In all the fuss over Bush’s alleged attendance at the Texas Air National Guard, here’s something that shows he was ahead of his VP. Cheney handily avoided bing drafted, and apparently is not troubled by the actions he took to achieve that (and I would be exactly the same if I were him). It now appears that he became a father nine months and 2 days after the Selective Service announced that just being married was no long reason enough to be excluded from the draft; the requirement now was to be married with children. Coincidence? Hmm.

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Stating the Obvious

Busily containing my outrage at this stupidity from Bush and Kerry. Briefly, Kerry said that some foreigh leaders have told him (by means unspecified) that they really want him to win. Bush says that Kerry should name names. Of particular interest is this quote from Bush’s communications director:

“Senator Kerry has a choice here. He either comes clean with these sources, or it’s very clear that the fact of it is that he’s making it up”

and this one from his press secretary:

“then the only alternative is that he is making it up to attack the president of the United States.”

Now I’ll agree that it’s a stupid, blustering comment for Kerry to make. But part of its stupidity is that it’s so staggeringly obvious, and the comments of Bush’s team just get them involved in the stupidity. As I’m playing the quote game, here’s one from me, feel free to use it:

“OF COURSE there are foreign leaders who want Kerry as president instead of Bush. There has never been an election in the history of the US where there WASN’T a foreign power that wanted a change.”

Saying that he needs to name names ought to be ridiculous; the only reason he hasn’t is (I hope) some faint glimmering that he’s making himself look foolishly boastful. The story should be as much about Bush’s blindness (or arrogance) as about Kerry’s boasting.

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Voting Tech

Interesting column by Bob Cringely on the issue of electronic voting. The US government is moving toward more electronic voting machines to avoid a repeat of the Florida 2000 fun, presumably. The manufacturers of the machines seem intent on doing the minimum possible to fulfill requirements (if not less) while charging as much as possible. This is affecting both security and utility.

It seems to me that the reasons for electronic voting are to improve the GUI of a paper form (as with the butterfly ballots in Florida that appear to have confused many), to remove several areas of confusion in the counting of ballots (e.g. “hanging chads”), and to provide faster results (which is nice, but not a necessity). Add on to that the main requirements for any election, which I would suggest are transparency, accessibility, and verifiability.

So here’s my suggested solution:

  • Voter casts ballot on electronic device. Each election can be presented on one page (e.g. one page for Senator, one for dog catcher) so each page can be pretty simple.
  • Once I’ve made all the choices I wish to I get a simple print out that says in plain English (or any other language programmed in) “For Senator you voted for Jeff, for dog catcher you voted for Dave”.
  • If this printout doesn’t reflect what I wanted, I have the opportunity to correct my ballot on the device until I cast the votes I wanted to.
  • I take the printout to a large box, where it is held until the end of the day before being transported to a central location.
  • My electronic vote is held until the end of polling, when all votes are aggregated and sent to a central location.
  • If there is any dispute over the count there is a piece of paper that has my intended vote, confirmed by me, locked in a box. The paper becomes the final arbiter of the result.

So the interface is made more friendly, you get just your vote explained to you without distraction before it gets counted, and we have both a quick (and hopefully accurate) count together with a verifiable paper trail. Not foolproof, not flawless, but at least as good as current manual systems, and prefereable to the current e-voting situation.

Marriage choices

It seems common among a certain class of people, specifically those involved in politics, to ask a question until they get the answer they require. For example, the British government is currently looking to move the country into monetary union with the EU. There is no doubt that, if the public says ‘no’, they will be back in a few years time (assuming it’s the same government) to ask again, and again, until they have the ‘yes’ they want, at which point the people will have spoken and the issue will be closed.

I was reminded of this because of the discussion of a constitutional amendment here in Minnesota (and a similar debate nationwide) to ban ‘gay marriage’. Lawmakers are looking to let the electorate vote on the following addition to the constitution:

“Only the union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Minnesota. Any other relationship shall not be recognized as a marriage or its legal equivalent.”

In my less balanced moments I feel like there should be a clause in there along the lines of “…because we hate gays”, but we’ll let that go for now. My concern is that we’re being asked a loaded question. or more particularly, we’re being asked half a question. The actual vote will be “Do you want that text in the constitution, yes or no?” That just addresses the relatively narrow issue that the Christian right and others are raising. If the vote is yes, then we’ve made a decision (for good or bad). But if the vote is no, we haven’t made a decision, we’ve just deferred it. So the same vote can be tabled again, and the courts can start their judicial activism, and same-sex couples are still left in limbo.

What the vote should actually be, IF we really want to make a decision, is something like:

Pick One:
___ Marriage should be between one man and one woman (because we hate gays)
___ Marriage should not be defined by the constitution
___ Marriage should be between 2 people of any gender who can demonstrate a loving commitment to each other.

Notice that I’ve actually made the definition of marriage more strict than it currently is in that third option; I’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader to work out how to make that quantifiable, but at least you can’t say I’m anti-marriage.

Whichever option is chosen, the people can make a choice. There’s nothing to stop the legislature from raising the issue again as soon as they can of course, but that’s OK, this is a democracy and they are entitled to. But at least they’ll be doing so knowing that the majority chose a certain course last time.

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