I often write to explain highly technical subjects to those who have little or no technical background, formerly for governments and agencies of government. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. I hope that I’m lucky this time. I think that I can shed a little light on what happened in Iowa. And provide a solution or at least a framework for one.
First, let’s jump straight to the conclusion, and explain how one does properly avoid disasters like the Iowa Democratic Caucus primary. Then I will break it down if that’s even necessary.
Each precinct should have a “citadel server.” That’s not something that costs millions of dollars; it just means a plain, old-fashioned, single-motherboard LAN server, like you have had in your office for years, that is not physically attached to the web and has no wireless capabilities. It also has secure power (from an uninterruptable power supply, or, “UPS;) and a secure telephone connection. Dedicated telephone links are as old as the hills, and can be temporary, and virtual private networks (VPN’s) secure any and all traffic on the link. Two physical keys, and a key card, are required to even turn the server on. Again, none of this so far is expensive or difficult; it doesn’t even require programming. The hardware is inexpensive and widely available. Key, and key-card, capabilities come standard with some corporate network servers. A great many government offices, and financial institutions, use this kind of technology and have for decades.
On Election Day, the voting machines are turned on by a physical key at the beginning of the day. At the end of the day, they are dumped, through a LAN connection that is not web-connected, to the local server, which encrypts it, bundles it up, and transfers it as a bit torrent through the secure connection that we just discussed, during a brief, and monitored, period of activity on the web, to a central tally keeping, and data-keeping, server.
No sweat, “right!” Okay, maybe some of this needs some explaining. But not much. Better definitions might help. And a little background.
All the technologies that I just mentioned are used almost universally to secure data. They all have one thing in common: they give users extremely powerful encryption, and almost unbreakable data transfer capabilities, without the need to hire dedicated programming staff. Any qualified network supervisor, or implementor, can set such a system up in a day.
“Bundling” means to make a single file of all the data and the tallies, that transfers quickly, and with error checking.
A “bit torrent” means to turn all the information into indecipherable streams of ones and zeros.
Encryption means to code, or change, the ones and zeros randomly, in a pattern that only the sender and receiver know.
If one “crunches” the data with a little pre-processing first, it makes it easier to compare it to other sources of information for validation purposes and to determine how much work is left to be done.
Did Tom Perez know all this? Well, let me put it this way: If he didn’t, he is criminally negligent (and almost certainly liable) as a manager, and “owner,” of the project. He hired politically motivated contractors, who were incompetent. He was incapable of reviewing their work or designs. An app? What a joke. “Stupid is as Stupid does,” and this project was stupid from the word “go.” Perez could not have done a poorer job had he tried – or “H-bomb Tom” threw a monkey wrench into the works on purpose, for who can imagine what purpose.
This is all kid stuff, really. There’s a million guys and gals out there that know everything I’ve mentioned.
Perez stayed within his very limited understanding of technology, which is to: “Make an app… Make an app. Apps are cool.” He should have stayed home.