September 2016 Archives

Sat Sep 24 13:24:03 CEST 2016

"if you are serving in a hostile fire zone, it may also be returned by fax"


4-6 weeks ago, i emailed in an FCPA, and so i was happy to discover a message in my inbox today that appears to be from Travis County, Texas (where i am registered to vote), telling me that attached is my ballot for the 8 Nov. "Presidential General and Special Election"[1]. Unfortunately, as far as i can tell the ballot is not actually attached, unless it's the embedded link to 1-pixel GIF at the end of the message. Though i'm pretty sure that's just a tracker.[2]

To be fair, when sending email, i probably forget to attach the attachment about 1 time out of 20, so it's easy to imagine someone else doing this. But it is a bit irritating that apparently i can't simply reply and let Michael Winn, Director of Elections, Travis County, know that he still needs to send me my ballot. Instead, apparently, i am supposed to call him (from overseas, and in a significantly different time zone) or send him a letter.

About that "hostile fire zone"...

The email i received (without the supposedly-attached ballot), included this bit of information, presumably directed at voters serving in the US military:
Please note that you cannot return your ballot by e-mail; it must be returned by mail, or, if you are serving in a hostile fire zone, it may also be returned by fax.
(Emphasis added.)

Let's just take it as read that there's some (irrational) law or court decision that states that a fax of a signed document is legally acceptable, but a scan of the same document sent via email is not. It doesn't make sense, because the technical process is the same (except that a scan or photo from cheap, modern scanners or camera phones will be higher resolution than a fax), but let's ignore that glaring fallacy at the heart of this and consider a few other things:

  1. Imagine you're in a soldier in a "hostile fire zone," are you really going to be dragging a fax machine around with you, instead of something like water, food, ammunition, medical supplies, radios, etc.?
  2. If you are a soldier in a "hostile fire zone" what the hell would you plug a fax machine into? It seems really unlikely you've made arrangement with the local telephone company in Iraq or Afghanistan for phone service. Even if you wanted it, i doubt they really want to wire up a remote US operating base.
    I imagine the US military has fancy satellite links for remote US bases that can be used for telephone service, but even if they do, why would you have a fax device on the base when it's lower quality and less-secure (E.g. unencrypted) than emailing a scan? It's almost as if they aren't really interested in making it easier for people to vote.
  3. As i've lived outside of the US for about six years now, my main source of what's going on in the US is mass media (the New York Times), and what family and friends tell me. To be totally blunt, to someone living in Northern Europe, i have to say much of the US looks like a "hostile fire zone." So if that level of peril[3] is justification for faxing in one's ballot, then i think it's probably time to buy a lot of fax machines, and shutdown those polling places. Or maybe just go "crazy" and actually build a secure, remotely accessible electronic voting system. (And then just get rid of Congress, because why do you need an incredibly small number of apparently easily-corruptable representatives, when you could just have direct democracy.) But i digress.

1 Indeed quite "Special," if one means "especially bad" ...

2 At first the tracker seemed worrisome in terms of privacy, and caused me to wonder if the message is legit. But maybe it's how they're trying to figure out how many of the messages are received. Though many email readers now block those sorts of embedded gifs, because they're heavily use by spammers and other evil mail senders.

3 Yes, there have been terrorist attacks in Europe, but so far this year, i think more people have been injured or killed by gunfire in just Chicago than by "terrorists" in all of the EU.)

Posted by johan | Permanent link