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My name is Marc Brooker. I've been writing code, reading code, and living vicariously through computers for as long as I can remember. I like to build things that work. I also dabble in machining, welding, cooking and skiing.

I'm currently an engineer at Amazon Web Services (AWS) in Seattle, where I work on databases, serverless, and serverless databases. Before that, I worked on EC2 and EBS.
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Electoral Trouble in Sybilania

An Small Town Struggles To Achieve a Fair Vote.

Sybilania1 is a small town on the banks of the Orange river, near where where the river turns North toward the Augrabies falls. The main street runs sleepily from the exclusive retirement communities on the river to the grounds of the Northern Cape Rugby Club, champions eight years in a row. On the way, it passes some knitting shops, the church, the grocer, Piet’s print shop, and the cavernous town hall. Like every small town, there is no greater event in Sybilania’s calendar than the local elections. Everybody wants to be, or at least know, the mayor.

The recall of Mayor Piet had rocked the town. Not so much the recall itself - nobody had liked him anyway - but the reason. Electoral fraud! It was a crime against politics, a crime against morals, and a crime against the very ideals of democracy. Bridge games, golf courses and changing rooms were all filled with talk of the next election. Sybilania’s political scene was dominated by three parties: the Rugby party, populated by the town’s fit and athletic; the River party, populated by the wealthy retirees who lived on spacious estates near the water; and the Bridge party, dominated by the town’s regional-champion card enthusiasts. The three parties didn’t agree on much, but they did agree that there would be no ballot stuffing ever again.

You see, that summer the town had voted by mail for the first time. Piet, playboy owner of Piet’s print shop, had won in a landslide. The town had been surprised, both by Piet’s victory, and the record turnout of three times the town’s estimated population. An electoral commission was formed, and tasked with finding a fair way to run elections. They had their work cut out for them. The local branch of the Home Affairs had closed in the ’30s, and nearly nobody had ID.

The first commission-guided election was held at the high school. The school’s fence had been collapsing for years, and the election was a perfect time to form a work party. Everybody in town reported to the school early one morning, dug holes, and raised posts. The person who dug each hole was allowed to carve the name of a candidate onto each post. A strong and athletic young lady from the rugby club took the mayor’s office that year, in a landslide. The other parties demanded that the electoral commission tear down the proof-of-work2 system. They left the fence standing.

The next election happened in a small room at the office of the town surveyor. The town had been divided into a fine grid, the title for the land each grid segment was on was consulted, and its owner was called to ask for their vote. The process ran well into the night, and most of the next day. By mid-afternoon, the mayor from the River party was confirmed. While they knew better than to demand another recall election, the community demanded a replacement for proof-of-stake.

The most recent election was run on the rugby club’s main field, right between the posts (which, incidentally, hold the Guinness record for tallest posts in the Southern Hemisphere). Everybody in town arrived wearing a mask (to make sure the vote was secret), and arranged themselves in a wide circle around the field. In turn, each citizen shouted out the name of a candidate, followed by the tally they heard from the previous voter, updated with their vote. As the vote went around the ring, everybody could hear that the tally was fairly kept, and not cheating occurred. The crowd fixed a few mistakes over the course of the afternoon, but left happy that the election was free and fair. The Bridge party won comfortably. A few dissenters still complain about seeing the buses4 of bridge clubs from neighbouring towns in the car park that day, but nothing has ever been proven.

** Footnotes **

  1. The Sybil Attack by John R. Douceur is a very readable paper, almost definately more readable than this fiction. I recommend it.
  2. Ralph Merkle proposed the use of puzzles for proof-of-work, because it’s hard to make computers dig holes.
  3. You could probably call the weaker people in the community strength-challenged imposters.
  4. New personalities for Sybil can come from either a printing press or a bridge-club bus.