Saturday, October 13, 2012

Browser Wars

24 Days Before the Election
4 Days Before Advance Voting By Mail Begins
9 Days Before Advance Voting in Person Begins

This coming week brings a training explosion.

12 classes, 36 hours of training.  Most of the training this week will be at our office, and we want that training before advance voting in person begins the following Monday because we don't have enough parking spaces to conduct training and have voting at the same time.

Well, for that matter, we don't have enough parking spaces for voting.  Next week, our staff will park a block away, thanks to the generosity of Sysco.

This is the crazy time where lack of time collides with the very reason I wanted to have this blog--to show you what is happening.  I'll try to live up to that missive, although some posts may be shorter and end rather suddenly (although, I think that's the blog way--no concluding paragraph).

This is such a post, actually, because we are encountering the beginning of what I worry will be a conspiracy epidemic.  Conspiracy epidemics in the election world are huge time suckers, and since I have no spare time to suck, I'm hoping a proactive post here might avoid said time sucking.

Specifically, in the last 24 hours, I've received two emails from voters who scrolled a mouse over a word on a page on our website and then took a screenshot where an ad came up.  Actually, in one case it was a wikipedia term but I can't find it in wikipedia so I think it was an ad pretending to be wikipedia and the other was a clear advertisement.

These voters wanted to know why these ads were on our site.  Of course, they aren't on our site.  These are prompted by something in the user's browser.

(Note on conspiracy theories--right or wrong, in elections, I often have to start at the point of distrusting the person who brings the issue to me.  I'm a pretty naive guy, and I've been adequately burned trusting something at face value.

Related yarn: In 2006, a voter wanted to know why the McCaskill-Talent Missouri Senate race was on her ballot.  I told her there was no possible way that it was on her ballot.  She asked if I thought she was hallucinating, and I simply told her I was just saying that there was no way it was on the ballot.  Two hours later another woman called our office proclaiming the same thing and talked with someone else in our office who didn't yet know of my call.  During the second call, the caller asked our staff member if she was telling her she was hallucinating.  Hmm...two impossibilities and the only two references to hallucinating I've heard in years.  Putting the pieces together, I think it was a mother and a daughter, from different houses.  Why they took this on as a cause, I don't know.)

So, possibly, these emails are related or are part of a bigger push to try to discredit us in some way, as though we've laced our website with subliminal messages.  Second note on conspiracy theories--I've worked for the government for a while now, and I'm here to say that the government isn't smart enough to pull over a conspiracy.

In any event, it's possible that specific browsers have a plug-in loaded.  I can't get such a thing to occur on my Mac or my PC, but I don't use Firefox and I don't install Google plug-ins.  I've forwarded the second note to our county's IT director to see if there is a way to make our text-based site immune to mouseovers from plug-ins, but I doubt there is.

Maybe some smart IT person reading here can comment with a tip to share with our workers at training because I expect this could be a raging conspiracy story by Wednesday based on my internal meter gauging past (non) events.  In any, um, event, this isn't us, although I know soon the burden of proof will be on us to show why it isn't us.