Dallas City Council members have traded entertaining barbs over a recent poll about renaming Industrial Boulevard. The winning choice was Cesar Chavez.
The problem is the poll is complete bunk. In no way could it accurately represent the voice of Dallas citizens.
The poll allowed people to vote over fax, email, and phone. How do you ensure that voters only vote once, and how do you ensure that voters are actual Dallas citizens? You can’t!
The Dallas Morning News says that city staff attempted to “weed out vote-stacking” by eliminating “more than one vote … from the same computer” Also, “a three-vote maximum was allowed per phone…” (link)
First, there is no way to accurately enforce one vote per computer on this poll. Since the site did not let users log in (and reference some kind of credential), there are only two ways to ensure uniqueness:
- One vote per IP address. I doubt they chose that; it would effectively block most users of ISPs that proxy users behind few IP addresses, such as AOL.
- Set a cookie. The cookie can easily be discarded. As soon as that is done, the vote server would have no idea it was the same old browser!
Second, there is nothing preventing someone from calling, faxing, and computer voting (several times). It’s impossible to accurately cross-reference computer votes to phone calls!
Third, without some kind of pervasive, city-issued ID system, it is utterly impossible to validate that votes came from Dallas residents. Without advanced techniques well beyond the scope of this survey, it is utterly impossible to link computers to specific cities. And even if phone numbers were validated, how do you know the person on the other end of the line isn’t a commuter from the ‘burbs?
City council: please stop. You’re making yourself look like idiots.
With way it was conducted, this poll is only good for entertainment value. Nothing else!