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Microsoft Will Help Iowa Caucuses Go High-Tech 71

jfruh writes: Poltical party caucuses are one of the quirkier aspects of American political life: local party members gather in small rooms across the state, discuss their preferences, and send a report of how many delegates for each candidate will attend later county and statewide caucuses to ultimately choose delegates to the national convention. It's also a system with a lot of room for error in reporting, as local precinct leaders have traditionally sent in reports of votes via telephone touch-tone menus and paper mail. In 2016, Microsoft will help both Democrats and Republicans streamline the process in a fashion that will hopefully avoid the embarrassing result from 2012, when Mitt Romney was declared the winner on caucus night only for Rick Santorum to emerge as the true victor when all votes were counted weeks later.
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Microsoft Will Help Iowa Caucuses Go High-Tech

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  • Don't blame me, I voted for Kang!
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      vote Cthulhu. why choose the lesser evil
      • I did a write-in for Him Who is Not to be Named.

        • by Whiteox ( 919863 )

          Landru: "The good of the body is the prime directive. You will be absorbed. Your individuality will merge into the unity of good, and in your submergence into the common being of the body, you will find contentment, fulfillment. You will experience the absolute good. "

  • Time to be reminded how our method of holding national elections is completely broken and inefficient. I wish I could save up all my sleeping time and sleep every fourth year so I don't have to deal with the circus. Just wake me up on voting day and I'll do my duty.
    • by Whiteox ( 919863 )

      Time to be reminded how our method of holding national elections is completely broken and inefficient. I wish I could save up all my sleeping time and sleep every fourth year so I don't have to deal with the circus. Just wake me up on voting day and I'll do my duty.

      I just don't understand why you guys don't make voting compulsory?
      That'll fix all problems.

  • nope. do it anyway.
  • prepare (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Iowa is about to get their accounts completely ass fucked by a company that cannot even create a decent stable program with a good interface (well, sorta if they have 20+ years).

    Are these people insane? They could probably just hire a web developer or 2 and get the same result.

    Government employees in my mind lately are sorta like babies, if you jangle something shiny at them (OHHH MICROSOFT I KNOW THEM) they shit themselves and blurble for it without thinking of anything else. Sorta like how the health ca

  • by Bruce66423 ( 1678196 ) on Monday June 08, 2015 @04:28PM (#49871013)
    Let's see the hackers arrange for Bill Gates to get 100% of the votes; maximum embarrassment all round...
    • by Livius ( 318358 )

      Given who's running, Gates starts to look pretty good.

    • by Joe Gillian ( 3683399 ) on Monday June 08, 2015 @04:55PM (#49871275)

      Des Moines, Feb. 26, 2016 - Officials from the Federal Election Commission have descended upon the capitol today after a bank of Microsoft-supplied vote tracking machines declared Free Software Foundation President Richard M. Stallman to be the undisputed winner of the 2016 Iowa Caucuses. Stallman, who won a record-breaking 100% of the vote, told journalists that he welcomes the results even though he had not previously declared himself as a candidate for the presidency. Stallman has already issued a statement declaring that if he is elected, "2017 will truly be the Year of the Linux Desktop."

      Federal officials have insisted that the voting machines were somehow hacked, potentially by terrorists associated with The SCO Group, a former Unix developer infamous for years of frivolous lawsuits over the ownership of Linux. One official, speaking on condition that his name would not be published, said that The SCO Group had left "footprints" in the code used to hack the machines. "It was the strangest calling card we've ever seen," the official said, "When we looked at the code, half of it was the words "PWNZORED BY SCO" over and over again. Given the patterns we've seen with ISIS and Al-Qaeda, we can assume this is a terrorist group taking responsibility for the attack."

      Locals in Iowa, however, believe the results to be legitimate. Several residents told reporters that "The results can't be any more corrupt than they already were" and "At least we won't have to listen to all those conspiracy posts on Slashdot if Hilary loses."

      A spokesperson from Microsoft declined to comment on this story, saying "Bill's absolutely livid right now. The machines were supposed to glitch and give him 100% of the vote.. I mean, ensure a fair and accurate balance in making sure every vote counts. Needless to say, we are looking into it."

      • by sconeu ( 64226 )

        This is clearly a false report. Stallman would have stated "2017 will truly be the Year of the GNU/Linux desktop."

      • by Whiteox ( 919863 )

        Stallman, who won a record-breaking 100% of the vote

        Shouldn't that be 105% of the vote?

  • In 2016, Microsoft will help both Democrats and Republicans streamline the process in a fashion that will hopefully avoid the embarrassing result from 2012, when Mitt Romney was declared the winner on caucus night only for Rick Santorum to emerge as the true victor when all votes were counted weeks later.

    Or we could, you know, just not announce the winner for at least 24 hours, just to give everything time to come in. Just as accurate, far less wasted tech.

    The problem here isn't some counting machine, it's

    • Or we could, you know, just not announce the winner for at least 24 hours, just to give everything time to come in.

      That is a terrible idea. Delaying results make it easier to cheat. Results should be reported immediately, as soon as they are available. If you don't want to hear preliminary results, there is a simple solution: turn off your TV.

      • by vakuona ( 788200 )

        One of the "innovations" if you will, to come out of the Zimbabwe elections some years back was that votes are now counted at polling stations. This, together with clear ballot boxes makes it harder to cheat at the count stage. (Still plenty of problems regarding the free-ness and fairness of elections).

        Results are posted outside each polling stations too.

        In technological terms, we have distributed counting which is more efficient and quicker than transporting results to some central location and then count

  • The entire point of caucuses is that they be open with and riddled with face-to-face discussions. They are noisy, chaotic,inefficient, anything can happen, and the purest form of democracy. They should not be streamlined, centralized, monitored, or in anyway constrained by anything. Software by its very nature limits how communication can be done. I see this as a bad idea and making caucuses less fun.

  • by Mark Shewmaker ( 29292 ) on Monday June 08, 2015 @05:19PM (#49871443) Homepage
    This is a so-called solution that ignores the realities of the political process.

    For one, in 2012, Ron Paul won Iowa, not Mitt Romney and not Rick Santorum.

    The counted poll the article refers to is a just a straw poll, nothing more--the caucus itself, which happens afterwards, is what controls the selection of delegates. Folks who just voted in the straw poll and left before the caucus started didn't actually participate in caucusing for their candidate.

    Sadly, the media reports these polls as if they were election/caucus results, and in 2012 mislead the public into thinking that Ron Paul, who was the winner in Iowa, somehow had no support even though he won Iowa.

    Microsoft is now focusing on this irrelevant straw poll that doesn't represent the actual caucus results. But more importantly, even ignoring the fact that this straw poll doesn't actually have any real-world effect other than being useful as a way to mislead the public, listening to the video didn't answer any real questions about how their solution would really help even that process.

    For instance, they talk about how the voting data (and they're talking about precinct and district level results for the unimportant straw polls), wouldn't be viewable to people in another political party. Well, if that's the case, how does anyone who participated in the straw poll verify that the totals were reported correctly? If that data is secret, then this is clearly a step in the wrong direction.

    Then happens if there is a difference between the Microsoft-reported results and the paper mail reported results? If the mailed results take precedence, (which is ideal), then we're still back where we started--a correction to the straw poll is made weeks later. If the electronic results take precedence, then suddenly Microsoft is in control of the election.

    I doubt they've put together a system that can be externally verified even in the presence of skilled bad actors at all levels. (ie, any vote counting system for political elections should be resilient against an attack of, say, all the designers, app store folks, and everyone at Microsoft related to the project working either individually or colluding together to give votes to a favored candidate. With a properly designed system, every single one of those people could be as nefarious as possible and vote rigging would still be detected.)

    And..they talk about the "chair" being given credentials to report votes for his precinct/district, as if that has anything at all to do with the credentialing problem. So..how is that done specifically? Is Microsoft psychic? The chair isn't determined until a convention or a precinct begins--it's something that's voted on at the time.

    So what happens if a different person is elected chair than the state party expects ahead of time? The vote totals for the straw poll are publicly known. A change of having those vote totals relayed via secure credentials given to a person the state party selects ahead of time (and who may or may not end up being the chair) and who may have a hidden agenda shared by the state party, isn't really a clear improvement over the same person relaying the very same, public information through a less secure channel and more error-prone channel.

    In both cases we're completely dependent on there being external verifications of the process and in both cases we're screwed if those verifications don't happen.

    So while it sounds all nice and shiny and such, and it will be nice that Microsoft is GPL'ing all the code to do this so that it can be adapted and used in any other project, (yes, I realize that isn't likely to be true--it will have either a proprietary license, or they'll try to pretend it is open-ish somehow), I don't see how it fundamentally solves any serious issue.
    • by Livius ( 318358 )

      this straw poll doesn't actually have any real-world effect other than being useful as a way to mislead the public

      That's what the entire campaign is about.

    • This actually is not for the straw poll, but for the actual caucuses. The Iowa Straw Poll happens earlier, is non-binding, and only the Republicans participate.
    • The parent comment is an excellent piece of analysis, but I want to comment on just one minor side point, which is that mailed-in ballots should be preferred over software-controlled ballots.

      For the life of me, I cannot fathom why here, among the slashdot crowd of all places, is paper considered an ideal medium for counting anything. Do we not understand black-box testing? Do we not build in test assertions at every step, so that we can test our machine with another machine? Can we not imagine how horrif

  • Why not just reform your Byzantine 18th Century electoral system? It's so corrupt that the two parties involved keep any potential opposition out.. Oh, OK I get it now.
  • Here's a video from MS which explains the process and the system in more detail: https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]
    i almost peed in my pants with "the whole system is backed by the security and reliability of microsoft cloud".

    oh, well, it's just about a popularity contest for a sock puppet, i guess propietary closed software and hardware will do ...

  • I've been alive as long as the Iowa Caucus has been a thing so I have some insight into this:

    - As my grandfather puts it "It isn't about voting for the winner but killing the crazies" where if he was alive today he might change that stance. Seeing someone like Huntsman, a reasonable and very respectable Republican, come in last by the last field of crazies like Santorum and Gingrich is sad. In any event, Iowa and New Hampshire aren't necessarily about picking winners but weeding out the weaker candidates.

    -

  • So 2 cognitive dissonances in 1 headline.

    Microsoft will help. That's just a strange phrase to me, not quite an oxymoron, but close. Or maybe it's help like mercury "helped" syphilis.

    Microsoft High-Tech. Well, not dissonance, that phrase is just anachronistic. It would be just fine to have said that in 1988.
     

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