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In a stellar moment in early 21st Century app-ocratic elections, the Democratic party's newly rolled out caucus results reporting app failed in epic fashion. In the place of the usual suspects, foreign hackers, a number of news outlets have placed the blame on the programmer, or specifically the coders. Not to say, "fake news," but consider these headlines:
The headline comes from a statement from Iowa Democratic Party Chair Troy Price:
“While the app was recording data accurately, it was reporting out only partial data,” Price said. “We have determined that this was due to a coding issue in the reporting system.”
With the caucus "meltdown," coding is once again the center of social conflict. As elections more and more rely on electronic means, black-boxed code (black boxed for security reasons) takes the place of the ballot boxes with their the hanging chads. But the ideal of democracy hinges on notions of transparency, accountability, and the mythical "free and fair elections." Code becomes a surrogate or proxy for the unseen machinations or in this case, the failures of political machinery.
Coding, in this case takes some of the pressure off of humans. Take this line:
Des Moines County Democratic Chair Tom Courtney said the new app created “a mess.”
Election software epitomizes that critical code that affects so many vital facets of our lives. Both @DavidBerry and I have written about open source voting software. But again, the code for this software is not in the public eye, presumably to avoid hacking. As NPR reporter Miles Parks commented before the election:
It's one thing to introduce a new piece of election technology without really any practice beforehand, and then it's another thing to introduce that piece of election technology without giving any security details about it. We know very little about the specifics of this app. We don't know who developed it or who wrote the code. We don't know what sorts of security tests have been performed on it. These are the two basic questions that any security expert would ask when confronting a new system. And the Democratic Party says, basically, they're not going to provide any of this information because they're scared it would help hackers. But experts actually say that that secrecy doesn't help against hacking at all.
I look forward when the Freedom of Information Act makes the code for the Iowa App available for investigation, assuming that applies.
Meanwhile, in Iowa, they are reportedly back to tallying votes on paper.
What role does "coding" play in our discussion of this debacle? How does this news story speak to public perceptions of coding?