The Indianapolis Star reports that Boone County, Indiana officials “are searching for an answer to the computer glitch that spewed out impossible numbers and interrupted an otherwise uneventful election process Tuesday.” In a county with 19,000 registered voters, the electronic voting machines tallied 144,000 votes.
“I about had a heart attack,” County Clerk Lisa Garofolo said of the breakdown that came as an eager crowd watched computer-generated vote totals being projected onto a wall of the County Courthouse rotunda.
“I’m assuming the glitch was in the software.”
One of the last classes I taught at Stanford was an STS overview course, which started in the winter of 2001– just when the 2000 Florida recount was fresh in everyone’s mind. We ended up spending some time on it, looking at the recount as a kind of controversy in the manufacture of reliable knowledge. It turned out to be perfectly made to teach points about the sociology of knowledge: after all, what could be simpler, more mechanistic, or better-understood than counting, right? And of course, counting as a formal activity is very simple. But counting ballots is not.
I’m beginning to seriously worry about how these electronic systems could screw up a closely-contested, national election. With Florida in 2000, at least both parties could agree that “the truth is out there,” as they used to say on The X-Files, and position themselves accordingly; but how will two parties, locked in a take-no-prisoners content, settle a dispute if, fundamentally, you actually can’t ever know how many votes were cast, and for whom?