We Mustn’t Give Up Our Voting Rights to Computer Algorithms
Last week, New York held its primary election for the Democratic candidate for mayor, who will surely be New York’s next mayor. Yet the results were still unknown, with changing updates for days. In fact, we may never know the real winner, because of an invention by progressives to make elections “fairer.”
This invention, known as ranked-choice voting, forces voters to choose not just the candidate they want to win, but to rank the candidates by preference. This unbelievably stupid method of voting is a more serious threat to American democracy than last-minute voter registration, ballot harvesting, and voting without ID.
The threat is even worse than the potential for fraud and mistakes by other forms of computerized voting, because with ranked-choice voting, any candidate can end up winning. The choice rests with a few computer programmers who either maliciously or innocently choose an algorithm that picks a candidate that no one actually wanted to win.
Not Algorithm Bias
I’ve written about the nonsense of correcting “algorithm bias,” which is the notion that some computer algorithm searching for patterns in a large set of data about humans finds a pattern that assigns some traits to people of one race and a different trait to people of another race.
For example, maybe it learns that white people prefer putting mustard on their hotdogs, while black people prefer ketchup or vice versa. The algorithm can then be used to promote mustard to white customers and ketchup to black customers or vice versa. Then the social justice warriors become outraged at the bias of the algorithm, which must be corrected to prevent an inferior product (take your pick—ketchup or mustard) from being sold to minorities.
The serious problem with ranked-choice voting shouldn’t be confused with this imaginary problem.
Not Software Manipulation
I’ve also written about how it’s extremely unlikely that computerized voting machines can actually be manipulated to assign votes incorrectly. The manipulation will either be done by someone entering the wrong results into the computer, which can be found by a manual recount of ballots, or it can be done by embedding the vote falsification into the actual computer code, in which case a competent computer forensics expert can examine the program and find the malicious code.
By the way, when you hear someone say that Dominion Voting Systems’ computer code has never been examined by computer forensic scientists, don’t believe it. The code has been examined many times over the years in many court cases. As in all cases involving corporate trade secrets, the code is released to a small number of independent experts in a secure environment under a court-ordered confidentiality agreement called a protective order. What many people complain about is that the Dominion code has never been released to the public, which wouldn’t only destroy Dominion’s business—if it hasn’t been destroyed already—but would also make every voting machine in America hackable, because every hacker in the world would be able to study the code to find vulnerabilities.
The Human Problem
My wife and I are very deeply connected to the political process. We follow the news, have politically active friends, discuss politics on a daily basis, post political articles and statements on social media, support candidates in many elections, and we’re active donors and supporters of many conservative, bipartisan, and Republican nonprofits. Every night before an election, we study the ballot information, discuss the issues, and independently choose our candidates and vote on the measures on the ballot. Most people don’t. In fact, we’ve never met anyone who has had any kind of similar process.
Given that voting is either a difficult process for most people, or an easy party-line vote, ranked-choice voting is a preposterous concept. Think about having to study all of the candidates in an election and then decide which one is better than another and by how much. Can someone really know that? Rankings are always very difficult, because no candidate represents a single issue.
There are few things that people care about that can be ranked from highest to lowest. Think about some of the simple choices in your life. Do you like vanilla better than chocolate? Steak more than ice cream? Your children more than your spouse? Your spouse more than reading a good book? Reading a great book more than eating a perfectly cooked steak? Christmas more than Easter? Hannukah more than Christmas? Do you treasure free speech over the right to own a gun? How would you rank the first 10 Amendments? You may have a top choice at any one point in time, but a different choice at a different time. And ranking something after your first choice is nearly impossible. We can’t expect people to effectively study, understand, and rank all of the candidates.
The Computer Problem
Supporters of ranked-choice voting say that the algorithms are easy. The New York Times claims, “Tabulating the results of a ranked-choice election is not a difficult process for modern computers.” That’s technically true, but misleading. The problem isn’t that the algorithm is difficult to create, it’s that the correct algorithm is impossible to create. Computer scientists can’t agree on the “correct” algorithm for one specific reason: There’s no such thing. Let me give you two specific examples.
In 1981, I was accepted into the Stanford School of Engineering with the intent to obtain a Ph.D. in electrical engineering. Stanford thought I was so promising that they gave me a full-paid fellowship. I say that not to brag, but to point out that I don’t have a Ph.D. I never completed the program. Why? Regardless of their grades, doctoral candidates were required to pass a qualifying exam, which consisted of 10-minute interviews with 12 engineering professors. Only those who passed the exam could continue.
On a Friday, I filled out a ranking of professors in my field of study in a ranked-choice vote. After ranking about 30 professors, I found all of the others so far outside my areas of knowledge that I left the roughly 100 other professors blank. There was no way I could rank them. On the following Monday, I was given my assignment of interviewers and found that I hadn’t voted for a single professor assigned to me. Not a single one! I later found out that at arguably the best computer science department in the world, the computer science professor who had written the ranked-choice algorithm had forgotten to take into account unranked candidates. The program broke and assigned my interviewers randomly. I failed the exam.
And here’s another simple example of how yet another woke attempt at “fairness” will ruin our political system and our lives. In the table below, there are four candidates running for office: Amy, Bob, Charlie, and Debra. There are five voters, each of whom rank the candidates. There are four methods (algorithms) for counting votes and determining a winner. Method 1 is a simple average of the votes. Using that method, Bob is the winner, even though he wasn’t the first choice of any voter. Method 2 awards victory to the candidate who got the most first-place rankings and gives the election to Amy and Debra in a tie, requiring a runoff. Method 3 gives a weighted average where a first-place ranking is given more weight than a second-place ranking and so on. Using this method, Debra wins the election. Method 4, whether by intent or accidentally, only counts voter 5 and awards the win to Charlie. The winner isn’t chosen by the voters, but by the computer algorithm.
Giving Up Our Vote
By using ranked-choice voting, we’re putting our elections into the hands of a few elite experts and computer programmers who create computer algorithms that assign the votes to candidates and determine a winner that, in some cases, no one really wants.
Unlike simple voting that can be hand-checked by low-skilled human vote counters, the mess in New York demonstrates that human counters can’t replicate the computer algorithms and check whether all votes were counted and counted correctly. And even when all votes are counted correctly, it’s the algorithms that determine the winner, not the voters.
You don’t need fraud or incompetence to change the vote, you just need some ill-defined algorithm. But if fraud in the software changed the vote count, or, more likely, a bug in the code changed the vote count, that would be extremely difficult to know.
It would be difficult to differentiate a bug or a manipulation from an algorithm that gave unexpected results. I know from experience. I’ve designed computer algorithms where the results seemed odd, and it took days to determine whether the odd results were correct and simply unexpected or if they were incorrect. I’ve also probably examined more code than most people, because of my involvement as a forensic expert in more than 230 lawsuits. Verifying that code is working correctly is one of the most difficult challenges in computer science. And every program has bugs. That’s why hand recounts of computer voting are often necessary. But if the algorithms are so convoluted that a hand count won’t work, all bets are off.
We’ve just gone through one very contentious presidential election. I’ve argued that if any fraud or mistakes were made by the voting machine software, we would know about it. However, as a software forensics expert, I can also state unequivocally that ranked-choice voting won’t only allow fraud and mistakes to go undetected, but even if the algorithms work as designed, it takes control of our elections away from the voter and gives it to a small number of people. We must not allow this to happen if we intend to maintain our democratic republic as it was intended.
Bob Zeidman is the creator of the field of software forensics and the founder of several successful high-tech Silicon Valley firms including Zeidman Consulting and Software Analysis and Forensic Engineering. His latest venture is Good Beat Poker, a new way to play and watch poker online. He’s the author of textbooks on engineering and intellectual property as well as screenplays and novels. His latest novel is the political satire “Good Intentions.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.