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Comment I've done this (Score 5, Informative) 500

I'm in Montreal and I've served as a scrutineer. The system works pretty much as described in the article, but I can add a few details.

The voting section of the ballot is done with blank/white circles on a black background. This way, there is no confusion about making marks outside the lines. One circle and one circle only must have a mark for it to be a valid vote. The ballot is fairly large, maybe four by five inches or so, and that allows plenty of space between circles.

The counterfoils are strips that are torn off the ballot with the help of perforations in the paper. The counterfoils are saved in a plastic bag and the number of counterfoils is compared to the number of cast ballots as part of the process of counting votes. It's a simple process, but there is some human error. When I did it, the two numbers didn't match up. We were off by one or two, as I recall.

The biggest problem we had, and a potential source of fraud the scrutineers can do nothing about, is the list of registered voters. We get a stack of papers stapled together that contain the names and addresses of all voters eligible to vote at our poll (there are several polls at each voting location). This list tells us who has already voted in advance polls. Either some of these are in error or some voters don't remember going to the advance polls, but we had a few cases in which we had to refuse voters because they were marked as having already voted. Some of them got really angry, but there is nothing we at the polls can do about that.

The voting and counting are open to the public and to party witnesses. Anybody can watch the process take place, but it is absolutely hands off for them.

The hand-counting doesn't take very long. Each polling station (ballot box) only has to count a few hundred votes, which is then reported to the officer in charge of the voting location, and so on up the chain. The entire station - ballots, papers, counterfoils, etc. - are sealed in the box with special tape and returned, so that any recounts would be easy to accomplish.

Comment Controlled for all factors? (Score 4, Insightful) 55

This bugs me: "Wind-tunnel experiments have shown that a patch of sand would take winds of about 80 mph to move on Mars compared with only 10 mph on Earth."

In order to move the sand, the wind must overcome friction. Sealed wind-tunnel experiments with different atmospheres can easily show that winds of low-pressure atmospheres need to have more energy to move sand than winds of higher pressure atmospheres.

But the wording of that statement doesn't mention gravity. In order to move the sand, the wind must overcome the force of friction, and of course friction depends on gravity. Did anyone adjust for Mars gravity being 38% of Earth's?

Comment Re:lasts for ages (Score 1) 254

I just bought my first ever cell phone (an iPhone 4S), and I did it because my iPod touch finally ran out of space.

Only my family and a few close friends have my number. Everyone else can continue to reach me through e-mail.

Comment My experience (Score 1) 405

I've run a voting booth for a Canadian federal election. Here's how it works.

A voter approaches and must be found on the list, and not marked as having already voted with an absentee ballot. I had a problem or two there.

I tear a perforated strip off the ballot and stuff it in a bag while giving an eligible voter the ballot. The strips are not identified but serve as a check on the number of ballots in the box.

At the end of the voting, all ballots are counted by hand. There is no electronic counting. The number of voters is validated by the names crossed off the list, by the paper strips, and by the ballots themselves. It's ridiculously easy to tell what a vote is as the ballot is all black with white names and a white circle for the voting mark. Party representatives may observe the counting.

Once the count is done, you report it to the head of the polling station. All ballots and documents are secured inside the taped-up ballot box kept.

There's only one real opportunity for fraud, and that's in the deciding for which candidate a ballot has been cast or if a ballot has been spoiled. That fraud has assuredly happened - and was completely ignored, with orders to destroy the ballots. It was a travesty, but at least the cheating side didn't win.

Comment Context (Score 1) 312

Robots/automation would be/are able to handle any of these tasks under perfect conditions. Google has cars that drive themselves with a passenger in the driver's seat, as mandated by law. As pointed out above, automatic pilots can already fly planes over the entire flight, rotations included. Food preparation may also been dome automatically, etc. etc.

Where robots may fail, al least at present, is in extreme conditions or when experience needs to be applied.

Let's look at planes. A robot can't see other than through its instruments. What if a pitot tube is clogged? How does a robot decide between a malfunctioning artificial horizon and the real one? Could a robot make emergency landings like the Gimli glider or Air Transat Flight 236? Could a robot detect the difference between a bird likely to fly away and a piece of debris on the runway before it decides to abort a full-speed take-off? I don't yet trust a plane without a pilot to oversee it.

Could a robot chef detect a leak that contaminates the food? A smear of motor oil?

Assuming there's some form of communication available, the least damage in a failure has to be a robotic ship. Navigation is simple, operation is slow, and the rules of emergency are fairly simple. The only real danger in malfunction is during docking, and even then the damage is primarily material with injuries rather than fatalities.

Cars and buses are dangerous as it is, not necessarily from robots, but from idiot drivers and cyclists.

If I'm putting my life in the hands of a robot today, it will be on a ship.

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