Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Americans Elect Giving Up On The Whole Intertubes Thing, Admits It's Too Complicated For Them
A central aspect of Americans Elect's value proposition is its implementation of what we like to call 'digital democracy', also known as 'online voting' -- empowering voters to record their electoral choices via the internet, with all the benefits you might imagine that innovation would offer in the way of enhanced voter participation. In fact, we would guess that that is one of AECorp's biggest attractions, particularly for the youthful demographic it works so hard to target. As every American corporation today understands, if you cater to the youth market and you're not online with fully internet-enabled transactional capabilities, you're just not in the game. Hence our surprise to learn today that Americans Elect Corporation has apparently given up on this whole intertubes thing, at least as far as one critical aspect of its operation is concerned.
That critical component of online voting is authentication of voters' identities, since, without that, digital democracy would simply be too easy to game. And so, from the beginning, AECorp has invested heavily in the development of secure systems to register and validate its 'delegates.' It has long been proud of its success in recruiting as its Chief Technology Officer Joshua Levine, former Chief Technology and Operations Officer of E*TRADE Financial and an internet security expert. In May of last year it quoted Mr. Levine as saying: "Security and privacy are the most important aspect of Americans Elect. We use state-of-the-art security software and hardware in several secure facilities. Our databases are segmented, anonymized and encrypted so no one within Americans Elect can see your information—only you. We use innovative anti-phishing software and security pin entry throughout our website. We have built this all using our extensive experience in banking and government."
Alas for Mr. Levine, and for Americans Elect, its jim-dandy "state-of-the-art security" doesn't seem to actually, you know, work. Ever since AE turned on its identity verification functions some months back, its 'customer support' board has been inundated with complaints from hundreds (maybe thousands?) of wannabe AE delegates who can't get their identities validated (see, for instance, this thread, but there are dozens of other, less active, threads as well, lodging the same frustrations and complaints over and over, without meaningful response from AECorp's customer service reps). To be entirely fair to AECorp, I should mention that I, myself, had no trouble whatsoever validating my own identity at Americans Elect (all of us here at AE Transparency are AE delegates)...it seems to be a hit-or-miss type of problem, but one which is hitting a large and ever-growing number of very frustrated people.
Increasingly despondent over its failed first-round online ballot, which is attracting voters in numbers more typical of a high school class president election rather than a nationwide primary, it now appears that AECorp has finally realized that it can't afford to ignore anyone who actually wants to vote in its primary but can't due to its buggy software systems. And so, yesterday, we began to observe a new Twitter campaign ([update]: initiated by leading AE candidate Buddy Roemer's campaign staff), broadcasting and endlessly re-tweeting the message: "New manual verification process for the @AmericansElect online primary. Sign up at http://t.co/uWdoKnXT. Make it a #3wayrace!"
A new manual verification system, for an exclusively digital online primary election. Truly innovative. So much for that whole bit about "anonymized" systems assuring that "no one within Americans Elect can see your information." Unless, of course, the folks who perform the new manual verifications are blindfolded while they work (which might explain a lot, actually).
This remarkable new episode in the endlessly fascinating short life of Americans Elect Corporation raises questions which we hardly need to call out, but will anyway. If AECorp can't manage a simple identity verification process online...something even the smallest mom-and-pop shop on the web finds easy these days...how can it possibly be trusted to reliably manage history's first nationwide electoral ballot -- an infinitely more complex task? How can you be sure your vote is correctly recorded, and actually counts? How can you be sure you didn't just accidentally vote for one of AECorp's more colorful candidates, such as white supremacist Merlin Miller, or tasteful blackface Obama impersonator David Jon Sponheim? AECorp has promised for over a year now that its voting system would be verifiable ("Every vote will be counted fairly and accurately, and will generate a printable confirmation"), including printable receipts which will enable voters to verify their votes. But with voting underway for over two months now, AE's promise of printable vote confirmation remains unfulfilled, indeed apparently completely forgotten. Just so much talk. Americans Elect's actual security strategy seems to be able to be summarized thus: "Hey, ya clicks yer button, ya takes yer chances. Fuggedabadit!"
We have a distinct suspicion that E*TRADE will be getting its old Chief Technology Officer back real soon. So if you have an E*TRADE account, it might be time to start looking for another online broker. Otherwise you might just accidentally end up owning stock in the American Nazi Party.