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Hard Evidence of Voting Machine Addition Errors

kdawson posted more than 6 years ago | from the got-some-splainin'-to-do dept.

Security 275

goombah99 writes "Princeton Professor, Ed Felton, has posted a series of blog entries in which he shows the printed tapes he obtained from the NJ voting machines don't report the ballots correctly. In response to the first one, Sequoia admitted that the machines had a known software design error that did not correctly record which kind of ballots were cast (republican or democratic primary ballots) but insisted the vote totals were correct. Then, further tapes showed this explanation to be insufficient. In response, State officials insisted that the (poorly printed) tapes were misread by Felton. Again further tapes showed this not to be a sufficient explanation. However all those did not foreclose the optimistic assessment that the errors were benign — that is, the possibility that vote totals might really be correct even though the ballot totals were wrong and the origin of the errors had not been explained. Now he has found (well-printed) tapes that show what appears to be hard proof that it's the vote totals that are wrong, since two different readout methods don't agree. Sequoia has made trade-secret legal threats against those wishing to mount an independent examination of the equipment. One small hat-tip to Sequoia: at least they are reporting enough raw data in different formats that these kinds of errors can come to light — that lesson should be kept in mind when writing future requirements for voting machines."

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That may be... (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23241260)

...but these are good, solid, Republican errors!

God bless the American Voting System!

Re:That may be... (3, Interesting)

wealthychef (584778) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241406)

The fact that the company is using legal threats to suppress investigation into the errors is a good argument for using open source equipment that anyone can inspect. I do NOT trust a proprietary solution.

Well then perhaps you should consider this (4, Informative)

goombah99 (560566) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241630)

The fact that the company is using legal threats to suppress investigation into the errors is a good argument for using open source equipment that anyone can inspect. I do NOT trust a proprietary solution.
Open voting consortium [openvotingconsortium.org] needs volunteers and money. Unlike a normal open source project where all that matters is the quality of the code. This one needs feet on the ground and money to travel in order to get laws changed in 50 states to allow the use of the equipment. (for example many states have laws about how ballots are defined that this protocol requires changing. Many states require certifications which are far from free. But mainly it takes demonstrations and lobbying.)

Right now they have a matching grant challenge, so nows a good time to offer cash. But think about also being an advocate in your state for getting the laws to allow this system.

OVC not only has open code but it also has an open bussiness model. They won't require you use it on any hardware they offer. It runs fine on off the shelf equipment. Any company could use the code, states could use the code. OVC would simply maintain it and certify that it is being deployed correctly.

Open voting solutions is another open source project with a different bussiness model but open code.

Re:Well then perhaps you should consider this (1)

glassboxvoting (1279716) | more than 6 years ago | (#23242152)

Goombah99, I don't agree you that all necessary security characteristics can be met without some hardware requirements, but I agree with your approach to transparency and want to talk with folks on your team. I'll be in touch through your site.

Re:Well then perhaps you should consider this (1)

goombah99 (560566) | more than 6 years ago | (#23242278)

Just for full disclosure-- I'm not part of Open Voting consortium. I'm a voting systems advocate and I'm hoping their system gets picked up and matured by some secretary of state (hopefully california since it's a market that will drive things nationally). I want my state to have the option of this. Right now we're drowing in maintainece fees from ES&S even for the paper ballot systems which have gone up 1000% in the last year alone.

The man you need to talk to is alan dechert at open voting consortium.

Re:That may be... (4, Insightful)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241922)

Look.

These machines are intended and designed to prop-up the parlour-game of democratic basis for American government. They are not meant to "work". They are meant to reduce the definition of "democracy" to merely "voting" for the general public - and then to manage that vote. If they decrease the confidence of a certain segment of the public in the whole process, then they are also serving their secondary purpose: The devolution of the US to Banana Republic status.

The coup was completed in 2000. The dramatic operations began 40 years earlier, but it took awhile.

You don't see this. You think you still live in the same country that you were born in, that you attended Elementary School in, that you call the same name.

But it just isn't true. Visitors to your country get it in a very short time - but most of them clamp their mouths shut - it is quickly apparent that Americans are uncomprehending.

This isn't just Republicans. Sure - the Republican leaders are the sharp and shiny spear-tip, slicing the American side. The Democrats are just as on board - the solid wooden shaft, following this through the body. The elite of these - Cheney's and Pelosi's - will keep their mansions and their millions, their holidays in Vail and Sun Valley.

They will never join the people who "voted". That would be to join Dr. King, or Mel Carnahan.

Re:That may be... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23241688)

A solid BLUE state, run by DEMOCRATS, with a MAJORITY of DEMOCRAT voters and you are talking about Republican errors?

Sorry man, but the Dems have proved themselves incapable of running elections more than once.

And did you look at the vote totals? Less than 300 votes cast. Don't they test these machines themselves? You could put 300 test votes through that in less than an few hours easy.

Re:That may be... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23242102)

"Sorry man, but the Dems have proved themselves incapable of running elections more than once."

That is probably funny if you're a Republican (and interesting if you're also very stupid). However, if you're not from the states it just sounds as if Americans have proved themselves incapable of running elections again.

One thing to say... (4, Insightful)

Brad1138 (590148) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241262)

Paper Ballots - Paper Ballots - PAPER BALLOTS!

Re:One thing to say... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23241402)

Paper ballots will continue to be the easiest method of creating fradulent votes ever and are no less error prone than any other method(did they erase that or not? which one did they mean?). VOting machines, if properly vetted can be as secure and significantly cheaper for organizations long term. Simply employ a company that is willing to do full code reviews/testing at the same level as nuclear safety.

Re:One thing to say... (1)

Kingrames (858416) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241426)

This is politics. it's not about paper ballots.
more like:

Devil elopers, Devil elopers, Devil elopers!

Re:One thing to say... (1)

KnightNavro (585943) | more than 6 years ago | (#23242048)

Paper Ballots - Paper Ballots - PAPER BALLOTS!
Why do you think it is any more difficult to rig an election with paper ballots? They've been doing it for centuries now. I don't think Zimbabwe used electronic voting machines, but I'm willing to bet the election there wasn't on the up and up.

What we do need is a verifiable paper trail, no matter what kind of voting system we have. This trail can be created many ways, but for electronic machines it boils down to the fact that voters need to look at a printout of what their vote is recorded as and that same piece of paper needs to be checked against the machines memory. A few precincts need to do a complete check of the ballots to verify that the paper and machine totals match, and all precincts need to spot check enough ballots to be significantly sure (in a statistical sense) there aren't discrepancies.

The advantage paper ballots have is that they essentially create a verifiable trail by default. Since many paper ballots are still tallied by a machine, we still need to do the similar checking to the electronic voting machines.

Beyond those basic requirements, I don't care how it's done. We don't need open source software, but it would be nice. We absolutely don't want voters taking home their ballots any more than we need them taking copies of their paper ballots home.

Is this the code? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23241264)

Votes::Votes()
{
        count = 0;
}

Votes::Votes(Candidate * pcand)
{
        secretHandle = pcand;
        count = 0;
}

Votes::operator ++()
{
        if(secretHandle){
                                if(secretHandle->get_id()==GOOD_CANDIDATE) count +=5;
        }
        else ++count;
}

Re:Is this the code? (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23241842)

That joke hasn't been clever for many years now... You should be marked redundant since we've all seen it a thousand times before...

I've just got to ask... (5, Insightful)

Nursie (632944) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241302)

... How hard can it be?

Seriously, how hard?

Someone presses a button and a counter gets incremented. Big whoop.
Any error at all in a programming exercise that goddamn simple is evidence enough for me to call for a full on corruption investigation.

Re:I've just got to ask... (1)

aliens (90441) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241446)

Came here to make the same query. Is there some complexity we're over looking?

Re:I've just got to ask... (2, Funny)

SoupGuru (723634) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241500)

Well, hiding all those backdoors has got to be pretty hard, right?

Re:I've just got to ask... (3, Insightful)

xanadu-xtroot.com (450073) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241814)

Well, hiding all those backdoors has got to be pretty hard, right?
With closed-source, it's not hard at all. That's where the problem lies.

Aside, even if the devs were 100% perfect and typed ALL the code perfect, there's nothing stopping some jerk from slipping something in at final compile time, or even after that with "last minute update" to the "firmware".

Re:I've just got to ask... (1)

gd2shoe (747932) | more than 6 years ago | (#23242008)

For those who don't remember, Diebold got caught doing that a few years back in CA. That brings out the concern: When aren't we catching it? Who aren't we catching?

I like electronic voting machines in principle, but we really need some public outcry. This is lunacy.

Re:I've just got to ask... (2, Insightful)

jimicus (737525) | more than 6 years ago | (#23242092)

Aside, even if the devs were 100% perfect and typed ALL the code perfect, there's nothing stopping some jerk from slipping something in at final compile time, or even after that with "last minute update" to the "firmware".
It would probably relevant to point out here: This could just as easily happen with opensource voting software. You need to change the entire procedure so "last minute updates" don't exist - or if they do, there's an audit trail for them.

Re:I've just got to ask... (1)

the_B0fh (208483) | more than 6 years ago | (#23242224)

Why should last minute updates exist?

Any changes need to be properly tested. PERIOD.

free software with voter verified paper record. (1)

gnutoo (1154137) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241474)

A fraud investigation is a good idea but that's not enough. There's a real possibility the companies involved can sleaze out of things because they have kept everything secret all along. Documenting the lack of evidence and lack of transparency is a good exercise on it's own because it will cast doubt on elections that use non free software and other impossible to verify mechanisms. The fact is they can't prove the election results are good or fair and that's unacceptable.

Re:free software with voter verified paper record. (1)

uniquename72 (1169497) | more than 6 years ago | (#23242142)

1) Congressional Committee opens investigation into voting machines
2) Committee realizes that it has no computing expertise
3) Committee hires former Diebold programmer-turned-lobbyist to look into Sequoia inconsistencies
4) Lobbyist finds no inconsistencies
5) Investigation is closed
6) Programmers everywhere look at the data and point out obvious flaws
7) New commentary falls on deaf ears -- Congress already got the answer it wanted.

Re:I've just got to ask... (2, Informative)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241484)

You forget one thing... GOVERNMENT INTERVENTION...
Except for a KISS Aproach to the problem, every factor that they can think of must be resolved.
Disability for the Blind, Deaf, limited or no movement.
English and non-english speakers.
They need to be hack proof but operated by unskilled workers.
The hardware needs to work in all kinds of crazy conditions.
Approprate Record Keeping without effecting the privacy of the voter.
Final output data needs to be easially readable.
Flexible for write-in votes.
The list goes on....

Then they may want it to be flexible by district or by state or both having those rules...

After all the requirement there is no Time for Candate[buttonID]++;

Re:I've just got to ask... (1)

magarity (164372) | more than 6 years ago | (#23242014)

English and non-english speakers
 
Non-issue. Only citizens can vote and there is an (small but existant) English comprehension test as part of citizenship testing.

Re:I've just got to ask... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23242178)

Well... you might be on to something there if the machines actually made any effort to meet those requirements... but do they honestly even meet more than 1 or 2 of those?

Re:I've just got to ask... (1)

iminplaya (723125) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241510)

...call for a full on corruption investigation.

In the political world, that would be considered advocacy of using weapons of mass destruction. In fact, it would wipe out their entire population. Call it "Ethic Cleansing".

Re:I've just got to ask... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23241530)

I was about to post the same thing but there has to be more to it then that. No one could possibly be that incompetent.

Re:I've just got to ask... (1)

AxemRed (755470) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241570)

That's exactly what I came here to say, and it seems that you already said it. This SEEMS, to me, to be a simple program. How can these guys screw it up so badly? Did they do no testing? Did they just have incompetent programmers? I think that a 100-level college programming class could write the logic involved...

Re:I've just got to ask... (1)

grumling (94709) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241948)

the problem is that voting machines are cheap, since they are only used once every year or so. the manufacturers make 'em cheap by putting third string programmers on the project, using off the shelf operating systems, and lousy hardware.

The other big problem is that there was no complete list of requirements.

Re:I've just got to ask... (1)

Splab (574204) | more than 6 years ago | (#23242196)

is it that simple?

Write me a program then that absolutely makes sure that no vote gets lost.

Adding to a counter isn't that simple - what if it fails, how do you recover? What if the recovery fails? Creating exception safe programs is extremely hard - Oh you want it on a higher level language? How do you PROVE! that said language is safe?

This is not a simple problem, and thus should default to simplest possible solution - have humans from both/all camps count all votes under supervision from volunteers.

Re:I've just got to ask... (3, Insightful)

192939495969798999 (58312) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241682)

Based on all this, it must be pretty hard after all. I assume they would have 2 separate counters, a grand total incremented as above, and an individual anonymous vote recorder. Both of these could be compared at a later date on paper vs. the electronic records. I assume it's hard because, well if it were made as easy as it could be, then you probably couldn't patent it or call it a "trade secret" since it's entirely obvious how it would work.

lots of stuff going on (4, Interesting)

goombah99 (560566) | more than 6 years ago | (#23242202)

In this case there are almost certainly multiple errors, one of which is the design error sequoia explained that causes the wrong ballot to be recorded.

Another plausible error mode here is the one the ES&S ivotronics had (and ones with old firmware still have). Certified voting machines are required to redundantly store the votes, usually 3 times, and there may be some effort to have these in different memory modules.

A while back ES&S had a bug that was triggered by a low battery voltage. The low battery condition would cause the logger to report this in the log. However the log entry was too long and cause a buffer over flow that over wrote the header of one of the redudant vote files. When the votes were read out at the precinct the machine did not notice the corrupt header and a second programming bug caused the malformed headers to cause other problems including mis-reported various things (like the maching ID) which then caused all sorts of downstream problems.

When the votes were read out by another method the corruption of the primary vote file was detected and it silently failed over to the secondary record. This produced a vote report that did not match up with the first one.

A reveiew of multiple systems was done by the Florida election supervisor who estimated about 1 in 7 machines reported wrong. He was fired.

Re:I've just got to ask... (1)

LandDolphin (1202876) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241738)

While I fully agree with you, I mean you should be able to build a voting machine after Intro into Computers.


But, I believe where it get's complicated is that you cannot record that John Doe voted for Person_D or Person_R. The voting has to be recorded in a way that does not give away someone right to privacy when they vote.


Now,

This should not be as hard as they seem to make it. But someone this is an unsolvable problem for them.

Re:I've just got to ask... (2, Funny)

Digital Vomit (891734) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241752)

It's really easy actually. I'll get it started:

private short DemocratVoters;
private long RepublicanVoters;
const int ThirdPartyVoters = 0;

...

Re:I've just got to ask... (1)

Thelasko (1196535) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241790)

I remember one of my projects freshman year for a class called "Introduction to Engineering Computing" was to make a program that tabulated votes. I am not a computer science major and even I figured out how to make it work.

Honestly (1)

tj111 (1275078) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241882)

How dumb do you have to be to write voting machine software? This is probably one of the few applications that could be written in Brainfuck [muppetlabs.com] and still not contain bugs.

our government is ran by fucking idiots (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23242156)

how did bush win ohio in 2004?

DUH

i wish someone would assassinate them all..

heh. (4, Funny)

Kingrames (858416) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241318)

public boolean IsVoteTallyCorrect()
{
  return true;
}

Re:heh. (1)

OrochimaruVoldemort (1248060) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241380)

public boolean IsVoteTallyCorrect()
{

  return true;
}
i think you mean "constant boolean IsVoteTallyCorrect"

Re:heh. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23242136)

no! It needs a getter pointing to a private static! And a try-catch block in case of errors! ;)

private bool _IsVoteCorrect = false;
public bool IsVoteTallyCorrect
{
// Only get because we don't want this value to change.
get{
try{return (_IsVoteCorrect?true:false);}
catch { return true; }
}
}
Yes, I've seen even worse code.

Next article: (4, Funny)

sm62704 (957197) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241330)

"Princeton Professor, Ed Felton was arrested today for violation of the DMCA..."

Re:Next article: (3, Informative)

discogravy (455376) | more than 6 years ago | (#23242146)

I realize you were going for Funny, and got there, but for those unaware, Prof. Felton is not new to this game [wikipedia.org] , has done research (and testified about it) on the MS' "IE can't be removed" antitrust defense, Diebold voting machine bullshit, and Sony's rootkit bullshit among a few other things.

He's got bona fides as a researcher in the field, and I believe was asked to do this work in TFA -- DMCA notices are going to roll off unnoticed, like ....well, like votes for the democratic party on one of these Sequoia machines, apparently.

Don't forget ... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23241334)

... to pay your $699 licensing fee you cock-smoking tea-baggers [twofo.co.uk] .

Re:Don't forget ... (1)

OrochimaruVoldemort (1248060) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241468)

is it troll month on slashdot?

Re:Don't forget ... (4, Funny)

spun (1352) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241696)

is it troll month on slashdot?
Heheheh, You must be new here. Really, really new. You kids these days, you don't know trolling. What you see now is nothing compared to the great trolls of days past. Twofo, meh. Meept, now there was a troll. Or the maresex guy, or 'think of your breathing.' Why, we even had secret SIDs for trolls to meet in to discuss the art of trolling. Trolltalk, that was here! Then there was this whole spoke thing. Sometimes you were 'on teh spoke' and sometimes you weren't. Few knew what the hell it meant, but everyone said it.

Troll month. hehe. It is troll Tuesday, though.

Re:Don't forget ... (1)

sm62704 (957197) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241840)

What I find hilarious is the very same malware troll was in the SCO thread, where it would have been an ontopic troll.

It was modded offtopic rather than "troll". At least this time the mods got it right, any link to malware should be modded "troll".

I really should start going to the Biters Anonymous [kuro5hin.org] meetings again, I've been responding to the troll posts, at least to the extent of saying DON'T CLICK THAT LINK. But damn, it's like giving up cigarettes.

-mcgrew

I'm amazed by this every time that I (4, Insightful)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241352)

see another story about vote machine problems. If it was a NASA rocket motor there would be congressional investigations, news people camped out waiting for news of the investigation at NASA headquarters etc.

But this gets shoved under the carpet at every turn like a bit of dirt that not even MSM wants to report on.

It makes me sad to be American, well, sad that such things happen in America. We are supposed to be better than this. We were (I think) and I hope that we are better than this soon. It's disgusting.

The machines themselves are not complex pieces of equipment that take rocket scientists to develop or maintain. According to someone that should know, they are not even as secure as an ATM machine. How fucking sad is that?

Why, yes, I do have some suggestions. Where is the forum for me to submit them?

Re:I'm amazed by this every time that I (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23241578)

If it's so easy and inexpensive to make a secure and accurate electronic voting machine, why don't you do it and get fabulously wealthy?

Better yet, why doesn't the open source community write a secure voting software package? Whatever happened to "The Cathedral and the Bazaar"?

In this case, the 'cathedral' of closed source software is in a very weak position, but it'll win anyway since there is no open source competition!

Re:I'm amazed by this every time that I (1)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241944)

An interesting point, and once the government begins opening bids for such equipment to other than approved government contractors/bidders it just probably will happen.

Measure pain and liability against reward. Developing a KDE app comes out positive. Giving the government something will likely turn out negative in balance. The trouble is not just the contracting issues, but also the fact that support systems are not there for OSS developments. So, yes, the Cathedral will have more resources to push at the problem and yet as it is painfully obvious not the right design or software resources to throw at it.

There are several glaringly stupid and overtly fucking obvious security flaws in the machines I've seen so far.

Using a common toilet towel dispenser key to lock the box???

Keeping the operational code on a removable drive/device ??? WTF

If you can plug a USB device and load your own malicious code into the machine... well, they missed another obvious lock mechanism.

The government has been buying circuit boards covered in conformal coatings for years. The protects the board from various maladies including prying eyes and hackers.

Can you say paper trail?

Can you say redundant electronic accounting for each vote?

Can you ... never mind. There are so many obvious ways to improve what has been put out there so far that it's like picking on the small kid at recess.

Re:I'm amazed by this every time that I (1)

Danse (1026) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241972)

If it's so easy and inexpensive to make a secure and accurate electronic voting machine, why don't you do it and get fabulously wealthy?
Who would buy it? Doesn't seem like there's much of a market yet for accurate voting machines as long as its the politicians that are deciding what we'll use, and this kind of news getting little or no play in the mainstream media.

Better yet, why doesn't the open source community write a secure voting software package?
www.openvotingconsortium.org [openvotingconsortium.org]

Re:I'm amazed by this every time that I (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241772)

If it was a NASA rocket motor there would be congressional investigations, news people camped out waiting for news of the investigation at NASA headquarters etc.


Only once a manned spacecraft blew up. The actual history of actual problems and treatment of reports of problems at NASA I think demonstrates this rather clearly.

While rigged, insecure, or simply inaccurate voting machines might also lead to deaths (and even far more of them), the connection isn't as immediate, obvious, visible and dramatic.

Re:I'm amazed by this every time that I (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23241918)

But they might have already happened!

Re:I'm amazed by this every time that I (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23242068)

The press won't bother camping out, if they don't think they'll get anything out of it. At least with a NASA investigation, they know that NASA is actually investigating and intends to report to the media.

Congress won't bother mounting an investigation because they don't think they'll get anything out of it. They know that road this ends with experts taking different sides of technical issues that congress-critters couldn't understand anyways. (Paid to do so no doubt, but that makes no difference in the end.) So the argument will come down to accessibility for the disabled or jobs or any other issue that people can understand, even though it's irrelevant to the actual problem at hand.

And as long voting machines aren't being rigged to elect a radical who directly ruins our way of life — not just some foreign country's a long way away — then nobody here will bother enough to care.

Re:I'm amazed by this every time that I (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23242128)

Actually it's more like: If there was a voting anomaly in American Idol, and one of the more popular and talented (yeah, a stretch) contestants get the boot, this would be plastered all over the 6 o'clock news, CNN, E!, etc. You'd have people protesting outside Fox studios demanding a recount. You'd have countless websites created in anger, thousands of blog articles written, just generally tons of outrage over this injustice, this travesty of democracy. Oh noes! Christy McSomebody got voted off American Idol! Burn down Fox! Fire Simon, Paula, and Randy! Throw Seacrest... out!

However, problems with voting for our government officials? Errors in the tallies for the primaries and caucuses? Hardly a blip on the MSM radar. How sad indeed...

what? (1)

genican1 (1150855) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241382)

yes, something is very wrong when the count isn't simply incremented by one. How hard is this, and how hard is it to print out a receipt?

And this will change things how? (3, Interesting)

damburger (981828) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241466)

What do you think the chance of this affecting the use of voting machines is? How often is anything of great significance altered due evidence being presented that it is inadequate?

Rationality is on the defensive. It certainly doesn't have much place in public policy any more. In every aspect of life, people are being convinced that the universe is not subject to laws which can inform our actions by predicting consequences, but that we are at the mercy of outside forces beyond our understanding, let alone control.

The 'Invisible hand' of the market means we must accept everything capitalism throws at us. The 'Intelligent designer' controls all life and we must not meddle with it. The natural rhythms or the Earth/Sun are responsible for global warming, so environmentalism is futile.

In the face of such a widespread campaign to render people helpless and reason impotent, no amount of evidence will achieve anything.

My Question (2, Insightful)

Brownstar (139242) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241508)

While it is a very good thing that we have people actively investigating and reporting on the accuracy of the new voting machines.

Are there any good reports as to how accurate paper ballot counting really is? And how far off do the two diverge?

Re:My Question (2, Interesting)

nuzak (959558) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241664)

Fraud was and is rampant in places and times using only paper ballots. One is not the cause of the other, but neither is it a cure. Voting machines could very easily be far more trustworthy, but they're being built for bottom dollar.

As for how much they diverge, that's exactly the problem: we don't know, and attempts to find out have resulted in stonewalling and threats.

Studies of ballot counting accuracy (3, Insightful)

goombah99 (560566) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241946)

Yes Caltech and MIT have done studies on vote count accuracy. Surprisingly nothing beats hand counting paper ballots. However this sort of assessment is very hard to do because the nature of the error space is so fickle. e.g. machine counting is generally perfect except when it's not. So one has very non gaussian error modes that require huge sampling and unanticipatable conditions to discover.

Hand counting paper ballots is robust and adaptable. However even here it is hard to test under labratory conditions.

The most recent study is one happeing right now in Bernalillo county NM, by University of New Mexico and Caltech. Many different ways of counting ballots by hand are being tried (different numbers of observers, different ways of verbalizing, different ways of pre-sorting ballots, and different orders of counting races, etc...) One of the more remarkable findings so far is that teams of counters can have prodigiously different rates of counting (10x variation). This makes logistics of recounting hard to predict and hard to allocate resources for.

However even that study is flawed in part by the neccessity of time. You cant convince people to count a full election a dozen different ways. So you have to use shorter ballots or only count selected races and this will mask certain error modes.

Another kind of error mode those studies cant' examine is the one that happened in Washington state during the Governor's race. In king county, various piles of ballots were "misplaced" and later "discovered". It could be malice, but more likely incompetence and lack of procedures causing ballots to be stacked willy nilly in various store rooms or in different containers when gathered from all the precints.

I'm really please with Bernallilo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse for staging this mock recounts since these will iron out procedural issues and establish a lot of currently anecdotal human factors issues more concretely. Moreover the willingness to be som open about this and invite activists in is quite refreshing. Many clerks have a siege mentality--and of course this is because they have so many activitst making demands and too little money to staff their positions.

The typical clerks office pays less than $10/hour to new staff and your not going to get IT folks for that rate.

Send Maggie [bernco.gov] an email telling her she's got your respect: clerk@bernco.gov [mailto] . Clerks really deserve a pat on the back when they do it right.

Mods, mod up parent! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23242030)

parent is informative and insightful

Simple solution? (2, Insightful)

TheRedSeven (1234758) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241512)

In my mind, electronic tabulation has its advantages: it can aggregate data quickly is the big one, allowing precincts to report quickly. The trouble is when you can't verify that those results are secure and honest to the voters' intent.

The easy solution would be to have 2 paper print-outs: 1 that the voter tears off (like a receipt) and can examine to verify that they voted the way they intended, and 1 that is automatically ripped off and deposited in the 'lock box' for any audits or recounts that might need to be done. (I'm thinking a system that automatically tears the receipt paper and drops it within the sealed system--no human hand touches it, though you can see it through glass/plastic.)

That way, the ease of transmission and voting exists, there is a verifiable record that the voter can examine, and there is no concern over anonymity, since no order of voting can be extrapolated when the individual votes are separated from the roll. It works on all levels.

I can't get over--What is so hard about this!? Why are voting machine manufacturers having such a hard time getting a simple solution, and why are they so resistant to improvements on their designs?!

Re:Simple solution? (4, Informative)

corsec67 (627446) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241652)

I can't believe that people STILL don't understand what is wrong with a receipt of how you voted that you remove from the polling place.

Boss: "Show me your receipt for candidate X tomorrow or don't bother showing up"
Husband: "Show me your receipt for candidate X tomorrow or it will be painful"
Creepy Person outside polling place: "Show me your receipt for candidate X and I will give you $10"

Yes, a paper trail is important, but one that you can refer to outside the polling place has very different problems.

Re:Simple solution? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23241986)

Mod parent +1 insightful.

Re:Simple solution? (1)

TheRedSeven (1234758) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241994)

OK. I stand corrected. As parent (and others) have noted, having a tear-off receipt seems a bad idea for all the coercion reasons noted.

Still, there needs to be something that is EASILY verifiable for the voter, so they can ensure that the paper ballot matches their intended vote. Trying to peek through a 2"x2" cloudy plastic window to see light printing (which is what we have in my precinct in IL) to see that the X is in the right spot just doesn't cut it. And I'm young and have good eyesight. I can't imagine my grandmother trying to do the same.

Re:Simple solution? (1)

nuzak (959558) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241748)

> The easy solution would be to have 2 paper print-outs: 1 that the voter tears off (like a receipt) and can examine to verify that they voted the way they intended

The way they or anyone else manipulating the vote intends. How many times does it need to be said: The whole idea of a secret ballot is that it's secret to everyone, including yourself once you leave the polling booth. No amount of cleverness can get around this.

The second system is fine, though I think it's not going to be fun in from a maintenance standpoint. Then again lever machines are about a hundred times more fiddly and they last for decades.

Re:Simple solution? (1)

jandrese (485) | more than 6 years ago | (#23242064)

I'd much rather have a paper tape under a window that prints out your votes in a clearly legible form (you vote for Candidate X and it prints his name on the tape. At the end of your session, it prints the tape out and lets you watch it go by, then it hides your tape for the next person and prints his votes right on the same spot. The printer should be a generic receipt printer like you see at checkouts, and noisy like one (dot matrix) so it's obvious when it's printing.

The problem with a system like this is that it's more work for the polling place volunteers to replace the paper tape when it runs out, but it should be very very easy to count (the system could add little barcodes next to each name to make them machine readable for faster recounting if need be, but a person checking each one by hand would also work).

The accounting on whole rolls of paper tape should be pretty straightforward too. It'll be hard for someone to toss in another roll like they can toss in an extra 1000 votes because the number of rolls should be a small. In fact if it's designed properly, I suspect you could run a whole day on a single roll and avoid having to change them out. For true paranoia, you could have the machine print out some sort of crypto key (public key) on the roll when it first starts printing so you can verify that it came from a particular voting machine later on (and wasn't swapped out by an unscrupulous worker).

Re:Simple solution? (1)

querist (97166) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241798)

There is one unfortunate side effect of your plan that may, in fact, render it illegal.

IANAL! However, it is my understanding that there are no "receipts" that voters keep for elections specifically to prevent coersion of votes. I am not sure if this is a genuine legal requirement or just a very good idea that has become a standard, but either way it is a very good idea.

Sorry.

This problem has been addressed by many researchers, and there are quite suitable solutions that can be mathematically demonstrated to be secure (barring physical security issues that could only prevent votes from being counted, not allowing votes to be added or altered).

The fact that the powers that be have not even invited these recognized experts to assist in this process, to me, indicates that they _want_ a corruptable system. These experts have offered their services because they believe in the overall process. The fact that their offers were rejected and the systems were designed by people who were not qualified indicates that the system is failing, or has already failed.

This is a sad turn of events for a country that, at one time, stood as a beacon of democracy. Some other country will step up to the plate and fill that void. It will be interesting to see which country it that will be. Any guesses?
 

Re:Simple solution? (1)

Digital Vomit (891734) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241810)

In my mind, electronic tabulation has its advantages: it can aggregate data quickly is the big one, allowing precincts to report quickly.

We use paper ballots counted by hand in Canadian federal elections. After the polls close that same evening, we get a running tally on TV of the votes from the polling stations across the country. The winner is discovered by the end of the night.

You don't need computers to quickly count votes.

Re:Simple solution? (1)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | more than 6 years ago | (#23242026)

Yes.

A national election in Canada is about the scale of a county election in Los Angeles.

Re:Simple solution? (1)

sm62704 (957197) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241964)

Step two is unnecessary. Let the machine tabulate the vote and print the ballot, which the voter can examine before insertion into the ballot box.

The machines in Illinois aren't Diebold, but it's funny- iirc the election before last, that's exactly the way it was. You could double check your vote on-screen before submission, then was printed a human-readable paper ballot that the election judge pout in the ballot box.

The primary election this time (my choice, Ron Paul, lost big time) was different. The paper ballot wasn't human-readable. That in itself made me suspicious, considering this IS Illinois, where we're so patriotic that even dying doesn't keep us from voting.

What a charade. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23241568)

This is the single most important threat to our democratic system of govt.

These machines are flawed. We know this but continue to allow them to be used?
We spend TRILLIONS on defense of our country, only to contract the systems
which determine who controls it out to the lowest bidder? Nonsensical.

I can see only one way of ensuring an accurate count - store a voter's DNA.
Sign your ballot in blood at the next general election. Bloody democracy!

Re:What a charade. (1)

sm62704 (957197) | more than 6 years ago | (#23242106)

This is the single most important threat to our democratic system of govt.

I disagree. IMO the biggest threat to our once democratic republic is our method of financing campaigns. As long as ten million dollars worth of ads compared to another candidate's one million dollars can change your mind, the voting machine itself is a tiny threat. Bill Gates is not an Illinois resident and has no right to vote for any Illinois Representative, yet his money gives him far more pull with my congressman than my mere vote does.

And he can contribute to both major party candidates so it wouldn't matter to him which one lost, he would win.

Ideally nobody should be able to contribute. All elections should be financed by the government itself.

Almost as windmill-tilting is the idea that one should not be able to contribute to a candidate he or she isn't eligible to vote for (neither my employer if out of state or a corporation, nor my union, should be able to contribute), and nobody should be able to contribute to more than one candidate in any given race.

I think we'll see it sometime after pigs are genetically engineered to fly.

-mcgrew

John (2, Insightful)

jab9990 (1260764) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241576)

It's not the errors, it's the possibility of rigging elections. It's not the errors, it's the possibility of rigging elections.

If there's no paper ballot created you didn't vote (2, Informative)

analog_line (465182) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241604)

I'm glad that my state still uses paper ballots, but as long as it's legal to count a vote without any physical record in any state, no national election in this country should be considered "free and fair." What's good for Zimbabwe, Venezuela, the Russian Federation, and Iran, should be good for the United States of America too, and shame on those who claim otherwise.

Whether it's Hillary Clinton, Barak Obama, or John McCain elected this year, the rest of the world should bring as much pressure on them to reform our elections process as they have in those other countries. Stuff like this prove that people here are working more and more to push back against it, but if you care about what happens here yourself (and if you don't, I don't blame you) push your leaders to push our leaders harder on this.

Meanwhile (1)

glassboxvoting (1279716) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241614)

Maryland Attorney General's report on voting system irregularities: press release at http://tinyurl.com/6ahena [tinyurl.com] links to the report. Granted, it was written to address specific 2006 difficulties, but the security of the equipment was not even mentioned, nor was there a security expert on the panel.

Am I the only one (1)

falcon5768 (629591) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241650)

Who is confused about how god damn hard it is to make a simple secure voting machine? I mean we could fly to the moon and blow the living shit out of the earth, but casting 1 ballot with multiple sections with one selection from each section is like near impossible to do right.

How fucking dumb are these people working for there companies?

Re:Am I the only one (1)

sm62704 (957197) | more than 6 years ago | (#23242134)

How fucking dumb are these people working for there companies?

Thank you for that typo, I needed a laugh!

what kind of programmer (1, Insightful)

DragonTHC (208439) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241672)

what kind of programmer can fuck up addition?

seriously, how can any programmer fuck up addition?

Re:what kind of programmer (2, Insightful)

querist (97166) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241832)

Use Microsoft Excel?

Re:what kind of programmer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23242244)

Is not just adding... that's easy.
It's what gets added and what doesn't, that's the tricky part.

Here is the real smoking gun... (3, Interesting)

bgspence (155914) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241710)

Sequoia's Explanation, and Why It's Not the Whole Story
http://www.freedom-to-tinker.com/?p=1267 [freedom-to-tinker.com] ...
"Let's assume the Democrat party is assigned option switch 6 while the Republican Party is assigned options switch 12. If a Democrat voter arrives, the poll worker presses the "6 button followed by the green "Activate" button. The Democrat contests are activated and the voter votes the ballot. " ...

Then the following comment nails it:

"Rich Kulawiec Says:
March 20th, 2008 at 2:59 pm
I'm working through this explanation with a paper-and-pencil mockup, but meanwhile I'll note Sequoia's use of the right-wing code phrase "Democrat Party" instead of "Democratic Party". It seems to have become fashionable of late among some to use this term as a thinly-veiled insult, then deny that it's intentional. Given how carefully [at least some portions of] this explanation seem to be worded, I don't for a moment believe this is a mistake."

Re:Here is the real smoking gun... (1)

nuzak (959558) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241990)

> "Let's assume the Democrat party is assigned option switch 6 while the Republican Party is assigned options switch 12

"Option Switch 6" "Option Switch 12"?!?!?!

What the fuck? Do they not understand that these phantasmagistic gizmotronic contraptulations are programmable these days with fucking WORDS, and not a bank of switches?

But like RSK says, I have to wonder how much of it is even an accident. These people really do seem to be the counterexample to Hanlon's Razor.

2 things. (1)

warriorpostman (648010) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241714)

I'll just go ahead and increment: whySoHard++

The irony of these crazy electronic voting madness, is that the two fundamental strengths of computers are:
A) accurately remembering stuff
B) accurately adding stuff.

So clearly...it's a hardware problem. :0

So... (1)

RetroGeek (206522) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241776)

1 + 1 = 3, for sufficiently large values of 1?

Tradtional Voting Systems (1)

Phonespider (1281366) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241854)

Has anyone ever done a study on how hackable traditional voting systems are? It seems to me that it would be pretty easy to clandestinely change the position of some names so that people punch the wrong hole. We're aware of the problems in the new machines but I would like to see just how secure they are compared to the older systems.

What this means (1)

Jimmy_B (129296) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241856)

I don't think anyone would go to much trouble to tamper with the NJ Presidential primary. There's not enough at stake to justify the risk, and the discrepancies seen involve small numbers of votes. Thus, there are only two possible conclusions.

Either the voting machines are so unreliable that they introduce random errors, or someone is planning to tamper with the general election, and conducting a test run.

If done well, voting machine tampering would leave no evidence at all. We were lucky that some discrepancies showed up this time, because otherwise we would never have known. But now the bad guys know what they need to cover up. That's why it's vitally important that we get rid of these black-box voting machines and go back to a more primitive, more trustworthy system.

I can't believe this... (1)

Derekloffin (741455) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241874)

HOW BLOODY HARD CAN IT BE TO MAKE A GLORIFIED ADDING MACHINE?!

Is it really that hard to take X and add 1?!

I swear, these guys are being deliberately incompetent.

Something needs to be done (1)

Digital Vomit (891734) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241884)

Who's with me in gathering together a "coalition of the willing" among democratic nations for the purpose of bringing democracy to the U.S.?

Slot machines are more secure than this! (2, Insightful)

zerofoo (262795) | more than 6 years ago | (#23241942)

The guys that develop our voting machines should be held to the same standards that the Nevada Gaming Commission requires for cashless wagering systems:

http://gaming.nv.gov/documents/pdf/07jan11_techstds_kiosks_proposed.pdf [nv.gov]

These guys have some ridiculously high standards to ensure the integrity of gaming equipment. Why can't we get similar standards for voting machines?

-ted

Coinstar, anyone? (1)

MrNougat (927651) | more than 6 years ago | (#23242002)

How come a Coinstar machine can accurately sort and count at least four different coin variations, eliminating the coins that are outside of those tolerances, and a voting machine can't tabulate a simple column of votes?

Is it just me, or does it (apart from the security aspect) seem like it should be amazingly simple to write the code for a voting machine? If it should be so simple, why oh why are there always these oddball errors that officials and voting machine companies (sorry, Diebold, company) are unable to explain?

How hard is it, really, for an application to accurately add up several distinct columns of ones? And how in god's name can there be more than one "readout method?"

JP (1)

themagic8ball (1153221) | more than 6 years ago | (#23242108)

I still think they should all be produced on open source platforms on publicly owned hardware. Everyone can see the code, so no one can cry about it later. I don't think you will have any trust in the system unless you have transparency.

My only question is... (1)

dyfet (154716) | more than 6 years ago | (#23242116)

Do I get better or worse house odds using a one armed "voter" on election day than I do playing the slots in Atlantic City?

And we need photo IDs to prevent voter fraud? (1)

pajamabama (1133897) | more than 6 years ago | (#23242120)

So while there are demonstrable instances of the voting system itself being broken, we have State Legislatures across the US worried that voter fraud is the true "threat to democracy" and demanding that voters show a valid photo ID before they can mark their ballot. Note yesterday's US Supreme Court decision to allow Indiana's voter ID law to stand. If they really wanted to fix the voting system, they'd deal with these fucked up machines. Voter IDs is not about defending our voting system from abuse, it's about disenfranchising sectors of the voting population.

Off with their heads! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23242126)

I am sure that the lawsuit threats will keep them very comfortable as they are dragged out into the street and beheaded for election fixing, the Evil bastards. First them, then do the politicians they're fixing the vote for. Fuck the fucking fuckers!

Concerned Patriot in Phoenix

PS The Tree of Liberty is fucking thirsty.

REVOLUTION NOW!!

Survival of the Ballsiest (1)

amplt1337 (707922) | more than 6 years ago | (#23242140)

We can't blame the voting-machine companies entirely -- they aren't behaving out of character; they're doing exactly what they've been bred to do by our competitive marketplace. We live in a society in which to admit error is seen as a fatal weakness rather than a mark of strength. In the American corporate world, you only apologize when you've done something greivously wrong, and even then only under extreme duress, and without admitting fault. You never admit fault, because you never make mistakes. Fault is fatal.

So of course if anything bad happens, that defense mechanism kicks in--"Surely you're wrong, because it would be impossible for us to have committed an error!" A company without that instinct, led by people with a more reasonable approach to the world, would have been torn apart in the marketplace long before winning a major government contract, because there's selective pressure for trumped-up perfection.

Obviously we need to seriously rethink this whole electronic-voting concept and its current implementation. But we also need to rethink a society that kills the stock price of any corporation, or the reputation of any person, that admits a mistake. And yet I think I heard somewhere that before you can correct a mistake you have to admit it?

To err is human; so to claim inerrancy must be monstrous.

(Of course, none of this goes into the possibility of wilful tampering, which is a separate point. I don't discount the possibility, but I think what I've said still stands.)

So Why Don't We Do It Right? (1)

dwibby (1281370) | more than 6 years ago | (#23242168)

Since it appears that the vote machine manufacturers are having difficulty programming a vote machine, why don't we help?

It shouldn't be that difficult to create--I dunno, libvote--to handle all the things we consider basic issues. We might even be able to tackle the security problems. Maybe even get a few user interaction experts to design a interface that doesn't confuse the less-than-tech-savvy crowd.

Release it under a permissive license, maybe even figure out a platform or two to run it on, with a simple installer so all the counties have to do is buy the hardware.

We can do this. Right?

Hard Evidence of Rigged Election (1)

natoochtoniket (763630) | more than 6 years ago | (#23242204)

This isn't hard evidence of an "error". An "error" is by definition unintentional. When simple counting is done incorrectly by a computer, for numbers that are small enough to fit in 32 bits, it isn't an "error". The computer is just doing what it was programmed to do. I cannot imagine a programmer being so incompetent as to program an increment instruction incorrectly. That cannot possibly be an "error." It has to be intentional.

The evidence reported by this article is clear, unambiguous, damning evidence of election rigging. There is no other way to interpret it.

It ought to be illegal... (1)

DigitAl56K (805623) | more than 6 years ago | (#23242208)

.. to have trade secret protection on a voting machine. In fact, any protection that prevents the public understanding exactly how the machine works ought to entirely undermine confidence in the system to such an extent that systems whose design and software is not in the public domain should be banned from use.

Well... (1)

Nathrael (1251426) | more than 6 years ago | (#23242320)

It's not a bug, it's a feature. And much cheaper than bribing people.
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