Anne Stuart’s BPM in Action

Dennis Byron

The Business Process Management of U.S. Elections

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I think the whole information technology (IT) world, including the business process management (BPM) software part of it, has decided no news is good news on U.S. election day. I haven’t seen any hard news on which to comment so I’ll join the crowd of commentators and shoehorn in some connection between BPM and voting.

I think I bring a perspective to the question of elections that is a little different than most technology people who rant about “the evils of Diebold,? “stolen elections,? “voter fraud,? and other claims about how technology can skew the results: I have hit the streets for successful ballot initiatives and have rallied at political caucuses in statewide contests. In my own voting precinct I have run for office and been elected (and I also have lost). I have worked the polls on election day and participated in recounts. (I have no experience with hanging chads though.)

Especially for readers outside the U.S., who wonder about elections being stolen by electronic means in the U.S, understand that voting day in the U.S. is an extremely human-centric process. More so than with most business processes, human intervention with double and triple checking is the rule. As is the case with most business processes, technology is a small part of the flow.

Further debunking the idea of massive technology hacking is the law of large numbers. There are thousands of individual voting places in the U.S. Each is run by from 10-50 non-partisan citizens with an equal number typically on hand representing the parties and the candidates (or proponents of the ballot questions). There are 50 different sets of rules on how to conduct the elections (as directed by the U.S. states). There are probably 100 or more different technologies for casting and counting the votes (usually not directed by the states), manufactured by a score of companies.

However, more important, in all thousands of voting places you have to check in (someimes showing ID), your name and address is called out in public by one or more poll workers or you sign a book, so that the candidates and officials can verify or question who you are, and then you vote. Typically someone in the room knows who you are of course because the process is so decentralized. Often you check in again before you cast your ballot (but it works differently with some technologies). Police are on duty to guard the process and the machines.

In the cases of which I am aware, the technologies are not what we all would call “online? or interconnected to anything (there may be exceptions to that). The count is phoned (or emailed) in via a pyramid scheme, with the polling location phoning its results to the city or county and the city or county phoning in its results to the state. At each step, more checking occurs.

I am not saying that elections are never rigged in the U.S. but they are rigged by fixing the human workflow in the voting process not the technologies. And to make any fixing of any type meaningful to the results, the fixing would have to happen location by location (thousands), technology by technology (hundreds), with the collusion of the thousands of people who designed or built the technologies and the millions of people at the polling locations.

-- Dennis Byron

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I think it is more of political will to change these process/procedures than the process being complex.

In the largest democracy in the world, India we have been able to completely move away from paper to electronic voting. We also have the process of shouting the name, address and similar polling process and also triple checks during counting etc. We have had to deploy Army in some polling booths to prevent polling related violence and manual rigging of the paper ballots.

We have overcome all those with the electronic voting machine, ensured that these devices are hack proof[kept in high security vaults till counting day, which may be sometimes weeks away from the first ballot cast]. These all happened in the last decade since there was a continuity through change of the government to roll this solution out and proving to detractors now and then that it is hack proof.

Thanks to Mani for some great non-U.S.-based information about the success of technology in voting.

Dennis

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Business process management and optimization -- philosophies, policies, practices, and punditry.

Anne Stuart

I am the editor of ebizQ.

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