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E-Voting Undermines Public Confidence In Elections

Zonk posted more than 6 years ago | from the i-totally-trust-the-network-my-favorite-inwo-card dept.

Security 155

Jeremiah Cornelius writes "Techdirt columnist, Timothy Lee, hit the metaphoric nail on the head, claiming that e-Voting undermines the public perception of election fairness - even when there is no evidence of wrongdoing. 'In a well-designed voting system, voters shouldn't have to take anyone's actions on faith. The entire process should be simple and transparent, so that anyone can observe it and verify that it was carried out correctly. The complexity and opacity of e-voting machines makes effective public scrutiny impossible, and so it's a bad idea even in the absence of specific evidence of wrongdoing.' Add to this the possibility technical faults, conflicts of interest and evidence of tampering, how long before the US vote is viewed as an electronic pantomime?"

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That's the plan (3, Insightful)

spun (1352) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240062)

If they take away people's confidence in our elections, people won't care as much when they do away with elections altogether.

Re:That's the plan (4, Insightful)

Hatta (162192) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240196)

Meh, they don't need to get rid of the elections, rigging the process by which candidates are chosen is good enough. Let the people make their choice, either way it goes it's going to be acceptable to those who really have power.

Re:That's the plan (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22240280)

Thankfully in most districts we have sober and patriotic [] American companies in charge of our election affairs, unlike the absurd 'open voting' [] movement who probably want to use discredited and suspect software such as MySQL [] to tabulate our votes.

Re:That's the plan (1)

jack455 (748443) | more than 6 years ago | (#22241696)

I love it.

Now that we know that liberals are hacking the election we need to train our own anti-hackers to secretly undo the damage liberals are doing and restore a Republican balance to the 2008 election. We should simply re-program the machines to give Republican candidates a head-start and thus directly foil the sinister liberal hacker plans
We all know it should read anti-anti-hacker

Re:That's the plan (2, Insightful)

FudRucker (866063) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240656)

i believe it, what we are witnessing is the slow and methodical destruction of the USA...

Re:That's the plan (2, Interesting)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | more than 6 years ago | (#22241096)

Also, if they create a public perception that electronic voting is always uniformly opaque, complex and prone to fixing, they prevent direct democracy from ever taking hold and preserve the party system. Which is, of course, something all current and aspiring party politicians can unite behind.

The answer is:

1) To make peoples votes public information so everyone can see them immediately, know where everyone stands, and know if the votes were tampered with.

2) To allow them to directly vote on each issue if they want.

3) To allow them to vote for any person they want, and have that person cast their vote if they're not interested in directly voting on the issues.

4) To allow them to change the person they vote for at any time if they break faith.

You do that, and every person is in control of their own political power. That's the promise of electronic voting done right. I wouldn't think any person who covets power for its own sake is ever going to support something like this though.

Cyberyn & South American Direct Democracy? (1)

spun (1352) | more than 6 years ago | (#22241570)

Oh, I hope you get modded up. Very insightful, and all good suggestions.

You may be interested in Chile's early 70s project, Cyberyn [] . It was a central nervous system for a planned economy. (I know you, not your favorite concept, but keep an open mind ;-) More info here [] and here [] . Unfortunately, I can't find the article on it I was specifically looking for, describing a pilot program to extend it to several small villages and use the system for day to day direct democracy. Or I may be confusing Cyberyn with another South American direct democracy project of the early 70s, I first read about it a long time ago.

Does anyone else know more about this project, or other direct democracy projects in other countries?

Re:That's the plan (4, Insightful)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 6 years ago | (#22242142)

Regarding #1 on your list - How do you think Saddam consistently got 99% of the popular vote? Despots and dictators implement the public disclosure part by having the 1% who get it wrong dissapear.

"The answer is:" - To fully understand why it's been practically impossible to rig an election in places such as the UK and Australia for well over a century now.

E-voting seems to be a knee-jerk reaction to the 2000 election but before re-inventing democratic elections a second time in a single decade please take a look at the existing designs that have withstood the test of time and two world wars.

Party politics at the simplest level is two or more people who agree with each other. Too many parties and you end up changing governments more often than underwear (re: Italy), not enough and you end up with no genuine choice (re: US).

Re:That's the plan (1)

secondhand_Buddah (906643) | more than 6 years ago | (#22243608)

Please mod the parent up. This is the only responsible way forward for democracy. Democracy as we know it is cracking at the seams. the current democratic systems' flaws become more apparent daily in democracies around the world. Laws are getting passed that are not in the public's interests with very little anyone can do about it. Yes I know one can legally challenge these laws, but the costs and task at hand are insurmountable for the average man on the street.

Participatory governance is the one true way forward for democracy to survive as it was intended. The way the Parent Poster describes it is the way to implement it. The current system of voting once every four years and hoping for the best is a farce and open to abuse, as has become apparent on a global scale, especially with corporate interests involved in funding/paying off/bribing politicians.

Re:That's the plan (2, Insightful)

thecountryofmike (744040) | more than 6 years ago | (#22241680)

"...Add to this the possibility technical faults, conflicts of interest and evidence of tampering, how long before the US vote is viewed as an electronic pantomime?"

Ummm. Hmmmm. Gotta be 4 or 5 years ago by now.

Public Confidence? (4, Insightful)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240068)

When was there ever public confidence in politics?

Re:Public Confidence? (1)

Hucko (998827) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240192)

I would guess that USA citizens would believe 1776...

Re:Public Confidence? (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240374)

I doubt they had confidence in *politics* even back then.

Re:Public Confidence? (1)

Hucko (998827) | more than 6 years ago | (#22242636)

So why incorporate a system that requires the some of the most politicking? Fact is they believed that politics was the only way for individuals to be free as they possibly can. As do I tentatively , but the system is seriously out of kilter.

Re:Public Confidence? (1)

sumdumass (711423) | more than 6 years ago | (#22243930)

In the 1700's, they didn't expect the astronomical costs associated with running for office as there is now. I'm suspecting that it would take about 1 mill in campaign contributions or personal wealth to run for local offices like state senator in most places. The cost can be phenomenal on a higher level considering the intent originally intended for people who where dissatisfied with the course of events to run in opposition. Now those people are minor annoyances and whack jobs.

Politicking seems to have surpassed original expectations and turned into a say anything to get a vote but serve as you will. Except that one of the biggest discourses with american politics is the belief that a public servant is there to serve the public. The term public servant really has nothing to do with serving the public but more to serving the job or state/federal/whatever office they hold.

Re:Public Confidence? (1)

jimicus (737525) | more than 6 years ago | (#22244526)

None of the people responsible for the US' current political system were exactly poor, y'know.

Re:Public Confidence? (3, Informative)

Mathinker (909784) | more than 6 years ago | (#22243256)

Hell, look at the Constitution. Even the *politicians* didn't have confidence in politics/government back then.

I would say (-1, Troll)

bagboy (630125) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240072)

when your candidate loses most people have some sort of a confidence problem in a public election. It's called - being a sore loser.

Re:I would say (1)

Brickwall (985910) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240182)

Oh, this is complete nonsense. My chosen candidate has lost in many elections here in Canada, and I've never doubted the integrity of the process. I'm not happy he/she lost, but I've never had the slightest reason to doubt the process itself was fair and above board.

Re:I would say (1)

SpiderClan (1195655) | more than 6 years ago | (#22241464)

Here in Canada, we vote on paper ballots, which are hand-counted in the presence of party representatives. We've also not generally had controversy around our voting process ala Florida.

Re:I would say (1)

lachlan76 (770870) | more than 6 years ago | (#22241758)

Similarly in Australia. If you tried claiming that the federal elections were being rigged, people would think you were mad unless you had some incredibly good evidence.

Re:I would say (4, Insightful)

l2718 (514756) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240228)

I also discuss this in another comment, but the problem really arises not when your candidate loses, but when your candidate loses narrowly. This is quite justifiable: the smaller the effect (difference of support between the candidates), the less likely it is that your detection system (election procedures) can measure it correctly. There are two kinds of voter confidence issues: confidence that they system is free of biases, and confidence that, assuming it was free of biases, the system got the right result. It's true that electronic voting reduces confidence in the first property -- but I think the main driver for lack of voter confidence is their ignorance of the fact that even an unbiased system will get the "wrong" result some of the time. Since we lack an objective measure of the support of the candidates, there is of course no "right" result of the election beyond the actual results, but in the end I think that what happens is that when elections are close voters come face-to-face with what scientists have been facing for centuries under the name like "measurement error" and "scientific significance", they (the voters) tend to ascribe the problem to systematic bias rather than random error. It's true that less transparent systems make it easier for the voters to believe in conspiracy theories, but the underlying problem is lack of scientific thinking skills. I'd predict that after a close election voters will react the same way regardless of the technology employed (or lack thereof).

Re:I would say (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22241972)

It's true that less transparent systems make it easier for the voters to believe in conspiracy theories, but the underlying problem is lack of scientific thinking skills.

I'm a scientist by education, training, and occupation, and I deal with statistics and measurement uncertainty on a daily basis. I have absolutely no faith in electronic voting precisely BECAUSE the lack of verifiability makes it inevitable that a systematic bias will be introduced by a corrupt individual. Random errors in counting should be nearly negligible, and should be able to be kept down to around a percent or so. Also, if random errors of that magnitude are significant, they should be able to be dealt with by recounting ballots which have been secured in a publicly observed chain of custody. (Multiple measurements, smaller uncertainty.)

But the systematic errors are the real threat, because they give undue influence to lone individuals. There IS a "right result" in an election, and it is the one obtained by adding all the votes that were legitimately cast by voters in the election. And this can be obtained by using observable procedures which ensure the counting process accurately reflects the votes that were cast without systematic error.

I think you are viewing the problem completely backwards when you say that a less transparent system makes it easier to "believe" in conspiracy theories. The actual problem is that a less transparent system makes it much easier to CONDUCT a conspiracy. You don't need the consent of poll workers and poll observers to steal an election if you are using an electronic machine with no paper trail to do it.

I am quite confident that if I were programming or configuring a voting machine with no paper trail, and I wanted to steal an election, I would have the technological know-how to do this. And if I can do it, countless others can. The fact that electronic voting machines can be easily and invisibly compromised has nothing to do with voter perception. It is simply an objective fact.

Re:I would say (4, Insightful)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240456)

In any country with over a million or so people, there's sure to always be somebody who claims fraud on any election. The point is that it should be clear to the rest of the people that these claims are crackpot. If the answer is "well, the software claims the election was fair, and we trust the software..." then that doesn't inspire confidence. And if they say that the software's proprietary, you're not allowed to look at what it does... and there's no way to recount, you just have to accept it... that's not good for confidence in the system, even if it actually really is true that the vote counting was fair.

Who the heck's idiotic idea was it that companies could make software to count votes, and then not let anybody look at the software and see what it actually does because it's "proprietary"?

Re:I would say (1)

Insightfill (554828) | more than 6 years ago | (#22241744)

Who the heck's idiotic idea was it that companies could make software to count votes, and then not let anybody look at the software and see what it actually does because it's "proprietary"?

Why, it would probably be Walden O'Dell [] , former CEO of Diebold. Of course, he's not alone in the software world for wanting to keep software secret (I know that my firm is big on it!!!) but given his past, and the later revelations of the actual quality of the software and design, his motives are suspect.

Yes, I know, it was rhetorical. Still, running an election system on the Microsoft Jet database engine was pure folly. Come on: democracy hinges on an Access database?!?

Re:I would say (1)

sgt_doom (655561) | more than 6 years ago | (#22242930)

Who the heck's idiotic idea was it that companies could make software to count votes, and then not let anybody look at the software and see what it actually does because it's "proprietary"?

The idea is thought to have originated (as it was overhead in a restaurant in Crstal City, a short distance from the Pentagon) with Richard Bissell, former CIA Chief of Plans (and the guy from where those Mission Impossible-type of plans originated, and thought to be the major brain behind the eminently successful Marshall Plan after WWII), Henry Kissinger, Dov Zakheim, Admiral Poindexter and several others back sometime in the late '80s to early '90s.

It appears to have been successfully carried out now, and it should be full operational at this point: with SAIC, Hicks & Associates, Accenture, the various voting machine corps (Premier Elections Systems - formerly Diebold, ES&S, VoteHere, et al.) and their TIA network up and running - everything is in GO MODE for the 2008 presidential election! Good luck, America......

How long? (2, Funny)

Stanislav_J (947290) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240090) long before the US vote is viewed as an electronic pantomime?

I thought that ship had already sailed...

Re:How long? (1)

dbIII (701233) | more than 6 years ago | (#22241924)

There was even an episode of "Heroes" that made fun of it.

This is actually quite serious stuff. If the population loses faith in the process used to collect the votes you have the situation brewing in Kenya now or the situation that befel Algeria some years ago and tunred it into the current basket case.

e-voting or not (2, Funny)

majorgoodvibes (1228026) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240100)

"...voters shouldn't have to take anyone's actions on faith." Well, that's always going to be the problem, isn't it?

Let's extend that a bit (3, Insightful)

Dachannien (617929) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240102)

In a well-designed voting system, voters shouldn't have to take anyone's actions on faith. The entire process should be simple and transparent, so that anyone can observe it and verify that it was carried out correctly.
Moreover, a well-designed voting system should be 100% accurate in the counting of votes because of, not despite, the removal of humans from the counting process. The problem is that so far, no commercially available electronic voting system exists yet that has been well designed.

Re:Let's extend that a bit (5, Insightful)

l2718 (514756) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240370)

Moreover, a well-designed voting system should be 100% accurate in the counting of votes because of, not despite, the removal of humans from the counting process. The problem is that so far, no commercially available electronic voting system exists yet that has been well designed.
I think you are going a bit over the top. There is a trade-off between accuracy, flexibility, and openness here. There's no way to reach 100% accuracy in the counting of tens of millions of ballots, each containing selections for tens of races. If you allow yourself to also take into account the discrepancy between the voter's intent and the voter's markings on the ballot (I'm against it but many aren't) then "100% accuracy" is not even meaningful. What you should strive for is 1. maximum accuracy 2. known error rates. If you knew the error rate of the ballot-generating-and-counting system then you'd know at which point a thorough recount is warranted (assuming it had a lower error rate), and when you simply need to rerun the election (or draw cards [] ). By the way, it's true that ATMs are more reliable than voting machines, and that the banking system is more reliable than the election system -- and yet even there the system is not 100% reliable. A bank "lost" $20K belonging to a friend of mine through bad record-keeping on their part. It took weeks to get her money back. Once in a while banks will record a transaction wrong -- and each bank has a controlled system that they design and implement. Elections are run in parallel by many independent local authorities under many conflicting criteria and need to be more flexible (do we allos for write-in candidates? for people who are voting provisionally?). Yes, there is an accuracy price to pay for that, but since almost all races are not close, and when the race is close we shouldn't really care who wins in the end, it's not too much of a price to pay.

100% accuracy isn't necessary (2, Informative)

jesterzog (189797) | more than 6 years ago | (#22242478)

Moreover, a well-designed voting system should be 100% accurate in the counting of votes because of, not despite, the removal of humans from the counting process. The problem is that so far, no commercially available electronic voting system exists yet that has been well designed.

I don't think a well designed voting should necessarily have to be 100% accurate. A hand-counting system isn't that accurate, but it can still be trusted as long as there aren't barriers from people being involved in the process to make sure it's being done reliably. What's important is that there's a reliable way to accurately re-count the votes to discover if there's a discrepancy, then deal with that discrepancy (if any) appropriately, without having to be concerned about the integrity of the voting records being compromised in the mean time.

A well designed hand counting system does this, because it's designed in a way that everyone can see and understand what's happening, and such that any stakeholder can assign trusted representatives to observe the process.

This definitely doesn't exclude electronic voting systems, however, but an electronic system should be used primarily to augment the counting process rather than being a final authority. The only plausible reason for an electronic system is to speed up the counting process because the media wants to be able to have it all nicely timed to announce the results on prime time TV.

Storing the votes electronically with no paper records is very bad, and doing this with closed systems that can't be examined is very bad. For either of these cases, most people don't have the qualifications to even understand the concept of how this works, let alone feel comfortable with trusting it. It's also difficult to audit, except for people who are very specifically skilled, and requiring that everyone trust a very small proportion of people is just bad.

If it's really necessary to use electronic counting methods to keep the media and the public happy, though, it's completely possible to do. All that's needed is a system where:

  1. Voters record their votes in a machine
  2. The machine prints the vote on a slip and displays it to a voter, but doesn't let the voter access it
  3. The voter physically manipulates a lever such that the slip falls into either an Accept or a Reject box.
  4. If the vote was rejected, the machine lets the voter chose a different option and repeats the process. Otherwise the paper vote is deposited, and electronic record is recorded, and the voter can leave.

This way there's an electronic record and a paper record of the vote, meaning it's possible to have a speedy recount (even if it's by scanning a digital record on the paper slip), or a hand recount if there's any doubt. The fact that everyone can plainly see how the hand ballots were generated and deposited in the box makes it just as trustworthy as a more basic hand ballot. The only possibility of a discrepancy is if the machine recorded the electronic record inconsistently from the paper record, in which case the printed paper record in a hand recount should be authoritative, because that's the vote that the voter examined and confirmed was what they meant. Any significant doubt should result in a hand recount.

Transparency (4, Insightful)

l2718 (514756) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240116)

In principle, the ballots being counted in public in front of everyone in the village will inspire more confidence than an obscure computer calculation. However, as the 2000 Florida debacle has demonstrated, hand counting has its own problems (e.g. error rates) which the voting public does not understand either. It seems to me that if the system artificially produces a landslide (e.g. via a winner-take-all-state-electoral-votes system), the public is happy that things went well. If the elections are close there is a lot of consternation and misunderstanding. On the technical level, ballots that are both human- and machine-countable but generated automatically (so there is less room for voter marking errors], look best to me. If the voting machine prints the ballot out but keeps no record otherwise that would be best. But just wait for a close elections and the voters will express lack of confidence in the results. The problem is the following: if you are trying to measure a large effect, then you will get the right result no matter what method you use and everyone will be quite confident you got the right result. If you are trying to measure an effect which is just at the level of resolution for your detector (or worse, as in the Florida case, below the measurement error) then there is no way to be as confident that you got the right result.

Re:Transparency (3, Informative)

jd (1658) | more than 6 years ago | (#22241412)

Part of the problem is that people confuse the concept (e-voting) with the implementation (sending unsecured e-mails, using Diebold ATM machines, etc). The two are distinct. The concept can - in principle - be implemented as well as, or better than, alternatives. But only the implementation can be evaluated. The concept is nebulous and has no specific meaning or quality.

Another part of the problem is that most existing implementations are - frankly - crap. They offer minimal security, have frequently been reported as having errors such as non-zero counts, have poor reliability, provide minimal accountability and often provide no means of verification. This is wholly unacceptable. Nobody would accept that from a cash register in a supermarket, never mind a system that is mission-critical in a democracy.

Hand-counts can be reliable. For the longest time, the British system was entirely done by hand-counting, with very small error rates for a population of 60 million. The American system includes machine counts, statistical sampling, and other mechanisms for speeding up the returns, with different States using different methods. It is also worrying that the first returns are announced prior to the polls closing on the west coast, which will inevitably introduce bias and strategic voting. The British system isn't perfect, and has recently developed all kinds of flaws and fraudulant practices, but it can be used as a yardstick of what a democracy should minimally achieve.

Of course, a democracy has other dependencies. It's only meaningful if enough of the population votes for the votes to truly represent the population. The electoral college has the potential for distorting the consensus of the people and probably has. There is no ballot option to reject all candidates and re-open nominations. Media saturation and candidate funding warp awareness. The educational system isn't up to the standards needed to ensure the population have the breadth or depth of knowledge to understand the complexities of a nation or avoid the wiles of a skilled talker. If these flaws remain, then even a perfect voting system can never represent what the public actually want or need, which is what a democracy is about. Being heard has no meaning if you never learned how to talk.

To me, the question shouldn't merely be how we reliably count votes, but should also include how we reliably cast them. There may be no better solution than the one we have, I accept that, but I won't accept that this is known until it actually is.

Re:Transparency (2, Insightful)

Chandon Seldon (43083) | more than 6 years ago | (#22242224)

The concept can - in principle - be implemented as well as, or better than, alternatives.

It can, and then the very small fraction of the population that is capable of understanding the security properties of cryptographic protocols will be convinced that the election was legit if they personally act as election observers (through the audit mechanism included in this well-designed e-voting system).

There's a problem though: One of the properties that any voting system should have is that *all voters* should be able to understand that the election was legitimate. Any voter should be able to act as an election observer or auditor. This simple requirement immediately eliminates any sort of DRE voting system.

Even the best-practice that most "voting experts" suggest, optical scan with statistical sampling, isn't good enough because an arbitrarily selected observer can't follow the statistics. Hell, in the 2004 Ohio recount the voting officials couldn't even get the concept of a *random sample* right and most of the people involved didn't realize anything was wrong.

The traditional paper ballot / ballot box / hand count protocol isn't perfect, but it's the only system that's been suggested that meets the "any voter can observe or audit" requirement - and without meeting that requirement, it'd be a stretch to call the resulting system democratic.

Re:Transparency (1)

jd (1658) | more than 6 years ago | (#22243452)

I agree that any person should be capable of understanding and auditing any and all stages in an election. For paper ballots, I'd not go with pencils and scrap paper, though. You really want archive-grade ink or a medieval iron-oxide ink, and archive-grade paper. They'll last easily for more than a century, which also means they will be resistant to tampering. The use of carbon paper to make a duplicate which must traverse an independent path under the watch of whoever is in opposition to those running the voting station would improve reliability. A missing ballot box has much less impact if a carbon copy of the contents has already been delivered.

Electronic voting would be hard, you are correct, and it would require all - or essentially all - adults to have a solid understanding of higher maths. Like I said, some improvements in education would be required. Most people hate maths because it has either been badly presented or the lecturer was crap. I've taught 11-year-olds and 12-year-olds, and I can tell you that there was not one amongst them who was scared of maths. Neither boys nor girls. To them, it was a game, something fun, something that may have been in a school but was still entertainment. Now look at typical teachers in subsequent grades. Dour, dull as ditch water, unimaginative, cynical, determined to find discipline problems where none would otherwise exist, pressuring students to do well in exams and to hell with understanding the subject, and utterly power-mad. Sure, there are exceptions, but were they actually any better at teaching? It doesn't matter how different a teacher is, if they can't do better than slugs on acid. But if that issue was fixed? Then, hell, yeah, I'd be willing to bet that the vast majority of Americans could audit an encrypted, authenticated and verified e-voting system. Maybe not a 100% still, but more than could audit the existing system.

Cryptographic voting is more democratic (1)

fringd (120235) | more than 6 years ago | (#22244280)

i've mentioned cryptographic voting here before, there seem to be a lot of articles about electronic voting in general these past few months.

i'd like to start by saying that i reject this argument that cryptographic voting should be passed over because not everyone can understand the protocols well enough. My mom might not understand it, but she trusts me, and I understand it, and that should be enough. Maybe not, but maybe trusting me, and my cousin, and all of the newspapers, and all of the political parties, and anybody else, anywhere in the world who feels like it and knows enough, maybe that is enough.

You see, there will by many independent verifiers with cryptovoting, and even if I don't understand exactly how to verify it, it is extremely unlikely that every single independent verifier is lying to me.

furthermore, even if you don't understand the cryptography, you can download "steve's e-vote verifier 2.0." There would be many independently implemented, and competing softwares, and you could pick among them and run it on the published vote proof. i admit that this is a less visceral verification than most people would like, but it is another method that less crypto-savvy voters have to verify the vote. and again, any newspaper or magazine could verify the vote for themselves and publish their approval or disapproval.

beyond verifying that the vote was added correctly, which involves very complicated cryptography. there is the matter of assuring that my
vote is cast properly. With cryptovoting there would be a public list of all the people who voted, and all of their (encrypted) votes. i personally encrypt my vote (i must provide a proof that it is properly formatted) and can compare my paper copy of my encrypted vote to the publicly posted vote which is next to my name.

now as far as the paper hand count being auditable by anyone, i call bs. you must be the privileged few who have the political power to do the recount. there is limited access, which makes it much more opaque. with cryptographic voting, the only thing between you and personal verification is the study of math and cryptography. that may be a high hurdle for grandpa, but it's much more democratic than a requirement of privilege.

now the difficulty in explaining cryptovoting does make it hard to sell to people. but that is why we who understand these things should try to get the word out to our less technical friends and family. cryptovoting, done right, would give us unprecedented confidence in our election results.

please read more about cryptovoting, and if you agree with me, get the word out. check out this pdf [] for a technical description, and this video [] for another nice one. The video is the lighter of the two. These sources pretty much sum up the total of my knowledge on this stuff. Be warned: a little number theory is required to understand what they're talking about half the time. with that said, even the layman should find much of the video interesting.

Re:Transparency (1)

dbIII (701233) | more than 6 years ago | (#22242130)

Florida was a global laughing stock due to a wide range of ways to vote, a wide range of ways to count and a high level of incompetance in inplementation. There appeared to be a bit of complexity for the sake of it and a degree of job creation and other financial goals over function. Call me socialist if you like but I consider a professional public funded organisation or volunteers led by professionals is better for this situation than a conglomerate of the lowest bidders that are too worried about trade secrets to work together or adequately train election staff.

Sure, the polls might say so... (1)

Skyshadow (508) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240130)

Sure, the polls might show that e-voting undermines the population's confidence in the system, but I'll bet that if we had a referendum on the issue we'd see that real voters actually support it overwhelmingly.

Re:Sure, the polls might say so... (2, Informative)

bill_beeman (237459) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240590)

This is anecdotal and certainly represents a small sample, but I've worked the polls the last three elections. These are the three in which we used electronic voting machines, but the voters had the choice to use paper ballots if they did not want to use the electronic machines. We get about 300 voters at the location (average) in each of the three elections.

Not one voter requested the paper ballot option.

As a second observation, in all three elections the county ran a 100% audit, comparing the output of the voting machines with the paper audit trail that they generate and present to the voter to verify that the paper printout matches their selection. No errors were found. I don't think you can do much better than that.

I do think that we should be moving to open-source software, and that improvements can be made in security, but note that what we really have here is a demand for a return to the old methods, where the tried and true ballot-stuffing techniques work. Note that most of the pressure comes from the same sectors who demanded the fraud-prone 'motor-voter' registrations and are opposed to requirement that voters identify themselves. There's a common thread here....

i've been saying this for weeks (4, Interesting)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240138)

the biggest threat to western democracy is not neocons, islamofascism, chinese technocrats, etc.

it's electronic voting [] []

democracy has plenty of problems, but one of democracy's greatest strengths is that by making the citizens it rules a part of the process, it inspires confidence in the government, it instills legitimacy

if you make the voting process opaque, you destroy confidence, you destroy legitimacy, you weaken people's faith in their democratically elected government, out of bad perception that their part in the process has been messed with, hidden

electronic voting must be universally rejected in all ways and all levels of government, asap

Re:i've been saying this for weeks (2, Insightful)

Sciros (986030) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240284)

No the "biggest threat to western democracy" is people being so stupid that they believe rejecting electronic voting will remove the bigget threat to western democracy. What a joke.

Like an earlier poster insightfully mentioned, people are also distrusted when the measurable effect in an election is close to or below the error margin. This is because the error margin when paper ballots are counted by people is not 0%. Making citizens a part of the process only "instills legitimacy" when those citizens are fully competent, and the majority simply aren't. By the way, electronic voting can potentially have a lower margin of error than counting by hand.

Finally, if you are THAT concerned about pressing a button on a touch screen and having a program tally the results rather than marking a paper ballot and having a person tally the results, you're nuts.

i wish to make an example of you (4, Insightful)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240414)

please read the above comment slashdotters

Making citizens a part of the process only "instills legitimacy" when those citizens are fully competent, and the majority simply aren't.

i want you to look at and consider you fellow citizens, your fellow human beings. if, when you look at those people, you find something lacking, something untrustworthy, this is an antidemocratic instinct

the full inference of the comment of the man above is that there is the unworthy, a magical cut off line (which no one can determine, but that's besides the point), and then a special higher class of worthy people

this is a story as old as time. it's called aristocracy. it's called classism. it can be based on an arbitrary test for intelligence, a certain amount of money in your bank account, a certain genetic makeup

but the end results of aristocracy and classism is all the same: the french revolution

if you find yourself with antidemocratic instincts like the poster above, take a deep breath, step back, and fix yourself. you are broken in a dangerous, authoritarian, fascist way

you fellow human beings are your fellow human beings. beginning and end of story. you are no better than them. if you think you are, and there is a special class of people who share this superiority with you, you are a danger to society. YOU and your thinking is the seed to the downfall of democracy. and it is the same fear based pap that you often howl about coming from the right

Re:i wish to make an example of you (-1, Flamebait)

Sciros (986030) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240648)

Well I was right about the "you're nuts" part for sure.

By the way, even if you were anywhere near making any sense, it would mean we should trust whoever ends up winning an election to do a competent job, so why bother voting in the first place?

scratches head (1)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240962)

"it would mean we should trust whoever ends up winning an election to do a competent job, so why bother voting in the first place?"

and i'm the nut


Re:i wish to make an example of you (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22241004)

It doesn't mean we have to trust the person who won an election. Democracy requires faith in a system, not faith in an individual. Just as the parent suggested, your view that people are not competent; even if true, is beside the point. Its about creating a system that is as fair and as open as the present reality will allow. No there is no magic bullet and electronic voting is not the only way for voter fraud, but a lack of confidence in the system is dangerous. We should remove that factor. It doesn't mean we stop looking at problems altogether after that. You and others who post statements that this doesn't matter because you can buy politicians, you can rig the contests other ways, and so on, are only falling into a perfect solution fallacy.

Re:i wish to make an example of you (1)

Sciros (986030) | more than 6 years ago | (#22241294)

That's not what I was arguing at all! I was saying that people DISTRUST CLOSE RACES, not people vs. machines. That's the truth of the matter. There is a margin of error when votes are hand-counted, there's no "rigging" or "buying" necessary! People naturally make mistakes.

Rejecting electronic voting shouldn't make you trust the system if you didn't before, unless you thought that electronic voting was the only possible source of error in the process.

Concerning "fairness," paper voting and electronic voting are either on par or electronic is better since it can potentially allow more people to vote.

By the way, e-voting can potentially be MORE accurate. Why is it that by pointing that out I am "falling into a perfect solution fallacy"? One has to wonder whether the problem is "trust" or whether it is that people are just clueless about the system to begin with.

Re:i wish to make an example of you (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22241638)

you fellow human beings are your fellow human beings. beginning and end of story. you are no better than them.

Why? I know this is a popular theme, and hell, for the right "no better than" definition I actually agree; however, that doesn't mean I'm necessarily correct.

Is there a fundamental reason that some people shouldn't be, or aren't better than others? Is it because you don't like the outcome when, say, a "privileged" class is in power?

I've never been able to satisfactorily answer the question of why some shouldn't simply be "better" than others. I don't see a fundamental reason why all humans should be seen as the same. I do so simply because that's how I was brought up. But that reason isn't very convincing to me.

your question is easy to answer (2, Insightful)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 6 years ago | (#22242012)

i actually do believe that people are better and worse than other people, on a whole number of judgment calls

however, there is no one out there who can accurately measure those qualities in any trustworthy way

therefore, you have no choice other than to start looking at people as equals, and let things fall as they may. proof by outcome of life. no test can test for the qualities that are important in leading, for example. the only honest way to look at your fellow human being is as an equal. there is no magic test or projected characteristic that is a shortcut for making a determination of a complicated quality of that person. race for example. income another example. all failures at judging someone's true value

take a test for intelligence

can you even define intelligence? how incredibly complex a topic are we dealing with? do you honestly think it can be measured in such a way as to find the best leader out there?

your standard iq test has things for example that put value in manipulating 3D shapes in your head. there are autistic people who can do that. meanwhile, some guy fails miserably on an iq test for manipulating 3D objects in your head. ok. that same guy is extremely gifted in many leadership qualities: persuasion, instilling trust, etc. so what is the point of this stupid iq test again in determining worthiness in life? zero

so the idea of drawing people into classes in terms of good potential to lead or not lead, vote or not vote, is completely a nonstarter

it's not that people aren't better or worse than another. i believe in fact they are. it's just that there is no way to determine that objectively, so you can't go down that path in any moral or intellectually honest fashion

Re:i wish to make an example of you (1)

bidule (173941) | more than 6 years ago | (#22241916)

you fellow human beings are your fellow human beings. beginning and end of story. you are no better than them. if you think you are, and there is a special class of people who share this superiority with you, you are a danger to society. YOU and your thinking is the seed to the downfall of democracy. and it is the same fear based pap that you often howl about coming from the right
I strongly believe many citizen are unfit to vote. As I am sure many do. But everyone has his own standard to define who is unfit, and none are democratically correct.

In the same way we prefer innocent until proven guilty, we prefer fit until proven unfit. Therefore everyone should be allowed to vote.

it is not possible (1)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 6 years ago | (#22241922)

to say that point better than you just said it


Re:i wish to make an example of you (1)

syzler (748241) | more than 6 years ago | (#22242774)

Very well said. Bravo.

Re:i wish to make an example of you (1)

rock_climbing_guy (630276) | more than 6 years ago | (#22243780)

Winston Churchill said, "The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter."

Re:i wish to make an example of you (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22244472)

... and his being elected.

Re:i wish to make an example of you (1)

jez9999 (618189) | more than 6 years ago | (#22244430)

the full inference of the comment of the man above is that there is the unworthy, a magical cut off line (which no one can determine, but that's besides the point), and then a special higher class of worthy people

This is true. Democracy is overrated. Do you really think a nation is best steered by hoardes/mobs of couch potatoes? It is not.

Re:i've been saying this for weeks (1)

LynnwoodRooster (966895) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240818)

Let's get the voter rolls clean and accurate first, though... Right now, it's too easy to illegally register AND vote. let's get the voter clean, then we can worry about how they vote...

E-Voting Undermines ... Elections (1)

ukemike (956477) | more than 6 years ago | (#22241086)

E-Voting Undermines Public Confidence in Elections... who cares?

E-Voting Undermines Elections.

Now having said that... Electronic tabulation (by optical scan for example) of paper ballots, accompanied by statistically appropriate manual audits, would inspire happy confidence in this voter.

Re:i've been saying this for weeks (1)

Ichijo (607641) | more than 6 years ago | (#22241572)

the biggest threat to western democracy [is] electronic voting

if you make the voting process opaque, you destroy confidence, you destroy legitimacy...

I don't think electronic voting necessarily means opacity.

it does (1)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 6 years ago | (#22241856)

"I don't think electronic voting necessarily means opacity"

oh but it does, by definition. inseparably

anything on a computer is opaque. a disk drive has to be read, a processor has to cycle, a monitor has to project. something on paper meanwhile, requires nothing but a human being to understand what is written on it

eletronic voting is most definitely opaque. all of interaction with computers is an opaque process as compared to paper based media. paper is obviously inferior in many more important ways than electronics, but not when it comes to something stone cold simple as voting

this is where distrust can grow. in the sapce between who you vote for and who winds up in thw hite house: based on paper, i can trail, and trust, and verify. with electronics, so much can be hidden and quickly changed. trust evaporates

Re:it does (1)

Ichijo (607641) | more than 6 years ago | (#22242990)

based on paper, i can trail, and trust, and verify.

The same can be done with computers. When I return a defective item to the store, I can prove to the store that I purchased it from them. In some cases, even if they lost their copy of the record of the transaction.

with your paper receipt? (3, Funny)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 6 years ago | (#22243014)


Re:i've been saying this for weeks (0, Troll)

sgt_doom (655561) | more than 6 years ago | (#22242866)

Please ignore the posts which follow, Good Citizen circletimessquare, you are on the right track (although the neocons do appear to be behind it mostly...).

With SAIC controlling the vast majority of domestic surveillance (Number One recipient of NSA contracts, top five of CIA contract recipients, major contract recipient of the Pentagon's CIFA, and, the parent company of Hicks & Associates, the "unofficial" administrator of the Total Information Awareness project), and also having been contracted to do the "security features" for most of the voting machine companies (the formerly known Diebold, as well) the fix is definitely in.

Will we see Obama win the election, only to find John "insane" McCain in the White House? (And please, none of this "war hero" BS, the guy spent less than a full day in combat - surrendered upon his very first contact with the enemy - and a number of returning POWs had some pretty negative stuff to say about McCain's behavior in captivity, but the newsies gave them short shrift as they wanted "to put the war behind them" .......)

Re:i've been saying this for weeks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22242988)

the biggest threat to western democracy is not neocons, islamofascism, chinese technocrats, etc.

it's electronic voting

And here I've been thinking it was people too fucking lazy to hit a shift key once and while.

how long? like, maybe 2000? (1)

swschrad (312009) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240162)

and that was with hanging chads. now Chad's hanging his flash card on the side of voting machines....

I haven't seen this joke for a while (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22240230)

13% Confidant
36% Not confidant
51% George W Bush

Conceited E-Voting Vendors (2, Insightful)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240262)

If they just put the same untrustworthy electronic voting machines into big, heavy metal cabinets, with metal pull-levers for voting and a big red handle that commits the votes while it opens the curtain (just like we've used in NY for generations), no one would complain. And those freaks who did complain because the actual votes are counted by an untrustworthy device buried inside it would be treated like freaks.

Especially if the metal cabinets were aged in the factory with a little rust and scrapes...

But the vendors are used to scoring sales by just keeping the purchase procedure as closed as the IP in their opaque devices. The user themself doesn't figure into their business model at all, whether they're casting a vote or reading about the purchase on their behalf in their newspaper.

Scantron (5, Insightful)

Psychofreak (17440) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240272)

I personally like the little bubble sheets that get filled in. They are commonly called Scantron. Use a disposable paper mask that is pre-punched to match the sheet you mark on, and the voter takes it to the one or more machines for reading them in. Trackable, human readable after a fashion, simple technology that can be easily deployed for very large number of voters. Best part is one machine can service about 100 voting stations as cafeteria tables with dividers are all the voting stations are!

I prefer voting on those than the touch screen units. Especially when I have to wait 20-30 min to get my time to vote, and I am in a relatively small voting district now. When I was in a larger district it was a 1-5 min wait to get you ballot, and a 1-5 min wait to scan in at one of the two machines.

I also find that older folk are afraid of touch screen technology because they feel that it will break, or they are not comfortable with computers to start with.

Let me just sharpen my #2 pencil and vote!


Division of Labour (1)

l2718 (514756) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240632)

Let me just sharpen my #2 pencil and vote!

Scantron voting has its own problems. What about voters who don't fill the bubbles accurately enough? Who fill two bubbles? What tolerance do you set the scanner to? You need to find a good division of labour between the computer (who is good at some things), the voter and the elections officials (which are human and good at other things).

Just like computers are better than people at scanning the ballots and tabulating the data, they are also better than people at filling the ovals (also known as "printing a filled ballot"). You will get a lot less scanning errors and invalid ballots if the voter gives the selections to a computer and then the computer prints the result out. For some voters it may be slower than hand-filling of the ballot, but for some (the disabled, the tech-savvy) it may be much faster. If you want, you can offer people the option: fill your own bubbles or have a computer fill them for you.

Solution already exists -- machine rejection (3, Interesting)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 6 years ago | (#22241038)

There's already a simple solution to this problem. You stick the ballot into the Scantron machine. The Scantron machine tries to read the ballot. If the ballot is invalid, then it spits the ballot back out, and the voter either corrects it or has that ballot replaced.

This at least gets rid of the over-votes, and could get rid of the under-votes if the Scantron has a "possibly read a filled bubble but not sure" threshold (I really don't know).

One interesting tidbit from the 2000 Florida election that often gets ignored in favor of controversies over the felon lists and the nature of the butterfly ballots themselves, is that the machines they used were in fact capable of this! It was an optional setting, the machine could either take the bad ballot as-is but just not count it, or it could reject the ballot back into the voter's hand for correction. As you may have guessed, voting machines in the precincts with high rates of bad ballots had this option disabled, and ones with low rates of bad ballots had it enabled. But we weren't told that, and were instead just left to assume that the people in the high-error precincts were simply dumber than everyone else, and we just accepted it! But in reality, errors are common, but most get a chance to correct it when the machine spits it out.

That said, I do agree that the best thing to do is have the computer print out the ballot so as to minimize the possibility of error. It's really the best of both worlds: The accessability of a voting machine that lets you edit your choices, read more about propositions, and enforces rules like no over-votes, but you still get a human-readable paper ballot that serves as the vote of record and can be recounted by anyone with working eyes. And if you make the printed ballot machine readable -- I prefer an OCR-friendly font so it's the *same* markings that are both human and machine readable -- you can still use a machine counter to get your instant-gratification.

It's not that hard to design a working voting system that minimizes voter error, maximizes accessibility, and most importantly maximizes openness and transparency. Just... nobody that I can tell has actually come forward and put the pieces together in a real system intended to be sold.

Re:Solution already exists -- machine rejection (2, Interesting)

CodeBuster (516420) | more than 6 years ago | (#22241256)

nobody that I can tell has actually come forward and put the pieces together in a real system intended to be sold.
There are probably reasons for this and a few come to mind fairly readily. First, the potential market for these machines is somewhat small and relatively fixed (i.e. it is a niche, a larger one perhaps, but still a niche). Second, the voting hardware has to maintain a high degree of accuracy and quality. For example, it will be made of quality materials and provable micro-programming with good documentation and easy configuration. All of these things would make the products expen$ive, at least to buy, and possibly to maintain as well. Finally, most governments or voting precincts are notoriously cheap and put in bids way below what it would actually cost to produce, provide, and maintain the equipment. All of these factors and perhaps others as well might explain why no private company has stepped up to the plate to provide this type of a system.

It might be well argued then, that given the importance of voting to our democracy and the relative frequency with which it occurs, that these product(s) and service(s) should be financed and standardized across all states and localities by the federal government. Generally I take the Libertarian view about the government providing goods and services (i.e. let the private sector do it) but in this case the combination of circumstances and the "public good" quality of the service makes it a good candidate for government funding (one of a very few exceptions to the private sector rule that I make).

Re:Division of Labour (1)

CodeBuster (516420) | more than 6 years ago | (#22241114)

I have always thought that it should be possible to achieve the best of both worlds by combining the two technologies so that they reinforce each others' strengths while minimizing, to the extent possible, their individual weaknesses. The electronic touch screen can provide simplicity while the Scantron provides verifiable, human or otherwise, accuracy to within a very good tolerance of error. Those who want to forgo the electronic voting machine altogether can still use the #2 pencil on a blank Scantron, but those who want the convenience and ease of the electronic voting machine can make their choices on the touch screen(s) and then print those choices onto a Scantron which they can review personally, if they wish, and submit to the ballot box, just as if they had used the #2 pencil manually. Machine assisted Scantron printing provides the best of both worlds while at the same time proving fallback options for those who do not wish to use the electronic voting machine to print their ballot OR if power is lost or unavailable.

Re:Scantron (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22240668)

Most of the paper ballots I've used have been a variety of hole-punching, but the point is the same.

Yeah, I don't remember the long lines before we used the efficient computer technology to cast our votes. It's not just older folks... my limited exposure to e-voting showed the very poor user experience. In the last election where I used one of these disasters, I didn't happen to vote in a couple of the races -- I didn't feel competent to make a decision one way or the other. But the program wasn't able to handle that -- it took a long time to print out the ballot and there was no straightforward way to navigate out of the mess. Presumably the board of elections supposes that everyone has a vociferous opinion on who should be dog-catcher.

It was predictable. In 2001, when there were the calls to prevent another Florida embarrassment and politicians wanted to jump on the high-tech bandwagon, I knew it was going to soak up lots of money for not much return. How many machines were paid for and now are just so much scrap? Fortunately California has dumped the idea, hopefully permanently.

Re:Scantron (4, Insightful)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 6 years ago | (#22241530)

I'm a teacher, and I give scantron tests once in a while. They're extremely error-prone. If you don't fill in the space completely, or if you try to erase and change your answer, it will often grade it wrong, i.e., someone looking at it would say that the student probably intended B, but the machine scored it as D or something. I've been told that the error rates are lower on a carefully calibrated and maintained machine, but ... then we just have to sit around wondering whether Florida went the wrong way because a certain district didn't maintain their scantron machines properly.

I'd be happy with any system that let me have a printout to take home. I could verify that it really recorded my vote the way I thought. I know there's the argument that this makes it possible to buy people's votes, because the buyer can verify that the seller really voted as he was paid to do. But in fact it's already trivial to buy votes: get the person you're bribing to vote absentee. Voter fraud is one of these silly Republican vote-getting issues (like flag burning) that is a total non-issue in reality. For that matter, let's just do all voting by mail. It's the 21st century, and I don't see any rational reason to make a busy person go to a particular place on a weekday in order to transmit 67 bits of information.

Re:Scantron (1)

lachlan76 (770870) | more than 6 years ago | (#22244798)

Why strain the postal system? Over my way (Australia) everyone (yes, everyone, it's compulsory) goes out to the polling place on a Saturday afternoon, and we know who will form the government that very night.

now (1)

rastoboy29 (807168) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240290)

I view it as an electronic pantomime, now.  So do most thinking people.

See, these days, they don't even have to have the appearance of propriety.  Witness Dick Cheney giving his Halliburton shares to charity when he became VP...or did he?

Perceptions are grounded in reality (4, Insightful)

plnrtrvlr (557800) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240328)

Americans may not be big into knowing their history, but history has shown again and again that if politicians can lie cheat or twist their way around they will... It's a reality that is so pervasive that even that majority of Americans who never cracked their history book open in high school know it to be true. They may say "even when there is no evidence of wrongdoing" but what everyone thinks is "so we just don't have the evidence, and even if it isn't, it's going to happen." And that isn't perception, it's good ol' pattern recognition: if there's a way to cheat, someone is going to do it eventually.

They say this like it helps... (4, Insightful)

Ghazgkull (83434) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240384)

I love this kind of quote (my emphasis added):

Again, there's no evidence anything untoward has occurred in Maryland.
Umm... exactly?

And the answer is so simple.. (2, Interesting)

spiffmastercow (1001386) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240438)

Open source the code, provide each registered voter with an encryption key sent through the mail (the real mail, so you have to send it to a real physical location), and maintain a database where each user can view his/her vote. Or, in the short term, just give everyone a receipt for their votes at the booth.

Re:And the answer is so simple.. (1)

Gyga (873992) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240604)

How do the homeless vote?

Re:And the answer is so simple.. (1)

spiffmastercow (1001386) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240738)

How do they vote now? You have to register for your district. If you don't have an address, you can't get your voter registration card.

You could send it to the shelter I guess. They can check their votes with net access from the local library.

Re:And the answer is so simple.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22240922)

Maybe things are different in the US, but here in Canada you can just show up at a polling station with someone else who lives in the district and have them vouch for you. It really wouldn't be that difficult to slip in a false vote.

elections canada info []

My favourite FAQ on that page is "Can I eat a ballot?". :)

Re:And the answer is so simple.. (1)

riceboy50 (631755) | more than 6 years ago | (#22241564)

On our voter registration forms (found in public offices like the USPS and City Hall), there is an option to describe your location if you don't have a home address (i.e. cross streets or whatever) for homeless folks.

Re:And the answer is so simple.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22240740)

And what happens when the voting site gets posted to slashdot, and the first million votes are lost in an unrecoverable server crash? Huh? Huh?!?!

Re:And the answer is so simple.. (1)

Faylone (880739) | more than 6 years ago | (#22242336)

Perhaps if you print out the 'receipt' and have IT be what's counted, but whatever printout that the person confirms need to be what is counted, if you have an extra copy that they can leave the poll with, that allows vote buying, and that's just changing your can of worms.

Re:And the answer is so simple.. (2, Informative)

grumbel (592662) | more than 6 years ago | (#22242764)

This wouldn't be a good idea, since it would allow people to sell their vote for money. The advantage of a simple paper based voting system is that only the voter himself knows what he voted, since there is no receipt and no way for a third party to find out how he voted. With the encryption key you also have the problem that votes become easily trackable unless somebody makes sure that nobody keeps record of encryption-keys -> names.

MISINFORMATION undermines public confidence (1)

liegeofmelkor (978577) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240444)

With ordinary paper ballots, it doesn't matter who transports them because there's nothing a moving company can do to undermine the election.
Wait, what? THE common attack vector for BOTH electronic and paper ballots is the chain of custody of the votes. There are, in fact, a number of additional attack vectors introduced by the sloppily designed e-voting machines currently used in elections, but this is not one of them. However, until misconceptions like this, bred from a vague mistrust of technology, are stamped out, I doubt much will be done to correct the real security vulnerabilities present in todays e-voting machines. Undoubtedly, misinformation does undermine public confidence.

Re:MISINFORMATION undermines public confidence (1)

AaronW (33736) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240706)

Oh, like the unopened ballot boxes found in a Florida in the swamp after the 2000 election?

Why not both? (1)

OrtegaPeru (1201867) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240530)

I don't see why we shouldn't do both. Fill out a paper card and have that fed into a computer. If the election was close enough that margin of error could come into play, then count both of them and compare the results. It would cost more but it seems like it's an important enough event to splurge on. If we're willing to accept hundreds of millions of campaign dollars going towards mudslinging and baby-kissing then we should spend some of that on a redundant way to determine the winner.

Re:Why not both? (1)

Chandon Seldon (43083) | more than 6 years ago | (#22242418)

If the election was close enough that margin of error could come into play, then count both of them and compare the results.

The margin of error for a black-box computer voting system is 100%. As long as we accept that fact, your system works fine - although we can optimize away the electronic count step.

What are you, from Mars or something? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22240930)

" long before the US vote is viewed as an electronic pantomime?"

In other news... (1)

achenaar (934663) | more than 6 years ago | (#22241076)

Keeping a door locked makes people wonder what's going on in there.

More at eleven.

Vote Verification?? (1)

temple11 (1230210) | more than 6 years ago | (#22241478)

In Oregon we use a Vote-by-Mail system that has been heralded as an enormous success in raising voter turnout and easing stress. I find the system terribly convenient as I drop my ballot into a collection site at 2am, but I'm still left to wonder if the ballot will ever make it back to be counted. And if not, how do I rectify that situation and make sure it was counted? I think about all the issues we have with voter registration, polling place contention, voting machine error, dangling chads and the like and think that we should have some system of accountability for our votes. Note: This is not a fully developed idea. There are some holes in my process. Why couldn't my ballot have a uniquely identifiable number on it that, once cast and counted, I could validate it? I could easily log onto a website or dial in to an automated telephone system, and verify that yes my vote had made it through the collection process and into the categories I wanted. I realize there would be problems in correcting the vote if it appeared incorrectly. Why not attach a pull-off tab that had my copy of the uniquely identifiable number on it? Or put the same serial number on the paper receipt that some states have required from the new electronic voting machines? Basically I just want to know that my vote counted and I see no other way to do that than to just "trust" that everything went according to plan. Anybody else have any ideas?

My Fantasy Election (1)

danZbar (989499) | more than 6 years ago | (#22241582)

My Fantasy Election

Place machines in libraries. Use them year-round. When elections come, boot off of a CD to a scaled down version of Linux specifically designed for the one task of processing the election. Close access to the physical box. Leave only the mouse and the monitor. (A touchscreen really isn't all that much easier than a mouse, and there's no point in wasting money.)

When the voter finishes selecting candidates and props at the voter station, a paper receipt with a bar code is printed. In addition to the bar code, written on the receipt is each of the selections for the voter to verify. S/he verifies the selections first at that machine, which immediately stores the vote as a listed but not yet completed vote. (If the voter does not confirm the vote, the vote is dropped.)

From there, the voter proceeds to a verification machine (also running on a scaled down version of Linux) at which s/he scans in the bar code on the receipt. S/he checks the vote again. If it appears correct, the voter confirms it there. To complete the vote, the voter inserts the receipt into a ballot box at that station where it is scanned again as a completed vote (thus generating a paper trail).

The computers all work together by creating multiple-output reporting when it comes time to count the votes. Each voter station machine, verification machine, and ballot box prints its own individual summary of the votes cast at the close of the polls. Each host machine prints a copy of the votes it has scanned in addition to the votes placed at each of the voter station machines it is responsible for counting.

By choosing an open source software, you'll allow countless thousands of programmers to inspect the code and ensure that it is safe. Furthermore, with only access to the mouse, there will be no way to hack into the computers. But, even in the event of compromised security, the voter-verified paper receipts will still be available. If any discrepancies occur, they can simply refer to a count of the paper receipts localized to those machines whose reports did not match up (or of which there is any reason at all to doubt). The final advantage is that rather than having a box that can only be used once every two or four years, you end up with something we need anyway: more computers in local libraries.

Am I dreaming? Is there something wrong with this? Has this already been suggested? I do not claim to be an expert, so I just ask: why not?

the extent of the right to vote (1)

Pirulo (621010) | more than 6 years ago | (#22241834)

Although set in the Constitution as the "right to vote"
its extent might not be 100% clear.

If the right to vote is only the right to go to the pulls and click on an option,
then we are fried.

If the right to vote includes the right for _that_ vote to get properly counted,
then e-voting is plainly unconstitutional as it cannot guaranty such thing.

I'd like to believe the right to vote includes the fact the the vote should get properly counted as well,
but dunno,

In a way, confidence is what is most important (4, Interesting)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 6 years ago | (#22242086)

Nice to see somebody noticing and describing one of the important pieces of the puzzle.

The purpose of elections in a republic is NOT because there's something "right" or "nice" about selecting the government officials and rules that are preferred by a majority of the voting population. (In fact, sometimes that's actually a bad idea. "Democracy" is often three wolves and a sheep voting on what's for dinner.)

The purpose of elections is to increase the stability of the country and pacify it internally. They do this by attempting to figure out which way the war would come out, if it were actually fought over the issue.

To do this, elections must convince the losing side that they can't reverse the result by resorting to force.

That means they don't have to be perfect - but they have to be convincingly good enough.

  - A wide race will be convincing. If the exact numbers are off it doesn't really matter.

  - A really close race may come out wrong. But if it's close it also means a war won't reverse the result: Too many additional people will get annoyed and oppose those who try the violent option. So the losers might exhaust the peaceable remedies: Recounts, courts, etc. Then they gripe about it non-stop until the next election. And EVERYBODY tries to fix the system to be more accurate and avoid this hassle next time. Repeat until the elections are believable and/or the margin is broad enough that there's no serious dispute.

But the easiest way for an election to be believably fair and honest is for it to be VISIBLY fair and honest. Count the votes behind locked doors or inside a software-driven black box and you substitute trust for visible honesty.

Once the people stop trusting the elections their stabilizing effect is gone. Then losers may think they are strong enough to reverse the result and (when the winners start doing things that hurt their interests) morally justified in making the attempt. Then you are just asking for civil "unrest", comities of vigilance, death squads, coups, and civil or revolutionary war.

So it's far more important that the election procedures be VISIBLY honest and their approximate accuracy known than that they be dead-on accurate.

Which is what we're seeing now. Computerized black-box voting killed the audit trail and enabled the possibility that a small number of people could introduce large and undetectable changes to the result. Then came a close election with important issues at stake. Regardless of whether the black boxes gave an accurate count or were corrupted, there was no way to SHOW they were right - or close enough not to matter. So the losers were unconvinced.

Repeat after four years, and again after eight, adding in a foreign war, massive government spending, "security" intrusions on civil rights, and attempts by media conglomerates to swing the election exposed by comparison to uncontrolled Internet communication. Now you're starting to approach a scenario where large groups of losers start thinking "Maybe the elections were stolen. Maybe we've been conquered. Maybe there are enough of us to reverse this. Maybe violence will work. Maybe the system is corrupted to the point that violence is the only answer. Maybe violence is PROPER."

This is WHY it is more important that the elections be VISIBLY, CONVINCINGLY accurate than that they just be accurate.

Means of Ascent (1)

ooutland (146624) | more than 6 years ago | (#22242182)

Robert Caro's 2nd volume on LBJ details how LBJ stole his 1948 election to the Senate, with nary a computer in sight. The computer looks these days like it may make it easier to steal elections, but it's not as if it's creating the problem.

it's not just E-voting (1)

JimBobJoe (2758) | more than 6 years ago | (#22242344)

At this point in time, everything to do with voting undermines public confidence in it. Since 2000 we entered a collective mindset which allows us to say that any election result not in our favor is due to some problem with voting. (Like lack of photo ID, or hacked e-voting machines, or chain of custody issues, etc.)

Some of that is funny to me, because the framework for vote allocation (winner takes all) and gerrymandering are pretty big hacks on the wishes of the people.

Nevertheless, I think there will be a time where you'll be submitting DNA swabs to vote on paper ballots with half a dozen carbon copies and people still will think of voter fraud as a problem.

Method of voting doesn't matter (1)

kauttapiste (633236) | more than 6 years ago | (#22243540)

IMHO, the method by which people get to influence politics doesn't matter too much. What matters is that people need to feel confident their opinion matters. One way to achieve this would be to ask the people more often. E-voting would enable just this. People wouldn't care if they couldn't verify 100% that their vote was correctly registered if the outcome of the whole election reflected anticipated public opinion (public opinion is quite closely measured already by various polls, etc.). E-voting could enable the public to influence decision making more often with voting on actual concrete issues, and not just votes of power. A bit like the early democracy in Athens where decisions were publicly voted for at the city square!

I did early voting in Illinois- System was secure (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22243596)

The voting system looked extremely fair. I had to show photo I.D. for Early voting, they brought up my information on their computer, and I was then given a voter's card (size of a credit card) to insert into the machine to be allowed to vote. I was given English, Spanish, and French as language options. Then I voted on a touch-screen. Then the screen suggested double-checking your vote, then I hit "complete ballot" on the screen. A reciept printed out within the machine beneath transparent glass, the receipt allowed me review my vote on paper. The reciept was printed in then I pressed o.k. on the touchscreen again and the receipt rolled through the machine away from where it was visible. A sound is made as the receipt rolls through.

Vote Counting Doesn't Belong at the Booth (2, Interesting)

Teancum (67324) | more than 6 years ago | (#22244898)

I've said this before, I'll say it again, and I don't think most people will get it except perhaps among those here on Slashdot and other geek forums:

Electronic vote counting simply doesn't belong at the voting booth.

Instead, what should happen at the voting booth should be ballot preparation, not vote counting. I have absolutely no problem with a fancy machine that has cool graphics and touch screen voting options in a thousand different languages. If you want to go through the effort of putting that together for a somewhat reasonable price, knock your socks off. I don't even mind this end of it being completely closed and propritary.

But the vote counting part needs to be separated from the ballot preparation. The only thing all of this fancy hardware is really doing is to assist a voter in understanding the rules of the election. In other words, not vote for multiple people if multiple votes invalidate your ballot, remind you of races that you didn't vote in, allow you to clearly note who you are voting for (no missing chads or fuzzy and inconclusive ballots), and provide a very clean ballot that election judges can use later for the vote counting process. Ballots cast should be on some sort of physical medium that has irreversible marks (so an election judge can't modify the results afterward) and human readable so the voter can have clear confidence in how their vote was cast. Any computer scientist worthy of that title ought to be able to figure out how to make something simultaneously human and machine readable... we aren't talking rocket science here and this is a decades old solved problem in the field.

One of my largest problems with the Diebold machines is that they have the vote counting take place in the voting booth itself. This opens up not only the traditional forms of voting fraud, but it also opens up new vectors of attacking the system and requires far too much in the way of securing the machines in order to ensure the integrity of the data. Besides, most of the security protocols aren't followed anyway, and those that are followed are a joke in many cases and have multiple methods of being circumvented. By its very nature at least in America, voting is done in private and away from the eyes of election judges. This is also done to ensure the integrity of the vote cast (by stopping coercion). But this act, by its nature, means that the machines can be compromised during the act of voting itself.

Let's look at what problems these machines are trying to solve:

  • Mechanical Voting Machine - these are from the 1930's and a few from even earlier. You press a lever and the vote is counted through some mechanical process. These have been notorious for breaking down during the middle of an election, or have the results manipulated by voting judges through multiple means. All states got rid of these machines decades ago, and for a very good reasons... yet the current Diebold machines (and others like them) simply are identical to these sort of voting machines but remade in the era of modern electronics. Every problem associated with mechanical voting machines can be found on the Diebold machines... and more.
  • Punch-out Ballots - These received notoriety during the 2000 U.S. Presidential election when inconclusive ballots were cast, and rampant election judge tampering also took place. A common tactic in some areas where these were used was to punch through previously cast ballots to try and add some extra votes. Several methods of doing this were involved, and the "hanging chad" problem was actually a sign that such voting fraud occurred. This also suffered from mechanical break downs where a ballot could be cast, but a voter wouldn't necessarily know that their votes were invalid or inconclusive.
  • Pencil bubble fill ballots - If you have ever taken a college admission test of some sort, you are more than likely familiar with these sort of ballots. This is where you have a little bubble or circle that you have to fill in with a pencil... but in this case you are casting a vote for your preferred candidate. There are many solid defenders of this sort of ballot, and for a good reason to. This is a paper ballot that is a permanent record of how you cast your vote, but at the same time it can be mechanically counted (and recounted on machinery made by completely different companies). There are vectors of voting fraud here as well, such as a judge erasing pencil marks and "changing your vote" in some way. It also has a drawback that even a well intentioned voter (assuming an honest election judge too) may not have marked clearly who they intended to vote for, or may have voted in the wrong place on the ballot. Smudges, pieces of dirt, and other mechanical problems can damage the integrity of the balloting process.
  • Old-fashion ink and paper ballots - meaning those ballots where you simply write the name of the candidate out in long-hand. Or put the classic "X" in front of your preferred candidate. For them to be mechanically counted, you have the same sorts of problems that the bubble fill ballots present, and considerably more room for variation. Hand counting of ballots is a very tedious and time consuming process... and subject to a huge number of errors.

Unfortunately the current electronic voting machines don't really solve the problem they are trying to fix, as they are not being in a manner that inspires confidence in the system.... which is the main point of this article. There is much that can be done to help improve the election process, and I hope that some people are paying attention here that are in a position of political power to make a difference.

IMHO, if I were trying to do this "better", I would make sure that those who are providing equipment in a given voting precinct for electronic voting would be made by a minimum of three completely different companies (perhaps 4).

1 for the manufacturer of the ballot preparation machines. It really doesn't matter who does this other than the ballots must conform to some sort of standard that can be defined legally.

2 for the vote counting. I'm talking completely different companies and design teams here... with a sworn affidavit that they have been built by completely different design teams and genuinely are different products.

1 additional vote counting machine by a 3rd manufacturer in case there is an unresolvable vote counting difference between the previous two companies. Or in this case it may "force" a hand-count that can be done in public and under review.

Confidence can be improved considerably in the election process... and the current electronic voting system certainly needs some additional work before it becomes something to trust.
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