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Early Voting Problems, Open Source Alternative

Soulskill posted about 6 years ago | from the off-to-a-great-start dept.

Government 164

Techdirt makes note of some problems cropping up already for early voters in the presidential election. CNN covers some of the issues, including machines in a West Virginia county which recorded some votes incorrectly because of an alignment error. A lengthy discussion of the problems was also featured on NPR. Reader Rooked_One points out a related story at NPR about a voting program called PVOTE, written in Python and only 500 lines long. "Pvote is not a complete voting system. It is just the software program that interacts with the voter. Other necessary functions, such as voter registration, ballot preparation, and canvassing, are not part of Pvote. It is especially important that the voter interaction be correct because it is the only part of an election that must take place in private, whereas all other parts of an election can and should be subjected to public oversight and verification."

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This is going to be a close race. (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25508867)

We're going to have a very close race and it's going to be more acrimonious than 2000. And when it hits the fan, they're going to be looking for a goat. Guess what, not who, it's going to be?

Folks are NOT going to be pleased that there's no paper trail or any other way to audit the machines. I may have to go and buy surplus paper voting machines and make a killing.

Martial law? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25508937)

People on and are saying that George W. Bush may declare martial law rather than abandon his extensive corruption. Perhaps by pretending that Iran attacked the United States?

Re:Martial law? (1)

Gavagai80 (1275204) | about 6 years ago | (#25508995)

No, the aliens are using the moment of weakness to launch their strike and turn America into a breeding ground for their young (who nourish themsleves on human meat).

Re:Martial law? (1)

JustOK (667959) | about 6 years ago | (#25509005)

Its a plot by TV media to boost ratings and ad revenue

Re:Martial law? (3, Funny)

spazdor (902907) | more than 5 years ago | (#25510239)

Don't blame me, I voted for Kodos.

Re:Martial law? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25509389)

"People" said that about Bill Clinton as well. I'm not impressed.

Re:Martial law? (1, Insightful)

Sam36 (1065410) | about 6 years ago | (#25509421)

you are an idiot. The fact that you attack bush shows that you know nothing about the USA government.

Re:This is going to be a close race. (2, Informative)

AdamHaun (43173) | about 6 years ago | (#25509633)

The presidential race probably won't have as many problems. The polls are predicting an Obama shut-out. The question now is not whether the Democrats will win the White House and gain seats in the house and senate, but how big of a landslide it will be.

Re:This is going to be a close race. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25509827)

The polls are predicting an Obama shut-out.

Which polls are you looking at?

The race always tightens up at the very last second. And, depending on the "analyst" you listen to, Obama and the Dems are a "slam dunk" to "the pres race will be close and the Reps may actually keep most of their Senate seats."

It ain't over till it's over.

Re:This is going to be a close race. (3, Informative)

AdamHaun (43173) | more than 5 years ago | (#25510461)

I watch the results at Real Clear Politics and the aggregates/projections from Pollster, Princeton, and 538. Advertising budgets for the various candidates and states are also public. Less solid evidence includes leaked internal memos about the parties own projections for success or failure. McCain has surrendered most of the Kerry swing states, and his last hope is to try to take Pennsylvania, which has gone Democratic in the last four elections. Obama, meanwhile, wins by holding Colorado and New Hampshire (likely) or getting at least one of the big swing states (also likely). He's averaging +9% in the (still-rising) national polls, and is competitive in once-secure states like North Dakota and North Carolina. As we can see from early voting results so far, he has a better ground game, and from the beginning has had a better organized campaign. I know the race is expected to tighten, but it would have to tighten a *lot* to make it "very close".

Right now, all evidence is that the race will not be close, and that it would take a major gaffe from Obama to change that. It could happen -- nobody's saying it's over till it's over -- but as the McCain campaign continues to get bad press over Sarah Palin and Republican supporters form a circular firing squad, this race is looking more like 1992 than 2000.

Dewey defeats Trueman (1, Insightful)

Original Replica (908688) | more than 5 years ago | (#25510335)

The presidential race probably won't have as many problems. The polls are predicting an Obama shut-out.

I seem to recall that that media predictions were a major contributor to Gore losing the election in 2000. [] Never stop running until the race is completely over.

Still not transparent (5, Insightful)

Casandro (751346) | about 6 years ago | (#25508869)

Even if you have a short programm you still cannot guarante that it works because there's still a system surrounding it. In fact you could even manipulate the CPU hardware to give you false results.

The _only_ practicable and moderately secure way to do an election is by pen and paper and manual counting. It's done all over the world and it works near flawlessly. Everybody, not just programmers, can watch the process and see what's happening. There's no "black magic" involved and it's completely transparent.

As soon as there is some form of technology involved, people will cease to understand it, therefore making the whole system intransparent and prone to manipulation.

Re:Still not transparent (2, Interesting)

worthawholebean (1204708) | about 6 years ago | (#25508903)

My optimal system for the US race:

Optical scan machines or touch screen with voter-verified paper trail (i.e. receipt that you drop into a bucket). Choose a random sample of let's say 200 ballots from each polling place; if they don't match the official totals by say five percent, recount the entire polling place by hand. This will happen occasionally by chance, but it won't be that often. Combine the results of this sampling for each congressional district and perform the same check (with a lower margin of error). Again, if it doesn't match, do a hand-recount.

Re:Still not transparent (3, Interesting)

Casandro (751346) | about 6 years ago | (#25508917)

Still with close elections beeing extremely likely that's no solution. It might only find completely defunkt machines, but none that just change the results slightly. In your system, elections get decided by very few votes.

Besides with a bit of organisation, counting votes it extremely quick and simple.

Just do it in 2 steps:
First sort your ballots according to some system. If you have simple "choose one of the following 5" this is trivial.
Then count those sorted ballots.

Believe me, Germany has one of the most complicated voting systems in the world, still we have official results in the papers, the next day.

Re:Still not transparent (5, Insightful)

foobsr (693224) | about 6 years ago | (#25509157)

Germany has one of the most complicated voting systems in the world, still we have official results in the papers, the next day

But with voting machines our trusted politicians would have the results even before the elections. Just figure!


Re:Still not transparent (1)

FailedTheTuringTest (937776) | about 6 years ago | (#25509549)

Germany has one of the most complicated voting systems in the world

Please say more! Americans often say they need machines to do the counting because they directly elect so many officials -- not just the President but senators, sheriffs, judges, and more -- which makes the counting process very complicated. How complicated is it in Germany?

Re:Still not transparent (3, Informative)

Sique (173459) | about 6 years ago | (#25509753)

Lets put it like this: The Black Forest town of Villingen-Schwenningen has something called "unechte Teilortswahl" (literally translated: "not really an election per suburb"). Basicly every suburb has some seats reserved for their local candidates, but there are no party lists for each suburb, every party has a list for the whole of Villingen-Schwenningen. Each party can nominee as much candidates on its list as there are seats in the town council. With up to 20 parties running, this can easily amout to about ~450 candidates. It has happened that the voting ballot for the town council was a square metre!
Now the voter can either accept the whole list of one party, or he has as much votes as there are seats in the council. Those votes he can distribute freely: all on one candidate ("cumulate") or evenly distributed between candidates of different lists, or some of the votes on a single candidate, and others on other candidates... it's completely up to him. He can even write new candidates on the lists and give them votes.
During the count one determines which candidate got the most votes in his suburb, he gets a direct seat. If the suburb has a second seat, also the second best candidate gets a second seat etc.pp. But because different parties are running, it can happen, that other lists got many votes on their lists, but are not represented by the suburb. Then they get so called "Ausgleichsmandate" (compensatory mandates). Those are additional seats in the town council. In the end the council thus consists of as many candidates from the different lists as the relative number of votes the lists demands. With all those compensatory mandates the town council can often double or triple the number of seats.

Re:Still not transparent (1)

Idiomatick (976696) | more than 5 years ago | (#25510375)

I only understood about half that! I'm therefore thoroughly convinced your system is way too complicated.

Re:Still not transparent (1)

Zerth (26112) | more than 5 years ago | (#25510529)

That is scary, but kind of awesome. Being able to pile all your votes on one guy is neat.

OPEN VOTING CONSORTIUM. once more with feeling! (4, Interesting)

goombah99 (560566) | about 6 years ago | (#25509593)

First off Germany has a relatively simple ballot, its only complex because it's evaluated in a complicated way. The US to begin with is large with diverse kinds of governing bodies, and has far far far far more elected offices. So comparing it to German elections is silly.

Second Pvote is not 500 lines. it's 500 lines sitting on top of hundreds of thousands of lines of interpreter code, device drivers, and the tens of millions of lines of Linux.

Third writing a voting system, while non trivial, is not the hard part.

The hard part is twofold
1) creating a viable bussiness model for it's distribution, component agregation, certification, and service it.

2) designing a voting PROCESS so that you don't have to trust the third parties that build or maintain these or the people that operate them. Things have to be transparently secure.

Now the OVC system OPen voting Consortium has had a python based system for years. it's open source too. But more importantly it is designed so we dont' have to trust the programmers (it produces an intermediate paper ballot and physically separates the vote selection hardware from the vote counting hardware ---just as optical scan does.) And it has a well thought out and viable bussiness model that will allow for it's practical distribution and maintainence.

That is what the world needs. so if you want to help. Donate to OVC. They are struggling right now not because they can't write code, but because they have to win acceptance at the state level before any company is going to start marketing the system.

OVC has a very clever bussiness model in which the software is free and open, but companies support it's development through fees paid to certify their OEM component based systems as compliant with the OVC standards.


goombah99 (560566) | about 6 years ago | (#25509597)

Open voting consortium []

Re:OPEN VOTING CONSORTIUM. once more with feeling! (1)

he-sk (103163) | more than 5 years ago | (#25510359)

While Germany has fewer elected officials a ballot can still be non-trivial with Bundestag, state and community elections all on the same day. Popular initiatives are on the rise in recent years and several states have complicated their ballot (IRV and a process we call Kumulieren/Panaschieren), so the ballot will get larger with time.

The argument that one needs voting machines, because of the many elections is a total non sequitur to the complaint that people don't trust machines to count their vote. And rightly so. The only good reason for voting machines is helping disabled people that have problems with a paper ballot. Even then a print-out of the vote should be counted manually.

Just throw more hardware, err, I mean man-power at the problem if the number of ballots is too large. There's also no reason that local, state and federal elections have to be on the same day. Having state initiatives on the ballot with a federal election is suspect as well. Spread them out throughout the year and the system will scale better.

Re:Still not transparent (1)

fugue (4373) | more than 5 years ago | (#25510267)

If the federal elections are both close and acrimonious, then the problem is with society and the candidates, or with the system of government. If half your citizens are furious, an accurate count is useless. Boot out the morons who disagree with you and let them start their own country. Oh, wait--that's what the Constitution says: the state governments have most of the power, the federal government's role is tightly circumscribed.

Re:Still not transparent (2, Insightful)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 5 years ago | (#25510317)

Still with close elections...

Well.. that's the real problem. The elections wouldn't be so close if politicians didn't race to co-opt each other. I mean.. the difference between Obama and McCain appears to be a few trivial details in their massive wealth redistribution plans.

If they'd.. y'know... stand for something...different, then people would have an actual reason to decide something. There might be mandates even.

Re:Still not transparent (2, Interesting)

molarmass192 (608071) | about 6 years ago | (#25508971)

I'd say a hybrid might offer more redundancy. Machine A is a touch screen which prints a completed ballot. Voter visually confirms the completed ballot. Completed ballot is taken to machine B to be optically scanned. Paper ballot is saved to a vault and the voter gets a printed receipt with choices printed on it. Ideally, the receipt provided to the voter would be imprinted with an anonymous unique number to verify their vote online, a bit like lottery tickets are verified. The unique ID might even be a checksum of the voter's choices and their SSN, which should, in theory at least, be unique and non-reversible.

Re:Still not transparent (2, Insightful)

Plunky (929104) | about 6 years ago | (#25509317)

Ideally, the receipt provided to the voter would be imprinted with an anonymous unique number to verify their vote online

On the surface, this seems a good idea and really, its the only way that an electronic system can be trusted

In reality though, it opens the possibility of vote buying and intimidation

This is why people keep saying that paper ballots with manual counts and human supervision are the only way to proceed

Re:Still not transparent (1)

Ironchew (1069966) | more than 5 years ago | (#25510619)

Ideally, the receipt provided to the voter would be imprinted with an anonymous unique number to verify their vote online

On the surface, this seems a good idea and really, its the only way that an electronic system can be trusted

In reality though, it opens the possibility of vote buying and intimidation

You might have a good point. If you don't explain it, though, it's indistinguishable from FUD.

Re:Still not transparent (3, Insightful)

Ritchie70 (860516) | about 6 years ago | (#25509013)

Where I vote, we do use optical scan ballots. They hand you a piece of paper and a magic marker, and you go connect the two parts of an arrow.

Once you're done voting, it goes right into the scanner, which will complain if there's a mis-vote (too many votes in a race, race missed, etc.) If you intentionally skipped a race, you can tell the old man by the machine that you under-voted on purpose when it complains.

I assume that the machine is not also a shredder, so the ballots could be recounted, either fairly quickly by scanner or, if different results are obtained from multiple runs through the scanner, by hand.

I think the statistical sampling is still a good idea though. It wouldn't catch minor fraud or error, but it would at least give you an indication that the result is probably about right.

Everything needs a sanity check. If you use your calculator to multiply 53 x 58 you know that should be somewhere around 50 x 60 so if you wind up with 13,592 you're going to try again. We should apply the same level of sense to determining who is going to run our country.

Optical scans are nice (4, Interesting)

slash.duncan (1103465) | about 6 years ago | (#25509183)

Almost every place I've ever voted has had optical scans, generally of the connect the arrow type. They mail out sample ballots (marked sample and on different paper, no funny business there) several weeks ahead of time. You walk in with your voting card and/or proof of ID (the laws are getting stricter and require both in many places, now), the volunteers (almost always old people, setup so representatives of both major parties are present) mark your name off as voting and hand you an official ballot. This ballot should match the sample you got in the mail, or there'd be PR hell to pay.

You walk over to the booth, generally a portable table with a cardboard privacy screen fitted around the top. There's a pen of the proper type in the booth -- you can ask to have it replaced if necessary. For each race or proposition, it tells you how many you can mark -- for some state races you can select multiple candidates and the top X number are picked -- and you mark what you wish. For most candidate races (in most states) there's also a blank entry you can mark, and write-in your choice.

You don't have to vote for all races or propositions. If you screw up, you take the screwed up ballot back (using the privacy procedures below) and they give you another. (I've never actually screwed up, but this is what the prominently posted instructions say to do.)

When you are done, there's either a privacy cover (if the cards are printed on both sides) or instructions tell you to turn the marked sides in. You leave the booth and return to the sign-in area, where another volunteer takes the ballot and feeds it into an optical-scan machine right there -- you watch them do it and hear it beep and increment the ballot count. Again at this point, if it fails to read (tho I've never had that happen), you can get a new ballot and try again. The ballot itself is deposited in a lock-box for recounts, if necessary.

Many states have a no-reason-necessary early voting allowed policy. You can either request an absentee ballot and either mail it in or take it to an authorized polling place up to poll closing time on the date of the main vote, or go in and early-vote at the county recorder's office. A few elections ago I did just that, requesting and getting an absentee ballot in the mail, which I filled out, sealed in the provided envelope, and dropped by my normal polling place on the day of the vote. They had a lock-box for them. It was much more convenient than voting as normal, but I missed the voting ritual and it felt kind of weird watching the results come in that nite having not actually voted that day.

States differ in how they check the ballots, but Arizona (where I am now) at least, requires an audit of several (IIRC two) percent of the precincts, randomly chosen (the "random" process of choosing them is encoded in the law, with at minimum witnesses from both parties, both to the choice and to the verifications, the audited precincts are not known previous to the vote so can't be avoided that way). These audits hand verify the count of the optical scan machines.

This system seems pretty reliable to me. I still can't understand why the entire nation doesn't just go opti-scan, as the machines can be used to count and get quick results as necessary, while the paper trail is there for anyone wishing to verify things.

The biggest problem I've heard about, doing it this way, is the lock-boxes disappearing a couple of times. Each one holds a few hundred votes. Of course, there's an accountability trail, but as they say, **** happens. Unfortunately, that's a problem for pretty much any after-the-fact verifiable system. But those cases are few and far between, it seems, and I've not heard of any of them actually affecting an outcome. There have been a few cases of other oddities as well, but nothing even close to the unverified touch-screen issues that seem to come up every year.

BTW, I've worked with touch screens, and whoever came up with the idea of having the untrained public vote on them, exposure perhaps a couple times a year, had rocks in their head(s)! It's all too easy to have a bit of static build-up, causing the machine to register a button a couple inches to the left and above (for instance) of what /you/ thought you pushed. Those using them regularly learn to watch the virtual buttons and slide their fingers until the correct one is being pushed, and how to delete the action and go back and redo if necessary, but there's simply no way someone limited to exposure for perhaps ten minutes a couple times a year, are going to get it right. I'm glad no place I've voted has used the things!

FWIW, I used the old hole-punch ballots a few times some years ago as well. That was back in Oregon, where I guess they've gone to all-mail, presumably opti-scan, ballots now. They had just started doing the all-mail thing for the minor city council and school board type elections only, not the major national or even state level elections, back when I left the state.

Hope someone finds this informative and useful.

Re:Still not transparent (1)

Falstius (963333) | more than 5 years ago | (#25510607)

There are some advantages of optical scan over touch screen.

1. If the touch screens break, you're SOL. If the optical scan breaks people can still fill out ballots while a new machine is delivered (many places that use touch screens keep paper ballots on hand as a backup, why not just start with the paper ballots?).
2. With an optical scan system, you only need one or two machines per precinct. This is much cheaper. A limited number of touch screens has repeatedly led to long lines and disenfranchised voters.
3. With optical scan, the system is counting the same thing that people see. This is much easier to verify than a system where people count text and the machine counts a bar code.

So one effective solution is to have optical scan machines and one special machine, with a paper human readable record, for the blind/handicapped per voting site. Do mandatory manual count on a random sample of ballots, with the number of ballots counted based on how close the vote is. If the vote is close enough, a full count is mandatory for that vote.

Re:Still not transparent (4, Insightful)

TapeCutter (624760) | about 6 years ago | (#25508933)

"The _only_ practicable and moderately secure way to do an election is by pen and paper and manual counting. It's done all over the world and it works near flawlessly. Everybody, not just programmers, can watch the process and see what's happening. There's no "black magic" involved and it's completely transparent."

May I just add that those who don't understand this are doomed to screw things up until they do.

it's at least really translucent (1)

anon mouse-cow-aard (443646) | about 6 years ago | (#25509027)

I think the idea here is that by using as much non-custom software as possible, and since packages from any reputable source will be digitally signed (debian packages, windows packages, etc...) and that the signatures are part of the voting machine verification process to which all are privy.

The installation will rely on software which is widely used and tested in other applications, and code to which access is controlled by the gatekeepers of those applications (as enforced by digital signatures)

The problem for the bad people is to:
    1) become contributors to a key package.
    2) make contributions of vulnerabilities in such a way that they are not spotted by the maintainers of the components.
    3) ???
    4) Profit!

This is a much, much, higher bar to getting a hack in, than just finding any issue in 100k lines of custom application code, as is present in current commercial implementations.

or.. they have to make use of vulnerabilities which are un-known (0-day) because anything else will be patched. still a lot higher bar than today.

The voting machine people should welcome their
open source overlords, because once they become just widget makers, the bright lights will go look somewhere else!

Re:Still not transparent (4, Insightful)

karstux (681641) | about 6 years ago | (#25509133)

The _only_ practicable and moderately secure way to do an election is by pen and paper and manual counting. It's done all over the world and it works near flawlessly.

I'd like to add that the counting must not only be manual, but also public. Everyone with an interest in the election, including the voters, must be able to verify the process. That can never happen with voting machines.

I don't get it. Nearly everyone with professional knowledge of computer science and/or hardware, including technology enthusiasts who'd otherwise embrace any new technology, advise against voting machines, because they know that the necessary level of trust and security is impossible to reach. Why don't the politicians for once listen to those who genuinely know better?

It's not like voting machines have any significant inherent advantages over pen-and-paper voting. I guess they are a bit faster in counting. But sacrifice the trust in democracy (and a couple of billions of dollars) for that little convenience? Absurd!

Re:Still not transparent (4, Insightful)

moxley (895517) | about 6 years ago | (#25509219)

"I don't get it. Nearly everyone with professional knowledge of computer science and/or hardware, including technology enthusiasts who'd otherwise embrace any new technology, advise against voting machines, because they know that the necessary level of trust and security is impossible to reach. Why don't the politicians for once listen to those who genuinely know better?"

I think that the answer to that is pretty self-evident:

It is because their primary concerns are not accuracy and "what the people want," I mean, it's not like the government and these people running for president don't have access to smart people and good technology (not necessarily electronic). It's not like they don't know what makes elections fair and verifiable and what systems are prone to manipulation.

Their primary concerns are control, keeping the status quo and pleasing their corporate/govt benefactors,(who are not "the people.")

So the real question then becomes: why is this tolerated?

Re:Still not transparent (2, Insightful)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about 6 years ago | (#25509613)

Why don't the politicians for once listen to those who genuinely know better?

Because you haven't proved that you genuinely know better?

Re:Still not transparent (1)

aproposofwhat (1019098) | more than 5 years ago | (#25510117)

He's not a politician.

Therefore he knows better.


Re:Still not transparent (1)

Keychain (1249466) | about 6 years ago | (#25509333)

Still I don't understand how you USians do this. Every once in a while there will be a story that pops up about voting problem. I am living in belgium and we had (at least where i live) electronic voting system for (at least) the two last election and i haven't heard of problem yet. So either your politicians are just incredibly more corrupt than here, or they are just more stupid, and can't cheat without being caught, or last possibility, your tin foil hat is a tad to tight (or maybe our tin foil hat aren't tight enough).

You want a voter-verified paper ballot. (2, Interesting)

jbn-o (555068) | more than 5 years ago | (#25510227)

What you're talking about is often erroneously referred to as a "paper trail". That term is harmful because it is too vague. Diebold sells a DRE (direct recording equipment; the computer records and tabulates the votes it collects) which produces a "paper trail": a long receipt-like strip of paper which ostensibly lists all the voters who used that machine since the last session. The problem with this is it is not voter-verified. Only the election judges get to see it and therefore it is entirely useless, truly nothing but a waste of paper.

What voters need is better described as a voter-verified paper ballot. A piece of paper clearly listing their vote(s) which will be, as you said, manually counted by human beings (never computer counted).

Nobody needs election returns faster than humans can count them. Retention enables recounts. We should retain these voter-verified paper ballots at least until the next election, if not as long as possible.

We also need the software the machines run to be completely free software [] because free software voting machines allow counties to make the changes they need to handle changes in their electorate. If some district wants an election that isn't counted as first-past-the-post, they will need the freedom to change their voting machines to accommodate this. Nobody should have to beg the proprietor for improvements to their voting systems. Counties should be able to get expertise wherever that expertise exists and only a free software voting system enables this.

A few years ago I served on the appointed committee to help the Champaign County board select a voting machine. We saw some voting machines demonstrated for us, tried them out, and decided what to recommend to the elected county board. The entire affair was picking the best of the worst. The allowable range of debate had been narrowed for us before we began when we were informed that we were only allowed to consider equipment approved by the state of Illinois. Toward the end of our tenure we learned that one of the machines we had been allowed to choose (and ultimately did choose, an ES&S optical scan reader/printer machine for preparing ballots) was not yet so approved. That machine has been deployed in at least two elections since we made our recommendation. Voters can optionally use it to fill out the voter-verified paper ballot before depositing their paper ballot into another ES&S machine which counts and stores the ballots.

how can you ever re-count electronic votes? (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25508887)

Let's go back to basics.
Fill in a scan card and scan it.
Keep the scan cards as an official document.
If a recount is required, rescan with re-certified scanners.

What exactly are they trying to save here? Time? Money? They've done neither.

Re:how can you ever re-count electronic votes? (2, Insightful)

sveard (1076275) | about 6 years ago | (#25508907)

By doing a COUNT() on some database field? :|

Re:how can you ever re-count electronic votes? (1)

worthawholebean (1204708) | about 6 years ago | (#25508909)

You can recount electronic votes, as long as the machine prints out a receipt that you verify and drop into a receptacle.

Re:how can you ever re-count electronic votes? (1)

karstux (681641) | about 6 years ago | (#25509181)

But how do you know that the machine recorded your vote correctly? It could display your vote correctly, print out a correct receipt, but secretly increase the other candidate's tally. If just, say, 3 percent of votes get misattributed, chances are that no one will notice and no re-count will take place. The election will still have been tampered with in a significant way.

Re:how can you ever re-count electronic votes? (1)

anon mouse-cow-aard (443646) | about 6 years ago | (#25509505)

a worn gear in a mechanical voting machine to do the same. A human could 'mis-count'...

the solution is always the same, multiple counts should be routine. Ideally, another computer system could OCR the printed receipts... now sure the bad people can modify two systems, but it's starting to get complicated

Screw you, I live in Oregon (4, Interesting)

interstellar_donkey (200782) | about 6 years ago | (#25508899)

Everything in Oregon is weird. We can't pump our own gas, we don't pay sales tax, and we do all of our voting by mail. It makes no sense, and it's ripe for corruption (though nobody has called the "C" word so far. At least not lately)

But it's kind of nice. No computers, no machines, just fill out your ballot and mail it in. I got my ballot in the mail yesterday. I've plenty of time to research the state and local ballot, so I can make an informed decision.

Re:Screw you, I live in Oregon (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25508923)

so I can make an informed decision

I don't understand "informed decision".

Re:Screw you, I live in Oregon (1, Insightful)

Yvanhoe (564877) | about 6 years ago | (#25509001)

What is the use of being informed if your vote is not counted ?

Re:Screw you, I live in Oregon (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25509575)

and it's ripe for corruption

I'll certainly give you that, but at the end of the day we have decided that we'd rather be able to vote by mail, and we'll take the risk. Since we've gone to vote-by-mail a decade ago there have been no confirmed examples of corruption or other misdeeds, so we're going to keep on doing it that way. The consensus here has been near-universal since the late 80's: poling places and having to vote on a specific day suck, we want something different.

Re:Screw you, I live in Oregon (1)

KingTank (631646) | about 6 years ago | (#25509579)

I don't know why people think it's easy to corrupt mail voting. You'd still have to do something with all those ballots, and run the risk that postal or election workers would notice. Seems to me it would be a helluva lot harder than just switching some bits inside a computer. Some people in Oregon are even afraid to use pencil, because they're afraid someone will erase their votes. I just picture some guy trying to sneak off with a box of ballots, sorting out all the ones done in pencil, then erasing them one by one while no one is looking. Again, it sounds much harder than switching some bits. And not much easier than doing it at a conventional polling place.

It is only a test. (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25508913)

Have you ever heard of a bank that gives away free money because they can't seem to get their ATM's to work correctly. No? That is because these voting machine problems are not real problems. They are manufactured. It's BS.

The 2008 elections in the US is only a test. It tests the prejudice/intelligence ratio in the american public.

If enough people vote for McCain/Palin, that will be a green light for more war and more corruption. In other words, it will prove that the "system" is working and that the american people is willing and ready to accept more BS.

I hope the US does not end up with Palin as president. Not only because I disagree with her views, but because she is an idiot. I mean that in the most polite sence, because she is really, actually and factually an idiot. There is no other word to describe her.

It would be nice for us "foreigners" to have a sane person "over there" for a change.

Why not vote publicly? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25508927)

Why not simply make voting a public action? I'm voting for Obama. There. Done.

Somebody please explain to me why we vote privately: by doing so we introduce an element of doubt about who we voted for, so when anybody reports 'hey my vote wasn't recorded correctly,' there's no possible way to verify it.

I simply don't see any advantage whatsoever to voting privately anymore.

Not that I have a model to implement public voting, but want to hear the argument about why it should still be private.

Re:Why not vote publicly? (2, Informative)

Ritchie70 (860516) | about 6 years ago | (#25508965)

Here's some reasons:

1. Avoid undue pressure. As most everyone knows, the city of Chicago is run by the Democratic machine. If you publicly were to vote Republican, you'd probably not get your garbage picked up or any of the other services the city provides. According to my wife, her grandma used to go vote (in Chicago) when it was busy, and tried not to be noticed, because she wanted to vote Republican but still wanted her garbage collected.

2. Make it harder to sell your vote. If I give you $500 to vote for McCain, I have to just trust that you did it. If it's a public vote, I can check.

3. Variations on vote selling that don't involve money. ("I'll break your legs if you vote Republican.")

4. Family pressures. Despite voting Republican in every presidential election since I could vote, I'm probably going to vote Obama, not because I like him that much on the issues, but because he seems more flexible and smarter than McCain. My mom is a staunch Republican and has kind of figured out I think this way. It's bad enough to get the weekly harangue without the tumult that would result if she knew for sure who I voted for.

Re:Why not vote publicly? (2, Informative)

Tacticus.v1 (1102137) | about 6 years ago | (#25508983)

Vote this way or get fired, shot, killed, beaten etc.
That's why we have anon ballots

simple solution
machine prints ballot showing who you voted for and preferences and etc. the machine makes no receipt no records only prints one.

then that Ballot gets folded and put into a box that is in the open such as []

then you have an independent group that does the counting
not bipartisan independent every party and ind can put reps in there to watch you have 2 people watching it at all times

also consider preferences and multi-candidate seats (and bin the EC)

Re:Why not vote publicly? (1)

Sique (173459) | about 6 years ago | (#25509853)

Where I vote, the counting process is simple and plain public. No "selected people allowed to watch" or such complicated bullshit. If you want to, you just enter the election office and watch the election officials counting the ballot. I never saw a problem with that.

Re:Why not vote publicly? (2, Informative)

FalcDot (1224920) | about 6 years ago | (#25508993)

What if your millionaire uncle tells you you're gonna vote for x, or you'll be out of his will?

What if your employer tells you you'd better vote for y or you'll be fired?

If your vote is public, all sorts of nasty stuff can happen because of your vote, and just knowing that it might will already influence your vote.

Re:Why not vote publicly? (4, Insightful)

Bender0x7D1 (536254) | about 6 years ago | (#25509041)

Why not simply make voting a public action? I'm voting for Obama. There. Done.

Because that opens it up to vote buying and voter intimidation.

If Bill Gates promised everyone $1000 to vote for him, he could buy 56,000,000 votes which would put him in the White House.

For intimidation, you don't have to intimidate everyone - just a small percentage in a few key states. Imagine if the CEO of WalMart told their employees, "If you work in Ohio, and don't vote the Right Way, you'll be fired." Even if it isn't an official, enforceable policy, it will still have a large percentage of employees worried for their jobs come their next performance review - and they will vote accordingly. With over 2 million employees, even 10% of WalMart employees changing their vote could affect the outcome of the election.

That's assuming that people with baseball bats don't just show up at your house and tell you How You Will Vote - Or Else.

Re:Why not vote publicly? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25509657)

Why not simply make voting a public action? I'm voting for Obama. There. Done.

Because that opens it up to vote buying and voter intimidation.

Call me irresponsible. I don't vote. Dem Rep Ind other...I've been around a while and all I see is the country and the world getting more and more screwed up; even while "democracy" is breaking out all over. But...correct me if I'm wrong...Don't they have curtains at voting machines so your vote can't be observed? If you choose to talk to an exit pollster...and tell them the truth...don't the consequences fall upon the voter for choosing to make his/her choice public? If you close the curtain, make your choices, and leave there's no way for anyone to know how you voted, unless someone's breaking into the ballot box and checking your check marks immediately after you voted. If that's not how it works, then the whole election scam/scheme is even more of a waste of time than I had ever thought.

Re:Why not vote publicly? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25509665)

Indeed, the secret ballot is a more sacred institution than 100% accuracy and reliability.

Re:Why not vote publicly? (2, Insightful)

anon mouse-cow-aard (443646) | about 6 years ago | (#25509525)

Why not simply make voting a public auction? I'm voting for Obama. There. Done.

there, fixed that for you...

Re:Why not vote publicly? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25509607)

As others have pointed out, private voting is a precaution to prevent bribery or intimidation of voters.

The fact that voting is not explicitly required to be carried out with pen and paper, and votes to be counted manually, is a vulnerability that is currently exploited, under the pretense of following technological progress.

Even if some democracy were pretty old and required papyrus ballots where votes are cast with a pointy stone, the tampering resilience would, imho, still outweigh the extra overhead.

But there you have it: Voting machines. Even if the voting software were entirely flawless, you couldn't possible have nearly the same level of security as hand-counted ballots (with everyone being able to watch and verify the process). Manipulation is still possible at the hardware level, or by direct data modification.

Python, eh? (4, Interesting)

TheRaven64 (641858) | about 6 years ago | (#25508959)

That's good. It means that the trusted computing base is only a POSIX kernel, a C standard library and a Python runtime. Only about 100MB of source code to audit to ensure that this 500-line program runs correctly.

Re:Python, eh? (1)

hpoul (219387) | about 6 years ago | (#25509059)

don't forget about pygame ..
maybe they could put their 500 lines right into pygame and claim to have a 1-line voting machine ..

nothing bad happening here ? (btw. it seems to save lines they even went that extra mile to not comment their code .. - not that i'm commenting extensively my code.. but if my goal is to show off my clean and non-cluttered code it should at least contain a single comment in 460 lines )

Re:Python, eh? (1)

apathy maybe (922212) | about 6 years ago | (#25509253)

Not to mention, with a scrip program it should be very easy to chuck a function in that displays the source for the Python program currently running.

It doesn't do much, but does allow that little bit of extra openness.

I seriously don't understand why it is so hard to create a software program that can easily add one to a database as required (a vote.) Especially when you have first-past-the-post, you don't even have to worry about preferences (though from a "democracy" perspective first-past-the-post is really bad).

All these problems with Diabold (now known as Premier Electoral Systems) smacks of corruption, rather then incompetence. Because it is so easy to make something that works, works robustly and isn't corruptible. (Mind you, I wouldn't base any system on MS Windows, maybe that's the difference.)

Re:Python, eh? (2)

j_sp_r (656354) | about 6 years ago | (#25509461)

The country I live in (The Netherlands) retracted voting machines because it was shown that your vote could be listened to. One party had a special character in it's name (CDA) and that made a different signal which they could record. That was the reason to retract it. The machines worked well, but who would've thought of that. (An A2 sized ballot is not funny to fill in by the way)

Re:Python, eh? (2, Informative)

anon mouse-cow-aard (443646) | about 6 years ago | (#25509445)

all of which is used for many other purposes, folks are looking at and using that code routinely, and so holes in there are very likely to be discovered. The packages used would be the ones shipped by distros, and all packaging systems routinely digitally sign them.

someone has to either corrupt the standard package (by infiltrating pygame or some such) or come up with a very good reason why the library from the normal sources cannot be used.

You don't need to audit all the libraries etc... that you depend on, because those libraries get audited by others in the course of their normal usage.

the problem with voting software is that it is 100kloc of custom code, so no-one else is going to audit it. You want to minimize the custom code.

Re:Python, eh? (1)

impaledsunset (1337701) | about 6 years ago | (#25509503)

It is far more difficult to manipulate the activity of a program by modifying the system libraries, than modifying the program itself. And Python makes it harder to insert a backdoor into the code without raising the suspicion of those reading it, while you can do very neet tricks to hide malicious activity into the visible source of a C program.

In the end, whatever you do, there is always a way to manipulate the result. You could in theory modify the hardware to guarantee the manipulation of the result. But that's not easy -- in practice, a short 500-line Python program, running on some unmodified popular *nix system and checksummed libraries, a quick audit can give you a very good assurance that the program's performance on this system is not manipulated.

There is, however, one very big problem, which I've yet to see a solution for -- a feasable way to verify that the voting machines are really using the given software, and are not themselves modified.

Even if you find a solution for the latter, having in mind the track record of people dealing with electronic voting, the governments and the technical savviness of the different reincarnations of the average Joe througout the world, the tamper-proof voting machine seems to resemble some kind of mythological creature, which exists only in fiction...

Re:Python, eh? (2, Informative)

AMK (3114) | about 6 years ago | (#25509603)

The site notes that "the Diebold AccuVote TSX software contains over 64000 lines of C++; the Sequoia Edge software contains over 124000 lines of C." Those systems run on top of Windows or Windows CE, and in general regulations don't require verifying commercial off-the-shelf components.

Will my voite make a difference? (1)

3seas (184403) | about 6 years ago | (#25509019)

Simple answer: NO!

There is just to damn much failures and corruption in the voting system and the politicians.

Instead what really needs to happen is that the American public need to tell the government how and on what to spend their tax money on, in this "for the people, by teh people" country.

Because when it gets right down to it, that's really what the elected official has to work with, the peoples tax money. And if the people are defining how the money is to be used, then that will eliminate the majority of the voting and political problems.

include a statement as to how the government is to use your tax money when you pay taxes.

The software is a "hard point" (2, Interesting)

yttrstein (891553) | about 6 years ago | (#25509087)

Security-ly speaking, when it comes to voting machines, the software itself is a "hard point", meaning that it is actually quite difficult to leverage in such a way as to alter voting results *without suspicion of foul play*--even if it isn't open source.

Strangely in this case, the hardware itself is a soft point. (meaning everything from NVRAM to the touch display) It's trivial to misalign a touch screen on purpose, for example, and it can always be passed off as an error without drawing any meaningful suspicion.

So, while this python idea is of course a good one, it is a mistake to believe that it would actually fix anything on its own.

Canada Does It Better... (5, Informative)

Supernoma (794214) | about 6 years ago | (#25509137)

Why can't the US do what we do in Canada? You don't have to make this complicated.

In Canada, we show up to our polling station with our voter card, show the card and receive a ballot. We take the ballot, which has the names of the candidates and their party in large font very clearly, and put an X in the big circle beside the candidate we're voting for.

Thats it! No fancy machines, no complicated forms, and no computers to go wrong or be hacked.

See this image: []

Re:Canada Does It Better... (-1, Troll)

j_sp_r (656354) | about 6 years ago | (#25509499)

Re:Canada Does It Better... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25509761)

Oh yeah, that looks really complicated. Almost like choosing a meal in a restaurant. Go away with those words!

Amazing (2, Interesting)

nauseum_dot (1291664) | about 6 years ago | (#25509145)

I hope that I am not the only one who is amazed that 500 lines of Python code and a 200 page thesis paper that explains my methodology gets me a PhD at Berkley.

I hope he did something else, that I don't know about, like recompile and harden a Unix kernel/ develop his own minimum OS for it to run on and dig through the bugs to determine the security flaws that would exist if he was to use Python.

For the first time in my life, I am glad that I am not pursuing a graduate degree in computer science. If that is what it takes, I think Cmdr Taco should get a PhD for for giving us Slashdot. It is 10x more practical than "pvote" and is soundly implemented. When I think about it, Slashdot was near the front of web 2.0 because he provided a geek means of social interaction, maintains relevance to those in the computer industry, and wastes my time when I am bored.

Re:Amazing (1)

Davemania (580154) | about 6 years ago | (#25509267)

Its unfair to judge someones work simply by throwing out some numeric values you know nothing about, 500 lines of code and 200 pages says nothing about the content of the work considering there is experiment, theory, methodology that has to be done. From my experience, a good concise thesis that explains and defends its work and theory can be done in a lot less than 200 pages.

Re:Amazing (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 6 years ago | (#25509637)

Umm. A PhD isn't a prize they give you for stamina, it is a degree awarded for a course of advanced study and a piece of original research of suitable quality. Now, I don't know enough about the area to either attack or defend this particular thesis; but length is an irrelevant criterion. In fact, for a degree designed to demonstrate capacity for novel work in a given field, a thesis containing large amounts of superfluous, non-novel, material might well raise a red flag. Building minimal OSes and hardening *nix kernels are worthwhile activities and definitely not easy; but they aren't novel(though a specific way of doing so might be). I would be suspicious of the capacity of a student who used a big chunk of laborious but well established CS work to bulk up a thesis.

I just think... (1)

WeeBit (961530) | about 6 years ago | (#25509155)

we should give Open Source a go at it. But I don't want a half baked job. If Open Source goes for it... It's ALL or NOTHING. Plus it is not like we didn't give all the others a chance.

Re:I just think... (1)

Plunky (929104) | about 6 years ago | (#25509359)

we should give Open Source a go at it

It is open methods that need to be used, not open source because you can't be guaranteed that the machine itself is running the software you think it is.

Alas, in order to guarantee that a black box machine has counted your vote correctly means that you must be able to verify your vote. If you allow this then it becomes possible to intimidate voters into revealing their votes, which allows vote selling (for money or safety). This is the conundrum that open methods must work their way out of before black box voting will be safe to use

NY's lever machines work just fine (2, Insightful)

Vidar Leathershod (41663) | about 6 years ago | (#25509187)

And considering they worked well for 100 years, there is no reason to switch. Of course, money changes people's minds, which is why we see that next year New York has scheduled to completely remove them and replace them with unreliable crap.

Re:NY's lever machines work just fine (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 6 years ago | (#25509717)

I agree with your general point, that we are rushing to replace fairly simple, robust, known systems with expensive known-bad crap; but mechanical systems are not completely immune:

"Listening for the sounds the machine makes was the basis for a known attack on voter privacy in the days of lever machines. The lever machines used by New York State in the 20th century permitted voting a straight party ticket by pulling a single lever, and this was easy to distinguish (from voting a split ticket) by listening from outside the booth."

From page 104 of this [] .
Lest I be accused of false equivalence, that isn't nearly as severe a problem(in fact, the report that quotation comes from is an examination of security of an electronic machine, which happens to make voting a straight vs. nonstraight ticket visible from outside the booth, thanks to incredibly poor design. Just wanted to note that even simplicity can be more complex than it looks.

Re:NY's lever machines work just fine (1)

Vidar Leathershod (41663) | more than 5 years ago | (#25510249)

I agree that no system is infallible. However, if someone has a concern over the sound, they can pull the levers individually (which, though I often vote a straight ticket, I do anyway, because it is just so fun.)

Re:NY's lever machines work just fine (1)

teknognome (910243) | more than 5 years ago | (#25510441)

The lever machines are just as bad as electronic ones. Both have no paper trail, and they're both opaque to the average voter. For that matter, lever machines don't even tell you whether or not your vote was recording, something that electronic machines can at least pretend to do. Just because it's been used for a long time doesn't mean it's good.

The best voting machines.... (1)

Narnie (1349029) | about 6 years ago | (#25509239)

The best voting machines I've seen use jelly beans and glass jars. Put the RED jelly bean in the RIGHT jar to vote for the REPUBLICAN. Put the BLUE jelly bean in the LEFT jar to vote DEMOCRAT. Put GREEN jelly bean in CENTER jar to vote OTHER. To ABSTAIN your vote, EAT JELLY BEAN. Which ever jar has the most jelly beans is the winner.

Oh... btw, with this voting machine corruption tastes oh soooooo good.

Re:The best voting machines.... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25509491)

I would love to see a "none of the above" choice on the ballot, that's binding. If "none of the above" gets more votes than any other candidate then we get to start the process over, and spend the next 2 years without a leader.

That would be cool, remember in the 90s when the Federal Government shut down twice? Neither does anyone else. I think we'd do all right for a bit without a leader.

Re:The best voting machines.... (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 6 years ago | (#25509649)

Tasty concept, just watch out for the goons outside who ask you to stick out your tongue for "loyalty inspection"...

Open Source Voting Movement? (1)

Davemania (580154) | about 6 years ago | (#25509287)

Apart from transparency, the other possible advantage of open-source is community involvement. With the success or participation seen in the Linux and Mozilla community, you would think that with something as import as voting. There would be an non-profit organization setup to create systems to achieve these goals.

You have to have a paper trail (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25509315)

Pvote sounds like a good start. The most important part of any electronic voting system is that it prints a paper copy of the vote that has been cast.

Obviously, the program could be comprimised to print the vote correctly but record something different but if a recount is requested the paper should be counted. If there is a discrepancy it should be investigated.

Political parties have a fairly good idea of how the vting will go (at least in Ireland and Britan) In the case of Ireland the Tally Men - the people from the parties who watch the counting process, will know to a fraction of a percent how the voting is going and the local knowledge will spot if the votes in a box from a particular area are not going as expected. I'm sure that the American political parties are at least as spohisticated as that.

Basically, you let a machine do the grunt work and have a paper trail to ensure that it is accurate.

Re:You have to have a paper trail (2, Interesting)

Toe, The (545098) | about 6 years ago | (#25509851)

In Virginia (for example), where voting is completely electronic, they can still do recounts. Wanna know how? By doing the functional equivalent of hitting the refresh button.

IIRC, for some reason, recounts always come up with the same number as the original count. Huh.

Give it up! (5, Insightful)

zogger (617870) | about 6 years ago | (#25509519)

Voting isn't a (*(&^ing nail, stop trying to throw your coding hammer at it! This has gotten to be an example of obsessive compulsive disorder with these schemes. This is crazy. Open source or not, unless there is an independent deep forensics investigation of every single computerized voting kiosk at the end of the vote period, including disassembling the chips on the machine and all that stuff, it can *not* be verified in a timely, cheap and thorough manner. Oh, a "paper trail"? Why yes, let's look at that "new idea" to "insure" and "verify" the computerized vote! A plain empty box CAN be verified at the start of the voting day by many people looking inside and going "yep, empty!" And a paper trail is exactly what you get start to finish with plain paper ballots, no stupid computer and expense needed. Yes, examples in the past of ballot box stuffing, still way easier to keep tabs on it then running everything through obfuscated layers of chips and code. Paper ballots and empty boxes are WAY MORE the lesser of (in)security evils when it comes to voting, let alone being loads cheaper when it comes to co$t$. Empty box per precinct=ten bucks max, what do these computerized schemes cost, and how much has been wasted on them so far and how much "irregularities" do we get to read about and enjoy before this sinks in as just a bad idea overall?

Re:Give it up! (1)

fluch (126140) | about 6 years ago | (#25509645)

Full AKA! Sometimes I wonder why people get so insane thoghtless when it comes to electronic voting? The keypoint of a democrazy is public auditable voting. Electronic voting is always a black box voting, you have to trust that the software in the blackbox is really the software which should be there. An impossible task and it is naive to think that nobody has an interest in changing the election result. Sure, it takes a bit more time to count the voting but that is just what democrazy is about!

Re:Give it up! (2, Insightful)

abigsmurf (919188) | about 6 years ago | (#25509829)

and with the paper voting, you have to trust the counting and handling the ballot boxes. The only difference is that you're changing the group of people you trust.

people.... (2, Insightful)

zogger (617870) | more than 5 years ago | (#25510081)

..and trust. Computerized voting verification is PhD level software AND hardware guys with electronic microscopes per every single machine per every single precinct and district and so on, to even start to verify. Paper ballots start to finish, anyone who can read and do simple arithmetic, ie, most of the voting public, and it can be verified. One group is pretty small and couldn't be done realistically, the other group is how we did it for hundreds of years and could still work just fine as long as there is a minimum interest in the results.

    Any voter can be present at the end of the day to be a witness to the count with paper ballots, and you can volunteer to be an official as well, which means the group of people you need to trust is only one person, which is YOU, and the guy standing next to you only has to trust one person, himself, if he is a witness as well at the end of the day. Versus how many people could look at machine code or C code or any other obscure "language" and then how do you verify all the chips on the computer? Who guards those computers during the non voting period so they aren't tampered with, versus staring at an empty box? No guards needed on empty boxes, because it is unlocked and opened at the beginning of the day and anyone there in line can look at it, and typically the first person in line signs off on it, I have done that myself "yo, empty!".

    NO ONE can just stare at a computer voting terminal and "verify" it without deep forensics, it can't be done, if anyone can do it they can apply to Randi for his million buck prize because you'd have to be 100% psychic to do that. And if you want to insure some vote using something similar to how we conduct electronic transactions with money, it throws the entire concept of anonymity out the window, because you must tie a vote to a single individual, then you still wind up with the machine count having to be verified and back to the forensics, it just adds a further level of complexity and possible points of compromise. Nuts.

KISS works for a lot of things, no need to rube goldberg it up just because it is possible. Voting is too important to trust it to being just a videogame. If people got spare time and want to code and can't come up with a project on their own, no problem! They can go check out sourceforge and find something else to work on.

Re:people.... (1)

abigsmurf (919188) | more than 5 years ago | (#25510353)

No, the encryption and transmission comes down to PhD level programming. The logs themselves could be presented as a simple paper chart saying "a vote for X was cast on machine Y at voting station Z at time T". You could then easily spot voting discrepancies: "I voted for N, not Y when I voted!". It would be anonymous(ish) but verifiable , especially if you displayed a clock showing the server time at the voting and there are steps you could take to further anonomise it (assign a random letter to the machine each vote that the voter can see rather than giving them a fixed id).

Any major errors would be immediately apparent because the info wouldn't decrpyt or it wouldn't match the local logs. Further errors can be identified from anyone who wishes to verify their vote was counted so long as they know their machine code and the time they voted.

To see that something works you don't need to understand it completely, only to know what it does and be able to verify it for yourself.

Again to compare to paper balloting. I know how tamper proof seals can work. They have a printed design on them and when you try to remove the seal, it's impossible to remove without the some of that design being left on the box or being damaged on the tape.

Do I know how this tape is made? Nope. Would I be able to tour the factory to see? Nope. Is it probably a surprisingly complicated process to produce that requires a complex production line? Yes. Yet I trust it works because I can see the end result.

Re:Give it up! (1)

he-sk (103163) | more than 5 years ago | (#25510553)

The difference is that you can monitor the counting process to watch out for any shenanigans. In Germany you can even volunteer to do the counting. At the end you write down the total and compare it the next day with the results for your precinct that are published in the paper. The more people do that, the higher the public confidence.

The simple truth is, that with paper-and-pencil ballots the public has the ability to monitor EVERY SINGLE STEP of the voting process, except of course the casting of the vote. There's no way to achieve the same transparency with voting machines.

Re:Give it up! (4, Insightful)

he-sk (103163) | more than 5 years ago | (#25510481)

I agree completely. What people forget is that the PUBLIC counting of the secret ballot is what gives confidence to paper-and-pencil ballots. You simply can't do that with computers.

I understand that lazy bureaucrats think that voting machines are the best thing since sliced bread, because in their mind sacrifycing an evening every four years to ensure the integrity of the vote is simply too much to ask for.

But every computer scientist who thinks that voting machines are a good idea should read Ken Thompson's paper on trusting computers (the C compiler with a backdoor without it being present in the source for the compiler).

Re:Give it up! (1)

gnud (934243) | more than 5 years ago | (#25510617)

Also, there exists a lot of experience in making sure that small pieces of paper don't dissapear or get added. Ask some casino workers to organize ballot countings =)

Too important (1)

elrous0 (869638) | about 6 years ago | (#25509727)

The voting process is way too important and way too tempting to those who would corrupt it to abandon a simple, verifiable paper ballot for an all-too-easily-hacked computerized system. Reliability should not be abandoned for convenience in an area so vital to a functioning democracy.

Why the total love for paper? (1)

abigsmurf (919188) | about 6 years ago | (#25509791)

I love the way people ignore the flaws with paper voting and highlight any slight flaw with electronic voting.

If someone wants to tamper with paper ballots there are countless ways of doing it, especially for counters. You can stuff the ballot box, you can spoil ballots, you can replace paper votes.

Those are just as likely as someone getting through a tamper proof seal, opening up the voting machine, connecting up your own software and then replacing the information with your own that hopefully matches a voter tally you've no way of predicting. All whilst hoping people haven't noticed that you're taking 20 minutes to do a 30 second vote and are ignoring the funny noises being made.

I'm not saying it's without flaws but potentially it can be far more secure than paper voting. Want a paper trail? Have the voting machines phone home every time a vote has been placed and store voting results locally and remotely via a secure connection. Have the remote servers (read only) access to the memory and file system of the voting machine and check at random intervals to ensure the software passes checksums.

Ultimately at some point you're going to have to trust that someone isn't corrupt. The coders, the counters and to some extent the voters.

If you want total anonymity of voters, you're leaving yourself open to election fraud, it's impossible to completely eliminate it because at some point, you're relying on a person or a group of people not being corrupt. This is the same for any anonymous method of voting.

Re:Why the total love for paper? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25510075)

If someone wants to tamper with paper ballots there are countless ways of doing it, especially for counters. You can stuff the ballot box, you can spoil ballots, you can replace paper votes. Those are just as likely as someone getting through a tamper proof seal, opening up the voting machine, connecting up your own software and then replacing the information with your own that hopefully matches a voter tally you've no way of predicting. All whilst hoping people haven't noticed that you're taking 20 minutes to do a 30 second vote and are ignoring the funny noises being made.

You miss the point. This is not about voters tampering the machine. This is about the machine's manufacturer, political party X, or anyone handling the machine before it arrives at the polling station doing it.

I don't know how (pencil and paper) voting works in the USA, but here's how it works in my country: at each polling station, a reasonably large group of people --- at least one representative per political party running in the election --- oversees voters casting their ballots. When the day is over, the representatives get together in a room, empty the ballot box and start counting. Each vote is held in front of everyone, so that everyone has a chance to protest if the vote is being miscounted.

Now tell me how you can get the same amount of trust when vote casting and counting is done by flipping transistors on and off inside a chip.

Pencil and paper voting is not perfect, and no method at all is 100% trustworthy, nor will it ensure 100% anonymity. But it seems to me that it is superior because it is a simpler, more auditable system.

Simple Solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25509925)

I'm getting tired of all recent posts about eVoting and it's problems.

I wish to invoke Occam's razor and simplify the whole thing.

Problem: We want votes tabulated faster, and more accurately, but we do not fully trust automated voting technology yet.

Solution: Both automated and paper trail voting record.

Here's what I envision. A closed network at each polling place. 1 server connected to multiple terminals. The voter walks in, taps the screen and casts their vote. The client sends this info back to the server, and kicks out a small scrap of paper with their full vote tally (just office: name) and a 1- or 2-d barcode with the same information on it. The voter drops that little piece of paper into a vote box.

Now, when voting time is done, we use the server to tabulate the vote, and submit it up the chain to a larger server via a secure method (gpg encrypted xml file, a VPN connection of some sort, whatever) with only the vote tallies themselves. Candidate A got x votes, Candidate B got y votes, etc. along with an indicator as "this info came from this precinct" attached.

Now, assume there was question as to if this info was correct. We go back to the paper box, and rather than recount by hand, just have the voter scan that paper ballot, confirm the information is correct (it's printed right there, obviously), and confirm it. While this step would take time, it would ensure a papertrail of real votes. Then, resubmit the data.

Here in Chicago... (2, Interesting)

shoes58 (1203522) | more than 5 years ago | (#25510023)

I voted yesterday. This is the first time I've voted early. I, too, had concerns about the veracity of the process. I spoke to one of the poll workers, and he explained there is a paper trail. I saw that in action. After running through the touch-screen process, my ballot was printed on a paper roll, and I had time to examine every choice made. I also had the option of changing my vote prior to finalizing it, even though the printing process had begun. The machine printed a barcode at the bottom of my printed ballot, and the roll scrolled to blank paper for the next voter in line. The paper was under plexiglass, so I was not able to actually touch the paper. Overall, I felt the process was secure enough. BUT, my opinion would be the oppsite without the paper trail.

What difference does it make? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25510209)

The election has already been stolen by the Democrats through voter fraud. Ask yourself, which party is against voter ID? Which party registered thousands of non-existent voters? Which party registered the same voters many, many times over? Now, do you really believe they're not trying to steal the election? Case closed.
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