Runoff in HoustonI went to Houston to do a signing for Runoff at the wonderful bookstore Murder by the Book and in a true, life-imitates-art moment, discovered that the city was holding a runoff election for city council that very day (December 8, 2007). Check out a copy of the sample ballot in pdf here.
But it got weirder still. The only reason I knew there was an election was because my hotel was serving as a polling station for precinct 360.
No electioneering allowed within 100 feet of the polling place:
Not that it would have been moved the needle much, given the low voter turnout by the time I visited:
I went inside to explore and was immediately asked by the poll workers if I was there to vote. I somewhat sheepishly explained that, no, I was there for a book signing.
They: What's the book about?
Me: Er, election fraud.
They: What's it called?
They: This is a runoff election! I hope you're book is fiction
Me: Oh, yes, it is.
They (noticing my obvious interest in the hardware in the room): Well, there's no risk of that sort of thing in Houston with our new electronic voting machines.
At that point I didn't have the heart to tell them that e-voting machines were in fact at the center of the fraud in the book and that in my opinion and the opinion of many other people in the software industry, e-voting poses a big threat to the integrity of US elections.
Houston uses the eSlate voting system, which produces no voter verifiable paper audit trail, and sure enough, a little research surfaced concerns about the way the system was used to adjust votes in the earlier, general election.
As Professor Ballou, a character in Runoff from the Stanford University Computer Science department, explains:
If you want one-stop shopping, then the best thing to do is wait until all the votes are loaded on the central server. If you can gain access to the network where the election management system runs, then results for the whole election are at your fingertips. It's not dissimilar to a student who wants to cheat in school. It's more efficient to hack into the university system to change the grades for all your courses than to go to the trouble of cheating on individual exams in each class.
Thus endth the civics lesson. Visit VotersUnite.org or Brad Blog if you want to learn more.
I told the story about my visit to the polling place at my signing at MBTB (most people in the audience weren't even aware there was a runoff election that day) and got a few laughs.
And election or no, I had a great time at the signing and also picked up a copy of A Hell of a Woman, the new anthology edited by Megan Abbott and published by MBTB employee David Thompson's Busted Flush Press. I haven't gotten very far into the book yet, but Jeff Pierce's summing up of it as a "dark, propulsive anthology" in his Pierce's Pick of the Week at January Magazine sounds just about right to me.