to the machines’ software. By contrast, for most states, the source code for e-voting machines remains safely in the hands of vendors with no right of access provided to election officials or the public. A Nevada agency certifies slot machines, and the public has an opportunity to comment on that certification process. Depressingly, a select number of private companies certify e-voting machines at the vendor’s expense and the certification process is deemed a trade secret. Yes, even the certification process is hidden from public view.

The bottom line: the gaming business is subject to greater transparency and accountability than our voting process. It seems wrong, and a bit shameful, to associate a greater sense of responsibility and accuracy to gambling than voting. We care more about money earned through somewhat licentious means than our fundamental right to pick our elected officials in an accurate and secure manner. That seems to be where we are right now, but I have my hopes for the future. More to come on that in 2009. For now, happy holidays CoOp readers!

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5 Responses

  1. Dave Levine says:

    Apt and disturbing comparison. For more on trade secrecy in public infrastructure (including voting machines), you can check my article from Florida Law Review.

  2. I wonder whether the issue is just experience – slot machines have been around so long, Nevada has figured out how to deal with them. I suspect that eventually governments will figure out how to properly deal with voting machines as well.

    On a side note, the problems here are not surprising for a couple reasons:

    1. Slot machines are about money, and thus we might expect a more vocal opposition to lack of transparency.

    2. Relatedly, since few have standing to sue about election machines (at least from what I gather in reading recent precedent), then the odds are low that court challenge to lack of transparency will be forthcoming.

    3. The potential harm to slot machine vendors for having to reveal secret code is much less than the potential harm to e-voting vendors. There are many, many, many more slot machines, which are sold all the time, must be serviced, get upgraded, have new models, etc. E-voting machines sell many fewer, and get used maybe every once in a while. Having your proprietary code copied in such a situation can kill your business nearly instantly.

    None of this is to say the status quo is a good thing, of course.

  3. Bruce Boyden says:

    It seems backwards, but my understanding is that strict gambling regulations are driven primarily by the need to combat the influence of organized crime. Hopefully that is not as much a concern for elections!

  4. Dave Levine says:

    Michael, nice comment. But, to disagree a bit regarding your point (3), I don’t think that significant transparency will “kill” voting machine companies. Some states properly require vendors to place the source code in the hands of election officials, and yet voting machine companies are doing just fine.

    And regardless, with the relative ease with which some experts have been able to hack/reverse engineer voting machines, I’m not so sure that these companies are doing such a great job keeping their secrets. Nonetheless, if you’d like to buy a voting machine, I’m sure that one (or more) of the companies will be glad to sell it to you!

  5. Hi Dave –

    I agree with you – the code should be escrowed and reviewed. When I watched “Man of the Year” I thought it an absurd premise until I learned that many states actually operate in a similar way!

    My point wasn’t that requirements would kill companies – I expect they wouldn’t. My point was that the stakes are higher because there are fewer market opportunities – it’s not like every precinct gets to choose the type of machine.