Monday, January 7, 2008

Keeler Scholar Has Great Idea

I was reading an article on the op-ed page in the NY Times today about a scheme to insure that voting machine results hadn't been changed. It is so simple, and elegant, that as I read the article I kept getting more and more excited about it. And when I finished I looked up to see who had written it and it was William Poundstone, one of the founding fathers of the Harry Stephen Keeler movement. He even won the Imitate Keeler Contest this year with a story that I consider the quintessential Keeler pastiche.
The scheme involves giving out random paper proof of how a person voted -- but not to the person. To a different, randomly selected person. The main argument against paper proof is that people can be intimidated if they have a proof of how they voted on their person. Or if they throw their paper proof away, someone unscrupulous can find it and change that person's vote, knowing that the paper proof is in THEIR possession, not the voter's. According to the article, handing out as few as 50 randomly selected paper proofs can prove voting fraud in any size of election.
I love simple elegant schemes and algorithms. Nero Wolfe used to use them and I always wondered why police departments and detectives didn't study Nero Wolfe's techniques to trap criminals, rather than use the stupid sting operations they use now that are usually entrapment.
My congratulations to Bill Poundstone for using his considerable brain to solve a problem that would have befuddled politicians for centuries. Harry Keeler would have been proud.
Please check out the article if you get the chance. Isn't it great when science beats the hell out of faith? I subscribe to the NY Times so maybe this link won't work for you, but give it a try.

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