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Computer Scientists Rally for Reliable Voting System 288

Posted by michael
from the voting-is-a-duty-not-a-right dept.
Kim Alexander writes "Silicon Valley computer scientists, led by Stanford professor David Dill are asking Santa Clara county to purchase a new computerized voting system only if it provides a voter verified paper trail. Their concerns are based on the lack of adequate testing of these voting systems, and the fact that the software is closed-source and proprietary. Requiring a voter-verified paper trail will mitigate many of these problems. Dill's 'Resolution on Electronic Voting' has been endorsed by prominent computer scientists from all over the country, including Ron Rivest. Counties all over California and the US are going through a similar process. Patriotic nerds who want to do something to help protect our fundamental right to vote with confidence that our votes will be counted can help by contacting their state and local reps, writing letters to supervisors and getting informed!"
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Computer Scientists Rally for Reliable Voting System

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  • by blair1q (305137) on Friday February 14, 2003 @09:50PM (#5306859) Journal
    The first person who writes and validates a working, bulletproof software system for collecting votes wins $$billions.

    That's the kind of patriotism we need.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 14, 2003 @10:26PM (#5306972)
      This seems an appropriate time to remind everyone of this.

      http://www.acm.org/classics/sep95/

      The wisdom in computerized voting systems is certainly debatable.
      Proprietary software, whose code cannot be publicly audited, and whose code cannot be independently tested, should never be allowed near voting booths (or sites)

      And a paper trail? Will we visit everyone who voted to check their voting stub? And won't that identify who I voted for specifically in a way that can be checked and directly tied to me, defeating the purpose of a voting booth?

      I hope the potential savings don't outshine the potential risks.

      • Ok, your point is we should be able to review the code for the polling booths, or we can't trust it. And you give ONE reference. But no solution?

        This is a very serious accusation you're making. Unfortunately, a single accusation by someone on Slashdot will not make a difference, even though it has been mod'ed to +5.

        Why not just outline what needs to be done, in a reasonable logical list, as clear and short as possible? Like (IMHO);

        Polling Booth: A) System is to be un-networked, for security. Only networked WITHIN the polling location, not to the "internet." B) all polling booths will use minimal hardware (save money for taxpayers, simple to code because of legacy code base, hard to hack because there isn't enough RAM for an exploit to be loaded). C) After minimizing RAM for prevention of exploits, checksum code after each vote is cast to insure security?

        Polling Station Logs: A) Polling Booth "checks in" digitally date/time/unit stamped vote into database for polling station. B) Check-in's are done to a single, CHEAP (but reliable) PC running open source database like PostgreSQL. C) Backups are done to removable media frequently (USB drives every half hour?) D) Backups are IMMEDIATELY taken MANALLY to central database to update voting. (Bypassing internet hacks, and "physical hijacks" of data are ruled out because the next delivery will show that there is a substantial error). E) Digital Forensics is used to investigate any accusations of "ballot stuffing" where every backup drive, every polling booth, every poling location PC, and every central database that receives manual updates can be instantly checked both physically, and against each other, as well as by looking at low-level info that was "quickly erased" from all storage media.

        Now THAT'S an idea. Just one off the top of my head in 2 minutes. Sure, there are better ideas, but my point is; take 2 minutes to come up with them rather than the typical 10 seconds to poke holes in them and criticize. Why not come up with ideas rather than trash those that exist? Anyway.... Rant Over...

      • by Kwelstr (114389) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @12:18AM (#5307304)
        You are missing the point, the paper vote is not "papaer trail" but a hard copy for backup. I voted in Florida last election with an electronic voting machine. After making all my choices, I pressed the "vote" button only to get a greeting: thanks for voting.

        Well, it felt like hmmmmm did I REALLY vote? Where is my vote? How can I tell I voted? Did the machine tabulated my vote correctly? I still don't know any of that for sure... we have to blind trust the voting machine as it is now. Something that gives me a very uneasy feeling.

        On the other hand, if you produce a hard copy that you can review and then as a back up put it in a ballot box. Well, at least you will know the vote is there and it can be audited if the machine gets lost or damaged somehow.

        Just my 2 cents.

    • Just place a cookie with a four-year time-to-live on the user's computer.

      You all may laugh at me, but with such a system the Libertarians [lp.org] would stand a chance.

      My other idea is an html form in which every radio button have a value of "libertarian [lp.org]."

      I suppose I'll just wait for them to realize that our existing for of voting control that keeps someone from voting twice could also be used in this situation.

      Having a conscience sucks; being a hypocrite would kick ass.
    • The key word being Bulletproof. With so many people in the world with nothing better to do than crack a system (Install Linux on a blender, mod their washing machine, etc), I wouldn't bet on it in my lifetime...
    • That's impossible to do with a secret ballot. Having the secret ballot may have avoided voter intimidation, but it opens the floodgates to massive election fraud. The only feasable way of eliminating all election fraud is to have a database of each voter and their vote, and call each voter twice after voting day to verify that they voted the way the database says they did. Otherwise a small group of conspirators could easily stuff the ballot boxes with the votes of people who never showed up. In several elections in the south during Reconstruction, there were more votes cast than there were citizens of that district, I shit you not.
    • It's called a "jar that you put gumballs into." Gum is soft. And if you want it bulletproof, just use bulletproof glass for the jar. Where are my billions of dollars?
    • Sorry, I'm a little peeved at writing the same darn URLs every time this comes up.

      Jeez... I mean, it's been a while that this has been available. Posted several times on /.
  • Keep in mind (Score:2, Redundant)

    by John Jorsett (171560)
    that the present occupants of those political offices are the product of the present system. Don't expect wild enthusiasm for anything that has the potential to cause a personnel change.
    • Re:Keep in mind (Score:5, Interesting)

      by The Dobber (576407) on Friday February 14, 2003 @10:00PM (#5306890)
      The reverse could also be said. Those that wish to unseat the incumbent wants something different.

      The best way to elect our representatives is not through the use of technology, wiz-bang gadgets, open source software or even legal challenges.

      Its gett ing Joe Six-Pack and the rest of the disenchanted voters off thier duffs and out to the polls. Rather than complain, execrcise the right to vote people. Had this been the case in 2000, we would have had a clear winner

      • Re:Keep in mind (Score:4, Interesting)

        by John Jorsett (171560) on Friday February 14, 2003 @10:12PM (#5306928)
        Its getting Joe Six-Pack and the rest of the disenchanted voters off thier duffs and out to the polls.

        Personally, I think voting ought to be made as difficult and inconvenient as possible. If voting were like crawling over broken glass, only those who really really were interested would do it, and we'd get a better product. Keep the ignorant and lazy out of the electoral process, I say.

        • Re:Keep in mind (Score:2, Interesting)

          by anubi (640541)
          If voting were like crawling over broken glass, only those who really really were interested would do it, and we'd get a better product.

          Well, thats what we have right now as far as getting laws passed. Note how much its like "crawling over broken glass" [slashdot.org] to submit those forms they presented to contest the DMCA. See where that is getting us?

        • Re:Keep in mind (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward
          But ... who says this eagerness to get to the polls is correlated with the country's interests? It may have a lot to do with self-interest.

          The Nazis were very good at climbing over broken glass (Kristallnacht).
        • Its getting Joe Six-Pack and the rest of the disenchanted voters off thier duffs

          Is it just me, or does this post make you thirsty?
          hmmmmm beer

        • Re:Keep in mind (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Ironpoint (463916)

          Right, we can make people take tests before they get to vote, that will help keep the people to ignorant to go to school from voting.

          And then if they don't like that we can have a vote tax so lazy vagrants that don't want to work can't vote.

          "Personally, I think"

          Please don't, somethings broken up there. You and your buddy Jim Crow need to go back to your y2k hideout.
        • Re:Keep in mind (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Holdstrong (647528)
          Keep the ignorant and lazy out of the electoral process, I say.

          Sounds a bit like an oligarchy, no?

          The problem with this thought is that we would no longer be a government of the people, for the people, and by the people. We become a government of the educated and ambitious - the elite if you will. History is full of governments like this, rarely with good results.

          Democracy, by its very definition, must involve the participation of the people. Even the ignorant and lazy ones.
        • Re:Keep in mind (Score:2, Interesting)

          by man2525 (600111)

          If voting were like crawling over broken glass, only those who really really were interested would do it, and we'd get a better product.

          That's one economic argument. Here's another: Concentrated beneficiaries hold a natural advantage over dispersed stakeholders. For example, insurance companies have a specific agenda to pay out as little as possible. Therefore, by putting a few thousand dollars into fancy dinners and presents for your state legislature, they can get a number of different state laws restricting any halfway fun activity passed. Can you imagine how much effort it then takes people dispersed throughout the population to organize against it? Voting should be made easier to offset special interests, not harder to encourage it.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Perhaps someone heard the interview on "Morning Edition."

    Sorry I can't provide more details.
  • by Hott of the World (537284) on Friday February 14, 2003 @09:54PM (#5306865) Homepage Journal
    ...but who's gonna teach Florida how to use them?
  • Closed-Source? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Rimbo (139781) <rimbosity AT sbcglobal DOT net> on Friday February 14, 2003 @09:59PM (#5306886) Homepage Journal
    I cannot support any voting system that's closed source. I want to know what the voting system is doing with my vote, and the only reliable way to do that and to maintain a free society is to be able to see the source. That doesn't mean everyone should be a contributor, but we should see what we're dealing with.
    • I want to know what the voting system is doing with my vote

      I don't.

      'Anyone who wants my vote is instantly disqualified from receiving it." [paraphrasing]

      I am too pissed to remember the exact quote or quotee.

      Anyone who can get's a virtual lollypop.
    • Re:Closed-Source? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by GnrcMan (53534) on Friday February 14, 2003 @10:22PM (#5306956) Homepage
      Well, I think a voting system with a voter-verified paper audit trail is probably actually better than having an open source voting system.

      Look at it this way, even if you can see the source code for the voting system, you cannot be assured that it is installed, configured, and working properly in an actual election. Further, most of the population would have no idea what to do if they had the source code. The source code is no substitute for votes being actually recorded to paper, verified by the voter, and dropped in the ballot box, and with actual paper votes, the source code becomes somewhat moot, since you can see what you are voting for.
      • Or, in other words, just drop all the high-tech crap and go back to paper ballots. _Seriously_. It is not only necessary that the voting system be secure, it is necessary that it be seen to be so by ordinary citizens.
        • Re:Closed-Source? (Score:3, Insightful)

          by GnrcMan (53534)
          Almost.

          I think technology can be beneficial in making voting more accessable. By having an easy to use computerized voting kiosk which prints a paper ballot that can be hand checked by the voter, you get the best of both worlds!
          • Re:Closed-Source? (Score:2, Insightful)

            by SN74S181 (581549)
            Do you mean a voting booth with an electric typewriter in it?

            Otherwise, I don't know what you mean. 'Look, a shiny piece of paper with who I voted for on it' says the voter. Meanwhile, what went out over the wire, nobody is certain....
            • Re:Closed-Source? (Score:3, Interesting)

              by GnrcMan (53534)
              Nope, the kiosk prints a ballot, which is inspected by the voter and deposited in an official ballot box. The kiosk *might* transmit priliminary results, but the official vote is the printed one.
          • Re:Closed-Source? (Score:2, Insightful)

            by frdmfghtr (603968)
            Agreed...in my home voting precinct the old optical ballot scanners are used. Use a computerized kiosk, but print the completed ballot for record-keeping/auditing purposes with no personal information on the ballot...perhaps printed with magnetic ink in a machine-readable form for quick, error-free scanning and comparison to the machine tally. One could even print a receipt for the voter should they so desire one.

            With all the millions of checks processed every day in a similar fashion, why can't magnetically-enhanced ballots be tabulated the same way?
      • Ah but right now the voter can look at the system it's intended to be transparent as posible with oversight by the parties involved. Closed source stops some of that. There is nothing wrong with this they dont have to liscence the code for redistribution just publicly avalible source protected by copyright.
    • I'll say pretty much what another responder already said. Auditable votes pretty much circumvent the problems spawned from abuse possible with proprietary voting software. What I really like the technical community getting more involved with voting software, and open-source might inspire this more-so, is the possibility that one day we may no longer use this antiquated electoral vote system. To be more explicit at the risk of being a bit off-topic, every vote should count directly. If I'm in a Democratic state, I should be able to vote Republican and my vote not be ignored by my state's electoral votes. With the general community getting involved with the software, the system may be more prone to mutations over time, especially as the technical, more computer literate community starts to fill seats in the government. Pardon my rambling :)
      • Re:Closed-Source? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by istartedi (132515) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @12:48AM (#5307360) Journal

        The electoral system isn't "antiquated". If the founders had intended the electoral college members to be nothing more than courriers, they could have easily done that. They didn't.

        Ironicly, the electoral system serves to make sure that people are counted. Without the electoral system, nobody would bother to campaign in New Hampshire. Is it unfair that voters in rural New England have such a disproportionate impact on the election? In a sense, yes. However, it's the price that we pay for not having a country dominated by New York and LA with everybody in the middle pissing and moaning about how the City Slickers run everything, and deciding to secede from the Union.

        The system failed once, resulting in a little fight you may remember from history... unless you were taught in a public school or something.

        What's really interesting is to look at an electoral map of the 2000 election. Do that, and you see that while the majority of the *people* voted for Gore, the vast majority of the *country* voted for Bush. So, in most parts of the country people are happy. It's just the City Slickers that are pissed, and they aren't allowed to buy guns so who cares? :)

    • Re:Closed-Source? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by geekee (591277) on Friday February 14, 2003 @11:15PM (#5307118)
      All the punch card reader systems so far have been closed source. Plus mechanical voting systems makers don't provide blue-prints. Why the sudden outcry now that the machines are more modern?
    • I would recommend checking out this story, in which Senator Hagel Admits owning the Voting Machine Company [scoop.co.nz] that runs the elections in his state, Nebraska.

      Completely coincidentally, Nebraska has a new law that prohibits election workers from looking at the paper ballots, even in a recount. The only machines permitted to count votes in Nebraska are ES&S.

      And completely coincidentally, Senator Hagel has won recent elections by surprising margins. See also this capitol hill newspaper report [thehill.com]

      there's more to this, but I can't find the links yet.

  • Privacy... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mmol_6453 (231450) <short.circuit@ma ... m ['t.c' in gap]> on Friday February 14, 2003 @09:59PM (#5306889) Homepage Journal
    ...Can only be possible with a sort of one-way encryption of a code, such as an md5sum. I'd hate to be able to have a vote traced back to me.

    The next issue will be how to let the voter verify his vote (in the case of a recount, or contested count) without being identified as having voted one way or another.
    • The next issue will be how to let the voter verify his vote (in the case of a recount, or contested count) without being identified as having voted one way or another.

      MD5 will work here as well. After the person has voted, they are prompted for a phrase. Anything will do; it doesn't have to be unique, just something a few characters long that they can remember. This phrase is combined with the voter registration number and the combination encrypted to form a unique identifier which is then given to the voter. Now you have a receipt identifier that nobody but the person who voted knows is theirs. Furthermore, they can even verify that they haven't been given a duplicate receipt by performing the same encryption on their own later on. Now, all these receipt IDs and the registered votes are made public on a website. If you know your receipt ID or both your voter id (public) and code phrase (private) then you can find your vote and verify it. Since nobody else knows that a given receipt ID is yours (just don't give out your code phrase!), your privacy is secured. Transparency with anonymity.

  • by sls1j (580823) on Friday February 14, 2003 @10:01PM (#5306896) Homepage
    If there so worried the voting software is closed source, why not start and open source project?
    • why not start and open source project?

      I can see the retirees in Florida now as they try to enter their vote:

      [voter@miami-booth-323]$ vote -T Republican -x senate:Reno, mayor:Phillips -p 32:yes, 47:no
      vote: Invalid paramters.
      [voter@miami-booth-323]$ vote --help
      Vote for candidates.
      USAGE:
      vote [-kKeiAvcIJx [-T party] [[-xkjJT] office:(name|party) [,...]] | [-qET] propnum:(yes|no) [,...] ] ...
      [voter@miami-booth-323]$ man vote
      No manual entry for vote
      [voter@miami-booth-323]$ apropos vote
      vote: nothing appropriate
      [voter@miami-booth-323]$ info vote
      This is the top of the INFO tree
      ...
      [voter@miami-booth-323]$ crap
      bash: crap: command not found
      [voter@miami-booth-323]$
    • EVACS [samba.org] is the electronic voting system that was available at our most recent local (think state) elections here in Canberra (.au). I went to a talk Tridge gave on it, and it was really interesting to hear the auditability and secrecy considerations they had to make (for example, no touch screens which can accumilate a halo of fingerprints around popular choices). In summary, a bootable CD distro runs a numbered keypad and monitor displaying a ballot paper. Each voter gets a barcode that enables the booth and is used as a checksum. The votes themselves get whacked onto an RDBMS server located at the polling station. At the end of the day, the server is securely moved to the tally-room just like any other ballot box. See Elections ACT [act.gov.au] for more info on how it went.

      Xix.

  • by argoff (142580) on Friday February 14, 2003 @10:03PM (#5306900)
    I honestly half to say I'm not too concerned about the absoluteness of democracy (for lack of better wording). Democracy is not an end in itself, but a tool for protecting individual liberties - and like any tool it can be abused too. It's disgusting to hear people suggesting that if you don't like something isn't right in a democracy - you have no right to have any other recourse accept to vote.

    What's right and wrong, good and bad, truth or lie is not decided by popular vote or public opinion - but by observable facts that exist independently. What I hope happens is that new technologies "force" democracy to become more free even if it tries not to. EG, a voting popluace would never shut down the internet - but it may be impossible to stop free mp3's any other way. A voting population would never shut down ecommerce - but this would provide the infrastructure to avoid unjust tax even if the mob desperately tries to impose it.
    • What's right and wrong, good and bad, truth or lie is not decided by popular vote or public opinion

      I agree. Right and wrong are personal.

      What's right and wrong, good and bad, truth or lie is not decided by popular vote or public opinion - but by observable facts that exist independently

      Observable facts that are indepentant? Here's a link [alternet.org]. Scarey, huh?

      Sorry if this made no sense. This is a pist post.
      • Right and wrong are personal?

        So if I say that for me 'right' is luring strangers into the shed out behind my house and skinning them to make lampshades, that's 'right'?

        No. 'Right and wrong' are values a society holds in common. That's almost the complete opposite of 'personal.' It can be relative to the society that a person is a member of, but it's not personal.
  • by Shivetya (243324) on Friday February 14, 2003 @10:04PM (#5306905) Homepage Journal
    I understand the possibility of fraud and such... we had electronic voting here in Georgia this last election cycle and it did very well.

    If your disabled you can get assistance, and the machines can voice the choices as well for vision impaired.

    There is a review at the end of the voting processing asking you to verify the choices you made are accurately represented.

    Votes are transmitted to a central site and kept in the voting machines. They have multiple ways to prevent loss of votes due to power outages as well.

    What this all leading up to is, how can the suggestion of printing out votes at the end of the day be meaningful? If the voter isn't there to review their votes who decides that anything nefarious hasn't happened?

    If anything, a paper trail AFTER any voters have left is more of a risk that not having one. Suddenly you get back into the days of ballot stuffing, but instead now you just invalidate votes as needed. (or call for a new election, hoping your side turns out more this time).

    Electronic voting still doesn't stop dead people from voting either, they just file absentee ballots.
    • How do you know your system "did very well"?

      "Votes are transmitted to a central site and kept in the voting machines. They have multiple ways to prevent loss of votes due to power outages as well."

      That's the problem -- how do you know those votes were the actual voter choices? Couldn't the system just show you what you want to see, then corrupt the data on purpose or by error?

      We have electronic voting also, and it wasn't until I read that particular critique that I realize everything going well only meant that the machines didn't crash. Now I wonder if the machine isn't just humoring me.

      A paper receipt, with some kind of paper coded receipt retained by the machine, provides an audit trail. Without it, you're sunk -- although the vote will look orderly.... :)

      (There are more elaborate proposals for verification, but the good ones all seem to turn on paper. Ironic for the electronic age.)
    • "What this all leading up to is, how can the suggestion of printing out votes at the end of the day be meaningful?"

      They're not talking about printing out votes, they're talking about making sure that the company that provides this equipment isn't acting as some sort of black box. The petitioners in question want to make sure that the company in question not only tells everybody who won, but by how many votes, and the breakdown per ward/district (or even per machine).

      With that being said, let's compare the supposed benefits of computerized voting with Louisiana's statewide use of old-fashioned voting machines:

      "If your disabled you can get assistance, and the machines can voice the choices as well for vision impaired."

      Voting assistance is available no matter what the voting method is (including reading the choices available). However, older methods don't require commissioners to go through weeks/months of specialized training in order to properly use the equipment (which may even be different with every election).

      "There is a review at the end of the voting processing asking you to verify the choices you made are accurately represented."

      Votes on the old-fashioned machine aren't tabulated until you open the curtains by pulling the lever.

      "Votes are transmitted to a central site and kept in the voting machines."

      The old machines tabulate the results on their own, but the information still needs to be processed by humans across the district. On the other hand, the nature of the machines makes them much easier for candidate representatives to be able to observe the process and see for themselves that everything is above-board (without requiring a BS in Computer Science).

      "They have multiple ways to prevent loss of votes due to power outages as well."

      They are also the only voting method to date that actually requires electricity. Having redundant backups isn't as secure as not needing a backup in the first place.

      When all is said and done, it seems the benefits of electronic voting are questionable at best, while the costs of developing and implementing such systems are non-negligible (to say the least) and introduces more room for both error (paper and mechanical votes don't need a CRC) and fraud (keeping people off of miles of cable versus keeping people away from individual locked boxes).

      I still haven't seen any proposed electronic voting system that has anything more going for it than the Ferret Effect ("Oooh! Shiny!"). Nothing but propositions for spending thousands or even millions of dollars for no other reason than to let voters play with pretty touch-screens. The only politicians that seem to be pushing the idea are the ones that want to pretend that they're actually doing something useful.

      "Electronic voting still doesn't stop dead people from voting either, they just file absentee ballots."

      No, they don't. The credentials you need to present to get mailed an absentee ballot are exactly the same credentials you need to present to get allowed access to the polling machines. If you want to put computers at the polling stations, give them to the commissioners to verify driver's licenses and voter registrations with, not to the voters.
    • What they are talking about is having a
      computerized system *supplement* the tried
      and true ballot box mechanism. After you
      make your choices on the computer, it'll
      print out your ballot for you, which you
      can read in ink and then deposit in the
      lock box.
    • --I'm in georgia and I disagree with you 100%. The vote went FAST, it didn't go WELL. You, me, NO ONE in this state except a small handful of private parties knows how the real vote went. And said private parties have some verifiable ties to some partisan orgs. Early on in the morning there started to be a flurry of voting screwups reported,where the tally you mentioned DIDN'T jibe, in fact where a vote cast for candidate A went to B, something that seems outside the odds of probability given the simple nature of the code involved to register a hit someplace, I mean c'mon! there should have been ZERO mistakes. this is not an indicator of tested code that works as advertised, it's not super computer massive variable crunching we are talking about. This was reported even on drudge,I left at 1 pm to go vote, got back a little after 2 or so, and it was POOFED within that time and was minimalised and barely talked about during the evening, then the story disappeared. It was dismissed. And we had the first mass reversal in the governorship since the civil war, and this is to be taken as a coincidence? And there was a lot of pre and post polling that didn't jibe as well with the 'results". I'm neither a D nor an R,so I don't got a dog in this fight, but I just slap don't believe it. And I'll repeat, you do NOT know the vote went well, whether it was accurate, or whether or not it was rigged anyplace. There's no way to look in an empty ballot box in the morning to see it isn't pre stuffed (traditionally the first person in line in a precinct, I have done this myself). There's no way to look at the full box and see what the count is beyond believing what they say the count is, or to be more accurate, what it spits out at you.

      When I did my complaint, they shuffled me off on the phone to some private voice on the phone who wouldn't even identify where he was to me. He wasn't even a governmental employee by his own admission. They refused to let me even talk to anyone who was a state of georgia official, I got the classic help desk with no answers shuffle. I said flat out it was closed source, no way to verify it, there was a high probability of fraud and certainly the potential for abuse, and the guy got indignant, but he KNEW I was stating the truth.

      We HAD paper ballots, they WORKED perfectly ok and were not hard to figure out, and no "hanging chads" possible, it was fill in the bubble next to the vote. Any call for a recount can be done by any citizen at the end of the voting day following normal procedures in front of witnesses, regular old eyeballs still work. The ballot boxes were paid for, like 100 years ago or something, there was NO NEED to spend millions of dollars on this OTHER than to use smoke and mirrors razzle dazzle to fake out the rubes with the "new and improved computerised voting" "Look how easy it is! The computer does all the work!" The talking laquer heads on the boob toob were having near orgasms over it, another red flag for me, whenever the controlled press is "for" something I smell a rat,because a rat has always shown up in the past when they acted like shills and not newspeople. Phooie. they sold these scam voting machines the same way they sold over hyped stocks during the bubble, they shilled them. I saw the "public information" ads, I still got my flyer they sent to voters touting how cool it would be. double phooie.

      Color me suspicious as hell, as far as I am concerned the vote got hijacked in an extremely sophisticated manner and hardly no one gives a squat about it. Georgia was their test state to see if they could get away with it in an entire state, they did, now it will go nationwide.

      Don't take this as a personal flame, but I just had to disagree strongly here. When I look around and see what else is going on, aww %^&*T! It's a duck, it looks like a duck it walks like a duck it's quacking like a duck it's a dang fascist junta takeover. This "vote" scam just fits in with all the other bush-wa that's going on.

      This is my second reply in the thread, but I am gonna drop this link again anyway, I think the subject is important enough.:

      Votescam [votescam.com]

  • by Lord_Pall (136066) on Friday February 14, 2003 @10:06PM (#5306911)
    http://www.bestoftheblogs.com/2003_02_05_bestof.ht ml#90279110

    This is an article about Chuck Hagel who is a nebraska representative. He ran for office and won in a very close run off, and controls a large interest in the private company that counted the votes in his runoff election.

    The majority of the information in the above blog came from http://blackboxvoting.com/, which is a book about the future of electronic voting.

    Just some fairly creepy stuff that's turned me off towards any sort of private computerized voting.
  • by wackybrit (321117) on Friday February 14, 2003 @10:09PM (#5306918) Homepage Journal
    The problem here is that a paper trail is too easy to for other people to read.

    Elections in Western countries are meant to be by secret ballot, people. That means your vote is anonymous. Why? Because people don't want other people knowing who they voted for. If someone voted for the 'Kill All Geeks' party, that's their right, and you can't condemn them for their vote (although you can certainly condemn them for their actions).

    The best alternative solution to a paper trail would be to use a secure database that has public access. That is, members of the public can run a set of limited commands on it.. like

    SELECT COUNT() FROM votes WHERE party='republican';

    Or

    SELECT COUNT() FROM votes WHERE state='alabama' AND sexuality='gay';

    That way, the populace can access the database over the net and query it by SQL, checking the validity of the votes.

    Preferably you'd use a proprietary database system to store the votes, as then you can be sure security is not compromised. A paper trail just opens up a whole bag of communist ghouls.
    • by stripmarkup (629598) on Friday February 14, 2003 @10:34PM (#5307007) Homepage
      Suppose N people decide to vote on an issue. For simplicity, let's assume that the vote is A or B. You pick a random number that only you know. In order to vote, you add your number and your vote to a list. At the end of the election, the paper trail is shown:

      1928787: A
      7483978: B
      1662656: B
      ...
      etc.

      Along with a tally of the votes. Every voter can verify that their number is followed by their vote. You don't know what the other random numbers correspond to, but if yours was 1928787 you know that your vote is there and was counted as 'A'.

      This is the basic idea. There's more to it of course, but it can be done.
  • Hear hear! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 14, 2003 @10:12PM (#5306924)
    It's not a vote if I can't hold the ballot in my hand, look down and see "Al Buchanan" in the PRESIDENT column and say "1 for Al!".

    The ballot needs to be:

    Machine generated from a touch screen like device.
    Machine and human readable.
    Signed so as to be verifiable.

    The ballot reciept, that's placed into the voting machine, is a random private key, handed to the voter before voting that is used to sign the ballot and ensure integrity. The voter can then take the receipt/key with them and use an Id number to check that their vote was actually tallyed.

    This allows machine counts of paper ballots. It allows manual, human auditing of ballots and tally. It allows machine and human recounts of the ballots. It preserves the voting record for the election on something besides magnetic media. It allows "quick summary" for those willing to rely upon the stored, machine versions of the votes before physically counting the ballots.

    This is the only way. You MUST have a piece of paper you can go back to and find a vote. Anything else is simply unacceptable.

    And, no, it's not over the internet, but we know that will never fly anyway.
  • by originalhack (142366) on Friday February 14, 2003 @10:13PM (#5306929)

    The fundamental issue is as follows....

    Consider 2 elections. In one, you and I and everyone else have exactly a 75% chance of having their votes counted. In the other, the affluent young technocracy has a 99% chance of having their votes counted and the poor, old, or low-tech population has a 95% chance of having their votes counted. At first blush, the seond electiuon sounds more fair, but it is very clear that the first is totally fair and the second is terribly biased.

    The problems in recent elections were not caused by technological failures. Dangling chads and the like are just a smokescreen and the recounts bore that out. The problems in elections are a lack of uniformity within the areas in which votes are pooled. Since the votes for president are done by electoral votes rather than popular vote, it is not necessary to have the entire country have identical machines and ballots, but this does need to happen at the state level. When I walk into my polling place, I should see an identical machine to every other voter in the state (randomly selected from the state pool). All the state ballots should be identical to every other ballot in the state. All the county ballots should be identical to every other ballot in the county, etc....

    To do otherwise not only fails to solve the fairness problem, but it disinfranchises people for whom a mouse is a household pest.
  • by semios (146723) on Friday February 14, 2003 @10:20PM (#5306945) Homepage
    What scares me is the fact that Electronic Gambling Machines have more oversight than these Electronic Voting Machines. Gambling institutions that provide electronic gaming are subject to random searches where the eeproms will popped out and verified that no tampering has been committed.

    However, when it comes to protecting the foundation of democracy we can't even be given access to the source code as it is a "trade secret." Here's an example [sweetliberty.org] of this privatization of democracy:

    In the West Virginia case [where an election supervisor, a candidate, a prosecutor, a county commissioner, election workers and the voting machine vendor were all sued by a group of candidates who believed that they had been cheated in the election], although the criminal charges were dropped, the judge had not allowed the jury to see a demonstration by the plaintiff's attorneys' computer expert, Wayne Nunn, PhD, a project scientist for Union Carbide who had designed multimillion-dollar computer networks.


    After a nine-hour examination of the CES (now Business Records Corporation) computer system in question and in the presence of the CES president, the system's programmer, and others,

    "Nunn, with one punch card, added ten thousand votes to the total of one of the candidates in a mock race for president". [ The New Yorker , November 7 th 1988, p. 68]

    Nunn subsequently gave a deposition under cross-examination and revealed seven ways in which the system could be deliberately caused to miscount votes, including by manipulation of the toggle switch on the front of the machine to alter vote totals and by inserting a set of secret Trojan Horse commands into the source-code software as described earlier. So it can be done. But can it be detected and prosecuted?

    A methodical expert analysis of the company's source-code could have been the key to determining the existence of fraud, but CES officials asked presiding Judge Charles H. Haden II, of the United States District Court, to block Nunn from inspecting their code on the basis that it was a "trade secret". Ultimately, the judge ordered that Nunn alone be allowed to view it, but without the computer he needed for a proper system analysis.

    Nevertheless, he discovered "trap doors", "wait loops", and Christmas trees" which could all serve the same end of undetectable vote fraud. According to the New Yorker's Ronnie Dugger, after viewing the code for several hours,

    "Nunn was prepared to testify that a ?debugger' in the BT-76 program, while enabling a programmer to make repairs in the program, was also a Trojan Horse; Haden excluded such testimony".

    Nunn was allowed to testify that "he had concluded that the program had been altered during the counting".

    The jury was also barred from seeing Nunn demonstrate how he could alter the vote count.

    The case of Wayne Nunn being allowed to examine the proprietary source-code of the CES system is an extraordinary exception. The fact is that very few individuals outside of the computer vendors have ever been allowed to inspect the source-code of that or any other election equipment company. This was confirmed by Eva Waskell, the director of the Elections Project at Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility in a 1993 report entitled "Overview of Computers and Electors".

    Many court cases involving allegations of fraud were brought against vendors of electronic systems. There were no convictions. Was there ever any proof of tampering presented? No. Part of the reason for this may be that during the litigation the plaintiffs were never given access to the vote tabulating program, and hence there was no opportunity for anyone to establish evidence to either prove or disprove the allegations. [Emphasis added]

    We should point out that even if the court allowed the plaintiff's experts to inspect the source-code, there would be no proof that the code provided to the court was, in fact, the selfsame code used in the particular election in question. Federal election officials say that a few states are mandating that the source-code be placed in escrow so that it could be examined in the event of a particularly "fishy" election result.
  • The idea of a piece of voting software that is closed and proprietary in a society that uses said software for "accountable" election results to determine the future governing bodies composition of a "open free" society is preposterous.

    No such system can be designed, furthermore, no such system could be trusted.

    Any voting system should be free, source code reviewed by all, understood by all, and more importantly constantly reviewed by all for honesty.

    The obvious moral foundations upon which Democracy stands has, I would hope, easily indentifiable conflicts of interest with Capitalism if such a system is built by a private company.

    A consortium of developers BASED IN THE US should build such a system by US citizens.

    Capitalism is great, but I don't believe the system is morally appliable to every endeavor.

    Some exceptions would definately be a voting system, and medical and drug treatments.

    The former because there is no price you can put on the honesty of a voting system, the former is the fact that most drug companies would rather develop a pill you take every day for your condition rather than cure you.

    After all, cures in a Capitalistic medical system are contrary to profit. Cures kills your market, so conditions are never cured, they are only corrected between pills till you $$$ order a refill.

    And you thought your doctor was trying to help you with that medication didn't you? Tsk tsk you poor fool.

    Same thing with a voting system. Thought your vote actually was recorded? You poor fool, I put a back door in the program and Sadaam Hussein is almost guranteed to win.

    -Hack
  • by willpost (449227) on Friday February 14, 2003 @10:21PM (#5306955)
    The Code_Red worm has won by 7907980734278934 votes!
  • by 403Forbidden (610018) on Friday February 14, 2003 @10:25PM (#5306965)
    They arn't looking for ways to detect rigging, they are just looking for a way to idiot proof it.

    The udder simplicity of this problem, and how complicated people are making it, is staggering... A simple touch screen which returns who the voter wants, then print in the name on a piece of paper in a specified font so another computer can read it. Of course the typical "are you sure" messages are thrown in there somewhere and vola! computerized voting...
  • by djupedal (584558) on Friday February 14, 2003 @10:36PM (#5307014)
    ...when it comes to proper vote management, we're no better than many smaller and supposedly less advanced countries. Next time we blast rhetoric at Slobservia or Nigrosso for corruption in their political systems, we may need to recall our own ineptitudes. Why is is so hard for us to reliably cast and count votes?

    I don't really want answers to that, thanks.
    • "Why is is so hard for us to reliably cast and count votes?

      We have trouble counting votes. They have trouble not holding a gun to peoples heads and telling them to vote a certain way.

      How are the two similar again?
  • by Catbeller (118204) on Friday February 14, 2003 @10:41PM (#5307025) Homepage
    1. Any voting system running on proprietary code should be assumed to be rigged.

    2. Some of the companies that make such systems (Diebold) are affiliated with far-right wing politicians.

    3. Paper audit trails do not exist. Without an audit trail, the only recount available is done by software provided by the manufacturer. Worthless.

    4. In at least one state, which one escapes my memory at the moment, it is unlawful for any agency except the manufacturer of the machines to recount votes made on the machines.

    5. A far-right wing ex-talk show host, now a congressman, was the primary shareowner of one of the voting machine manufacturers.

    6. Exit polls have become unreliable for the first time in history. Election outcomes no longer match exit sampling. Why? Either the voters decided suddenly, en masse, to lie to exit pollsters, or mathematics have ceased to function, OR the vote tallies have been tampered with. I'd go with Occam's Razor: the tallies are being altered, just enough to win; not enough to be ridculously obvious.

    7. The Florida mess. I remark on this only in passing, for I saw it mentioned by another poster. There was no mess: there was a close race, and a recount was needed. As the Floridians were proving, a perfect hand recount was easily done. But they were stopped from doing so by a partisan, panicking Supreme Court majority. Not that the thousands of operatives flooding the courts and the media weren't slowing it down to a crawl -- staged riots, lawsuits, arguing extensively over each ballot -- anything necessary to stop - that - recount. The Supremes had no legal precedent to do what they did. Constitutional scholars almost unanimously denounced the decision as BS. But they did the job.

    And yes, BS headlines to the contrary, Gore won by actual votes counted. If overvotes ("Gore" written in, and also punched) were to be counted, and they would have been, Gore won handily.

    And to my mind more importantly, if the military overseas votes postmarked after 11-07-00 had been disqualified, instead of illegally approved, Bush would have lost. Lieberman should be denied a shot at the crown just for caving on that point. those votes were sent in by Bush supporters after the close election was over, for the sole purpose of tipping the scale. Disgraceful.

    But to report this would be to invalidate the Bush support shown in the media in Dec. 2000, and shown Bush to be a manipulator and a sham.

    8. Back to point. Automated systems are fine -- but some say: a paper ballot should be printed out whenever a voter uses an automated machine. The ballot should be filed just as the hand-punched ones are today. In case of recount, the paper should be matched to the counts in the automated systems.

    But here's the kicker: if the voter never sees the paper backup, how will the voter know the vote was accurately recorded? The software could mark Danny Fatcat on the file and on the printout, and the voter who voted for George Orwell would never know it.

    The only way around this would be if the voter could review the printed audit ballot before the vote is committed. What if it doesn't match? What is the recourse?

    And what is the use of an automated system if there is a voter review of a printed ballot? Better just to use the paper ballot and run it through a scantron.

    * I don't think an automated system can be anything but rigged. The far-right ideologues in the U.S. are far too fanatical not to get involved in the manufacture and operation of these machines. It's a matter of God's will, the defeat of evil, the end of the world itself. If they can shave off a few thousand people from the Florida rolls because they have similar names to lawbreakers in other states, they can do just about anything. This is a war, and they intend to win it.
    • 1. There's a difference between "closed source" and "secret source". Commiting vote fraud would require compliance from developers and managers. Certainly more than one person would have to be involved. If you are thinking that perhaps a rogue developer with access to the source could nudge the results, than yes, that's a possibility--but it's a possibility that doesn't jibe with the conspiracy theory that you include in your enumeration...

      2. Some of the companies have far-right idealogues at the helm. What about the rest? Fair-minded moderates all? I doubt it. It seems likely to represent the full spectrum.

      3. Audit trails have never existed because if they did, the ballot wouldn't be secret. The voting system has alway relied on the integrity of poll workers. Polls are usually staffed by volunteer members of both major parties. I'm not sure what the qualifications are for 3rd party poll workers, but I'm sure they can volunteer too, and are not being routinely denied.

      4. If somebody other than the manufacturer of the machine recounts the votes, they are no less likely to impose their bias on the outcome than the manufacturers are to impose a bias.

      5. What are you implying about Congressman X? Why won't you identify him? Perhaps because you know it would be slander--you have no hard evidence to convict or even indict Congressman X of any wrongdoing.

      6. According to sources readily available online, the "Voter News Service" exit polling mechanism was shelved due to faulty analysis in a computer program (!). Other search engine results indicated problems with exit polls in India. What is the right-wing conspiracy doing in India? Huh? There appears to be some consensus that exit polling is historicly unreliable. If that's the case, it would be even worse in a close election.

      7. A final analysis widely published showed that Gore would have won if and only if he had requested a state-wide hand recount. All other methods (IIRC, 8 methods were proposed) resulted in Bush victory. Gore thought he could ensure victory more easily by focusing on only counties where he thought he had the best chance--not exactly the action of a man interested in fairness alone. Had he requested the state wide hand, it might have been harder to argue that the Dems were trying to "gin up" votes in favorable counties. I don't recall what the players who made the decisions said they would have done if a request for statewide hand was made at the outset. If the answer was "yes, we'd have granted it" then Gore would have won, OTOH if the regulations spelled out recount procedures and the conditions failed the criteria for a statewide hand, then Gore still would have lost (assuming state regs were followed).

      8. At the time of voting, the machine generates 2 unique random numbers (Public and Private) for each voter. The voter receives a printout with both random numbers and his votes on it. At the end of voting, a list is published containing (for each voter) the first random number and the votes. Individual voters can find their public number and verify their votes (as well as use a spreadsheet to tally election results themselves if they are so inclined.). The number of people voting at each polling place is also published.

      A vote cannot be changed after the fact unless the voter presents his receipt showing a discrepancy. If this occurs at the polling place, his vote is voided and he tries again. If this occurs after election day, the voter visits an ATM-like terminal (this is no less anonymous than a voting booth) where he enters his public and private keys, and re-votes. The voting receipt is obviously an important document you don't want to lose.

      In the unlikely event that a polling place records more votes than poll workers note in their logs, this indicates possible vote fraud. It may be necessary to re-vote at that polling place, but I think somebody more knowledgeable about these things could come up with a better solution.

      Can a closed system be made that is verifiably not rigged? You bet.

      • At the time of voting, the machine generates 2 unique random numbers (Public and Private) for each voter. The voter receives a printout with both random numbers and his votes on it. At the end of voting, a list is published containing (for each voter) the first random number and the votes. Individual voters can find their public number and verify their votes (as well as use a spreadsheet to tally election results themselves if they are so inclined.)

        This also means that anyone else can request a voter's public number and ensure that the voter cast his ballot the way he was blackmailed to do. Perhaps it's worth giving up secret ballots to prevent vote tampering, but there ought to be a better way.

        The number of people voting at each polling place is also published.

        It would be nice to have some way of verifying this, too; your random number scheme prevents tampered machines from deleting or altering votes, but not from adding votes.
    • "Election outcomes no longer match exit sampling. Why? (...) the tallies are being altered, just enough to win;"

      You forget to mention the possibility of "The sampling methods used are flawed." This should always be the first suspicion whenever statistics are involved.

      "a perfect hand recount was easily done"

      No, it isn't.

      An example: A particular ballot for a single office has a cleanly-punched hole for Candidate A, and a flawed vote for Candidate B. It can be a hanging chad, a "pregnant" chad, whatever.

      What does it mean? Did the voter intend to vote for A? Was the voter about to accidentally vote for B and realize their mistake? Or did the voter intend for two votes as some sort of message to the candidates ("To hell with both of ya!"). Or was the vote for A an accident and the flawed vote for B the true intent of the voter? And when deciding all this, keep in mind that you, above all, are a human being and likely have bias (however small) towards one of the two candidates.

      Multiply this by several hundred thousand.

      "But they were stopped from doing so by a partisan, panicking Supreme Court majority."

      You're demonstrating that bias I just mentioned.

      All high court decisions (state or federal) are simply one of the following two options:
      • "X is wrong. Fix it."
      • "X is not our problem. Complain to the legislature."
      The recount was actually stopped by the United States Constitution, which requires that the electors cast their votes by a certain day. This deadline is written there in order to make sure that the whole process moves forward without getting bogged down by candidates bickering about the voting process (such as re-counting or even re-voting until they get the results they're looking for). If Florida's electors were unable to cast their votes, nobody would have a majority of the electoral votes and the decision would have moved on to the House of Representatives like clockwork. For better or worse, there would be somebody sworn in on January 15 (and Florida would have had a say in the process no matter what, thanks to their large population).

      "Not that the thousands of operatives flooding the courts and the media weren't slowing it down to a crawl"

      Which is why there's a deadline to begin with. Article II, Section 1, third paragraph guarantees a solution to the problem.

      "The Supremes had no legal precedent to do what they did."

      Article III, Section 2 declares that the US Supreme Court has the judicial power in "all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution(.)" Article IV, Section 4 says that "(t)he United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government(.)" So the US Supreme Court is the correct (and only) court to be hearing appeals about how the Florida Supreme Court is interpreting the Florida Constitution and Florida laws.

      This may be the first time a case like this was heard by the US Supreme Court (which is all that saying "no precedence" means), but it certainly is the proper authority to be hearing such cases.

      "those votes were sent in by Bush supporters after the close election was over, for the sole purpose of tipping the scale."

      You assume and show bias.

      "But here's the kicker: if the voter never sees the paper backup, how will the voter know the vote was accurately recorded?"

      The same way it's been done for over a hundred years with the old switches-and-lever machines: The local elections commissioner signs off on the validity and operability of the machines, and representatives from all candidates are free to observe the process. The only difference is that now everybody involved will need a BS in CompSci.

      "Better just to use the paper ballot and run it through a scantron."

      Nope. As we saw in Florida, scan-tron and even punch cards aren't fool-proof. Really, the most fool-proof voting method I've seen yet are the old switches-and-lever machines which, unlike paper ballots of whatever form, physically prevent you from voting for two people for the same office at the same time. Electronic voting "succeeds" in the same way, but adds many more points of failure in the process.
  • Right on and I got an even better idea-recognize that computerised voting is the LAMEST idea that has happened lately. All it has done is automate the ballot box stuffing potential, and made it near impossible to verify any actual count. Voting is IMPORTANT, it shouldn't be EASY, it's not supposed to be like ordering a book from amazon, it's the most important thing a citizen does besides sit on a jury and you are supposed to think about it, take it serious, and go do it. Yes, you should go stand in line,and mark your paper ballot. I filed a protest at my precinct this last election over this, it was our first "computerised voting". It was dismal, the precinct officer was completely clueless, was not even able to understand the concept of it getting programmed (and stuffed) in advance,with no way to verify it. She kept telling me, "no, it's flawless, if there's a dispute, we just rerun the tabulations!"

    homer sez DOH!

    I got my "voted" sticker, it has a little iconized computer pointing at itself, with the caption "I voted!". THAT'S RIGHT, the $%^**ing COMPUTER voted, I got no way to tell if I voted.

    Background to some important information for USians:

    votescam, the stealing of america [votescam.com]
  • Paper still best (Score:3, Interesting)

    by teeth (2952) on Friday February 14, 2003 @10:51PM (#5307054) Homepage
    Here in the UK we have a ballot system with an excellent paper trail and a near perfect validation protocol.

    Each voter is given a (numbered) balot form with one column of candidate names and one (mathcing) column of empty boxes into which may be entered an apropriate mark ("X" or numerically ordered preference) to indicate voting preference.

    The votes are sorted, and the sorted votes counted. This is done manually.

    Any disputed votes are examined by the returning officer and representatives of the candidates and assigned or discarded by cocsensis.

    Whilst the numbering of the ballots, and the recording by hand on the master copy of the voters roll at the polling station of which ballot is given to which voter, may slightly compromise anonimity, it provides no convenient way to decern the vote of any individual.

    The cost of the occaisional employment of large numbers of tellers is almost certainly less than that of the various "automated" polling systems and the audit trail far superior.

    • A similar process is followed in Canada, perhaps because we adopted the British system. Representatives of all parties up for election are allowed to be present at the polling station to oversee the voting and counting procedures.

      Having been a scrutineer for the Liberal Party in Canada in the past, I can testify that this works. After the polls had been closed, counting the ballots for my riding took about two hours.

      The experience made me remarkably skeptical of the 2000 American election, and particularly the claims that it would take WEEKS to recount votes. Realistically, if it only takes an evening to count them in the first place, it shouldn't take more than a day or two to verify the vote count even under the most pessimistic projections. Any system that requires significant time to verify voter intentions is desperately flawed.
  • by 3-State Bit (225583) on Friday February 14, 2003 @10:57PM (#5307067)
    ...that a resolution "endorsed by computer scientists" does not propose an instant run-off system, whereby each voter ranks the candidates in order of her preference. (She can vote traditionally by ranking only one candidate 1, and no one higher).

    The benefits are enormous. The system is much less open to manipulation, and it is basically the only way for minority voices to be heard.

    One cannot overemphasize the fact that today a rational voter will always choose the lesser of two evils, without considering candidates that are not evil, based on the mathematics governing her vote.

    Let me repeat this: If you believe that a vote for the democratic candidate is a vote for evil, and you believe that a vote for the republican candidate is a vote for evil, and there is a third candidate whose views you agree with precisely, and who you think could fulfill the office perfectly were she elected (but there is zero probability of this, as there was zero probability of Nader's being elected) then under today's system your only rational choice is to forego your preference for the third candidate and vote instead for the lesser of the two evils. That is, you will be rationally impelled to vote for a candidate with whom you do not agree, when a minority candidate exists who could better represent you.

    This is no less than mathematical extortion.

    You can either participate in a two-party system, or "throw your vote away." It is, in effect, a mathematical equivalent of having a voting booth in which you are to choose betweeen seven candidates by putting your token either into the republican ballot box, the democrtatic ballot box, or the trash.

    Everyone who voted for Nader in our last presidential election placed their vote in the trash, since there was zero probability of Nader's winning. (Exception: vote trading.)

    Read more about instant run-offs here [fairvote.org], or do a google search.
    • Instant Runoff Voting Problems [electionmethods.org]

      IRV is great for letting you cast "protest" votes for unpopular parties, but once a third party becomes popular you end up with the same strategic voting problems that plurality voting has. Don't get me wrong, sticking with plurality is insane, but IRV would be a placebo; we need approval or Condorcet voting instead.
  • Like encryption methods, it needs to be open so that everyone can see the possible problems, not just one opportunist. Something like this needs to be open to all interesed parties, which really means all voters in this case (not just a State Governor). This applies whether it is a manaul or electronic process.

    In my country (which has British based laws - similar to the USA) we have a federal authority which supervises the voting for all levels of government, which provides information to anyone that asks (debt collectors often track people down from the address they have on the electoral roll). This department is too big, beurocratic, and decentralised for bribes to make any difference. On several occasions courts have looked into allegations of vote rigging, and have easily found the anwsers. For a few years the government of my state had been decided by a few fake votes in one bye-election, but the court (at state level) discovered this. By the time this had happened, another election had occurred which changed the goverenment again. Abuse still happens, but it is easy to track down when it happens.

    Now, if you look at the current US system the biggest problems seem to be inconsistancy and verification of results. The results in Florida were a mess, and the court had very little to go on - and I'm sure even G.W. Bush would have been a lot happier if the results were clearer.

    • They were found because a whole lot of people that didn't belong in that electorate voted. How they actually voted is only known due to their membership in a particular party - not from the actual votes. It's very easy to establish a system that verifies votes at the polling centre level, while mainly protecting the anonymity of the individaul voter. This works in most places, however my the votes of my parents were determined in one small town, since they were almost the only people that had moved there in the last three years!

      Every democratic country has a famous election where even the dead vote. I believe that in the USA Truman was particularly popular with the dead.

  • by ktakki (64573) on Friday February 14, 2003 @11:13PM (#5307113) Homepage Journal
    Here in Allston, a neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, our votes were cast in a manner similar to many urban areas, with a mechanical voting machine older than I am, the kind that has a big lever that closes a curtain and a myriad small switches for selecting candidates or casting votes for referenda.

    I know that these machines have many drawbacks: they cost a lot of money to maintain, store, and "program", though I've always assumed that to "rig" these machines too commit wholesale fraudulent voting would be to time consuming and complex to pull off. Hence, I had a certain amount of faith that the lever I'd pull would actually correspond to the name on the paper strip, and my desired vote would be tallied. I know also that this faith was rooted in sentimentality; I'd accompanied my parents into machines just like that when I was a kid, back in the Sixties.

    Two elections ago, however, during a primary vote in September, there was a man at the polling place who was demonstrating a new system, produced by LHS Associtates of Methuen, MA, the "Accu-Vote" system. It used paper ballots, with small circles like on a standardized multiple choice test (like SATs, except without the need for the No. 2 pencil). There was an optical scanner that looked somewhat like a paper shredder, the kind that fits on top of a wastepaper basket. You fed the ballot through the scanner and it read the marks, ejecting the paper out the other end, into a bag, thus preserving a paper trail in case of a recount.

    I filled out one of these sample ballots. There were "joke" choices on the ballot, and I intentionally mis-voted, to see how fault-tolerant the system was. Under "Mayor", I placed a check mark in the box next to "Fiorello LaGuardia". For "Board of Cartoon Characters", I put a tiny dot next to "Bugs Bunny". Under "Superhero Committee", I filled in the box for "Wonder Woman", intentionally overfilling the mark, and for "Sports Authority" I filled two boxes, "Babe Ruth" and "Jackie Robinson".

    I went over to the company representative who was showing the demo system and handed him my ballot. He fed it into the machine and it was spit out the other side. Though I'd intentionally cast a faulty ballot, there was no indication that anything was wrong, and I showed him the marks I'd made, pointing out my screw-ups.

    "Well, this is just a demonstration," he said.

    "So, all this does is roll the paper through the mechanism?" I asked.

    "Um, well, it's just a demonstration."

    "You mean it's not a real machine?"

    "Right," he replied.

    "So the real machine would reject this ballot, right?"

    "I assume that this will be the case." He didn't sound too sure. At this point, the police who work the election detail started paying attention to our conversation. I guess election detail is pretty boring for them.

    "So who audits the code that runs this machine?" I asked him.

    "I don't know, maybe the Board of Elections," he said. "I can give you the name of the project manager. Maybe he can answer your questions." He wrote a name on the back of a business card. I took it and thanked him for his time. I called a few times but never got a callback, and I doubt I'd get a satisfactory answer.

    My fear is that it's trivial for this sort of machine to register a vote for Foo to actually be tallied as a vote for Bar. With the old mechanical machines, this sort of fraud would take days, considering the hundreds or thousands of machines and the dozens of people from the Board of Elections that set them up. However a "black box" system like Accu-Vote need only be programmed with fraudulent code once, after which that code is distributed to hundreds or thousands of EEPROMS or Flash cards or whatever the Accu-Vote uses to store its programming. The barrier to entry for wholesale voting fraud has been lowered, and if the winning margin is large enough, there will never be a recount.

    The Accu-Vote system was deployed for the November 2002 elections here in Boston. If there was a public hearing about this change from mechanical systems, I never heard about it, and I read the Boston Globe every day without fail.

    k.
    • I share your fondness for the mechanical lever machines that made a racket when you entered your votes for good. I went with my mother when she voted in them in San Francisco, and used them in Ithaca, NY when I lived there a few years ago. There was a great article a while ago in the Times about the machines, which evidently haven't been made for about 50 years, so coming up with parts is challenging. Some places refuse to give them up, even though the new glorified calculators costs less.

      Having moved around a bit, I think I've used just about every voting system, except most of these new-fangled things.

      It's great you got a chance to play with and verify the performance of one of the scanner. Optical scanners are one of the highest-rated successors to the punchcard, and many Florida counties were already using or switched to them after Election 2000. At least they do leave a paper trail, assuming cause for alarm was raised during the count. They are also much much much cheaper than the electronic kiosks that cost thousands. But as you saw, an innocent configuration error who cause serious problems, especially if it only affected some scanners. Technology sometimes just lets us do stupid things as much higher speed.

      You should try making a stink with the City Council (or whatever Boston uses, I'm blanking), write the Globe, that sort of thing. Your experience lends a catchy line to draw attention, something like "Resident Calls Election System 'Looney Tunes'" In my county, we have a system where you press a key and an LED lights up, then a big VOTE button enters the votes. I like using it, but you can imagine the auditability of that. Zero.

      Did the machine even catch that Fiorello LaGuardia is dead? ;-)
      • I did write a letter to the Boston Globe about this new voting system, but apart from their automated reply, there was no "human" response. They've actually printed a couple of my letters, like the time I took them to task for conflating the Tuskegee Experiment with the Tuskegee Airmen. The Globe's a pretty good paper, on a par with the Washington Post, but sometimes even they fall back on the bad habits of lazy journalists (note to Jon Katz: Junis says all is forgiven, please come home).

        Your link to the RISKS digest reminds me that I should submit this story to them; it's right up their alley, though RISKS seems to be more concerned with why the barn door was left open rather than preventing the horses from escaping.

        And Mayor LaGuardia might be dead, but I'll bet he still casts a vote for the Manhattan Borough President every few years. Long live Tammany Hall.

        k.
  • We are using the least accurate of possible voting systems, the plurality system. That is one of the reasons why the last election went the way it did. Our system is the worst possible, the one most likely to produce anomalies that do not reflect the will of the people. We need a preference-weighted voting system that prevents votes from being wasted if one's first choice candidate does not win. Like the "Borda Count" method. Many other countries are going this way. Most scientists and mathematicians agree.

    Do the math:

    http://www.princeton.edu/~matalive/VirtualClassr oo m/v0.1/html/lab6/lab6.html

    http://www.ctl.ua.edu/math103/Voting/4popular.ht m

    Or do a search for Borda Count on Google:

    http://www.google.com/search?q=%22Borda+Count%22 &b tnG=Google+Search&num=200

    Read the explanations above and then..Write your elected representatives..
  • As people have pointed out, the general public doesn't actually know what's running on the machines, open source or not, so open source is no better than closed source. If someone tampers with the open source, joe user won't know. What is needed is an independent govt agency that is tasked with verifies the voting machine works. This can be done by hooking the I/O into a separate tester, for instance, designed by a differnt group of people. The tester votes at a rapid rate, randomly casting votes at a fast rate until the number of votes cast is greater than the number of votes actually expected to be cast. The vote totals can then be matched to the epected values to see if the machines are working. Of course, neither machine can be networked to avoid tampering after the machine has been found to work properly. A paper trail is useful in case there is an unrecoverable hardware error, although redundant systems should make the probability of this event very unlikely.
  • by MacAndrew (463832) on Friday February 14, 2003 @11:35PM (#5307170) Homepage
    The RISKS forum/digest [ncl.ac.uk] has had many, many articles on the potential and actual snafus of electronic voting; I thing the topic is a special interest of the digest's editor. Although the contributors are very much a part of the technology world, the mood there is pretty virulently anti-electronic voting unless there are old-school audit features such as paper trails. Closed source software is regarded very skeptically.

    The most persuasive evidence is the actual experiences coming in from the field, around the planet. Many local governments are buying expensive new systems on surprisingly little information, and we may face problems like Florida's in no time -- but not actually realize it, for lack of auditing. I highly recommend flipping through the archive.
  • (Picks up unibomber manfististo pen)

    We have become a society that no longer has the time to "think" about the issues anymore. Paperboys are not out selling papers on the corner, nor are we having them delivered to our houses. Instead we are a society that has begun to transition from real to "virtual" content. Instead of waiting till the next day on the farm to get our news, we simply point a browser at cnn.com, or google news and recieve it at a moments notice. Even television is close to being replaced by the net as a source of news because it is an instantanious update that's up to the minute.

    The format of television will not disapear. It's function is to stream out so that your attention does not have to be directed directly towards it, as you would have to with a browser. Yet it's format is adaptable to the net, therefore it's only reasonable to note that this conversion will slowly take place over the next 15 years.

    Instantatious direct response to issues now facing canidates is giving them even greater power in directing their political policies. As soon as an issue is found out, a solution can be dispatched by the politician faster than has ever been possible.

    Unfortunately for %90 of the voting public, technology is not an issue because they do not understand what power it gives their representatives in this day and age. When they vote they go on the good faith that this canidate will fullfill their duties to their voters for the duration of the term. Unfortunatly we get bozo's in office, leeching off you, the taxpayer while completely trolling other counties/states.

    I think the best way to get electronic voting mainstream is to wait for the current generation of goverment to leave office. This may happen in another 8 years or so. So just be patient and wait. Since all the current canidates seem leery of electronic voting technology, our best bet is to put our votes on a canidate that wont look at it as a "black magic voodoo" ballot box.
  • by Gunzour (79584) <slashdotNO@SPAMtycoononline.com> on Friday February 14, 2003 @11:48PM (#5307199) Homepage Journal
    IMHO, any voting system, computerized or not, must meet the following requirements:

    - The voting must be anonymous.

    - There must be a backup method that allows for tallying votes if the primary method fails.

    - There must be a permanent audit trail to make recounts possible.

    - There must be no way to associate a specific ballot with a specific voter (yes, this is the same as "anonymous" above but I feel it deserves special mention).

    - Most importantly, the system must be designed such that its privacy and auditability are *readily apparent* to the *vast majority of voters*. You should not have to have a CS degree to be able to trust that your vote will be counted.

    To me, to meet this criteria, any computerized voting system must print paper ballots which the voter can read and then turn in to a separate vote-counting entity. The system which solicits your vote and prints a completed ballot must be physically and logically distinct from the system which collects your complete ballot and counts it. I don't think open source matters -- if it prints paper ballots and the casting and counting functions are separate, it is easy to audit its accuracy.
  • by m00nun1t (588082) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @12:02AM (#5307254) Homepage
    The problem with having a voting system based on open source code is we would end up with Cowboy Neal as President.
  • by sanermind (512885) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @12:10AM (#5307279)
    Normally, I'm not the conspiracy-theory type, tending more towards occam's razor and healthy skepticism, but This article [commondreams.org], on an admitedly rather left-leaning publication, if at all accurate in merely it's factual assertions, disturbs me to no end. And of course, there's no mention in the mainstream media.
  • by riptalon (595997) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @12:14AM (#5307289)

    While the use of proprietry software and the lack of a paper trail can't help, the problem appears more fundamental. It you turn elections over to private companies to run, which is really what you are doing if you use these voting machines, there are huge conflicts of interest. Take Senator Chuck Hagel [senate.gov] who won the last two elections, against expectations [bbc.co.uk], where 80 percent of the votes were counted using machines supplied and run by a company he indirectly owned [thehill.com].

    Even if there is no impropriety going on in this particular case, their is certainly the appearance of impropriety. The question of who makes, owns and runs the voting machines appears even more important than the software and proceedures used by them. Rather worryingly the use of exit polls in the 2002 election was almost non-existent [cnn.com], so there was no indepedent check on the results. Potentially the people who control the voting machines control the result of an election [commondreams.org].

  • A friend of mine related a story from one of his business associates.

    They were running a lottery in Eastern Europe. It was based on a computer lottery system, and a good deal of work was done to secure the system... Work was done eneirely off of the internet, and when it came time to run it, the programmer and the program diak were escorted by seriously armed guards (sub-machine guns and all). Once the lottery was run, the programmer and disk were returned to their 'safe' place.

    After a couple of rather 'coincidental' wins, some of the winners quieetly disappeared -- along with the programmer.

    When you can prove to me that a system is immune from willful mis-programming, then I'll accept a voting system without a paper trail.
    Until then.....

  • Note, that where I'm from (Australia) we vote with a pencil and paper so I guess I might be a bit of a luddite.

    The only benefit of electronic voting is speed of determining the results (ignoring vote from home over the telephone or internet for the moment).

    Currently the US seems to use machines for voting which punch holes, etc. That gives a paper trail, but makes the counting a bit error prone (as we've seen in the past :) due to machines being a little faulty sometimes.

    To me a good enough system would be a machine which you make your vote (via a touch screen for example) and it prints out a paper vote that you put in a box (just like with a normal pencil and paper vote) while also storing the vote on its hard drive or whatever.

    Then at the end of the election you can get a quick vote tally by getting vote counts from each machine and adding them up (that would be automated as well I assume, plug the machines into a (private) network and have them report their votes to a 'master' machine which tallies them).

    You make sure the tally is recorded seperately for each machine (maybe even split it up by conveniant time slots as well). The boxes into which paper votes went are also seperated the same way. Then you can manually tally the votes in a box to confirm the electronic count on the machine. Depending on your level of paranioa you could make that the official count, and the machine reported count just an "early estimate". Or you could randomly select boxes for hand counting and then comparison with the machine tally. Or you could select 'suspicious' or 'close' counts for the manual recount.

    I see no reason why the voter should get a receipt so they can check their vote - currently that doesn't happen (at least in Australia) and it would remove the anonymity that is essential to not getting your legs broken and kids murdered when your slip doesn't match the vote those big men with baseball bats told you to make.

    In my opinion, you might as well use machines to do fast counting. But since machines break, hard drives crash, coding errors are made, etc., you better make a paper copy of each vote for manual counting as well (heck, a powerout might make manual counting via candle light faster :)

    It's not fool proof. People can still cheat the system, but it doesn't add any additional ways that don't already exist.

    Of course we have a state election here (NSW) coming up in which the winner will be either the fascist police state Labor party who are planning on restrospectively overturning double jeopardy. Or the fascist police state Liberals (and Nationals in coalition) who want to extend the current police 'anti-terrorism' powers because the searching of premises and people without a warrant at the whim of the police officer isn't enough. So I might be easily convinced that voting doesn't matter anyway...

  • e-Voting (Score:4, Interesting)

    by krouic (460022) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @03:33AM (#5307722)
    The company I work for is currently preparing a bid for pilot project that will allow the citizens of the largest Swiss state to vote via Internet and mobile phone, along with the usual paper method.

    The main driver of the project is to increase turnover, especially for young citizen that are supposed to be more prone to vote via these "new" technologies.

    Our (swiss) laws already incorporate specific requirements regarding e-Voting, including the ability to audit the process, the security of the whole system and the secrecy of the votes.

    Swiss citizens usually have to vote or elect several times a year and the voting process is considered as mature, every step being supervised by committees containing members of different parties/lobbying groups.

    The voting registers are held at the local level, and are continuously updated every time a citizen moves in or out of the city, reaches the voting age or dies, and are crosschecked by the higher authority. Voting material and voting cards are automatically sent several weeks in advance to the possible voters, they do not have to register themselves or require anything. So by design, we have no dead people voting or minorities prevented to vote because they did not register themselves due to lack of information.

    e-Voting is considered here as a good thing, as it allows to streamline the counting process and should increase (our low) turnover by not requiring voters to physically present themselves to the voting booth (in some states, the majority of voters already use the generalized absentee (snail mail) voting process).

    I find it quite surprising that a large majority of the US "geeks" has such a mistrust in the electronic vote in particular, and the ability of their authorities to conduct a fair and lawful election in general. Aren't the USA supposed to be the most democratic country in this world ?
  • by cowbutt (21077) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @05:49AM (#5307958) Journal
    It seems as though a lot of work has been put into GNU.FREE [free-project.org], a package to enable Internet voting. I find it particularly interesting that the lead developer has essentially abandoned it after coming to the conclusion that Internet voting cannot be done in a way that's sufficiently safe enough to be entrusted with our democracies (or whatever they are these days...)

    --

Numeric stability is probably not all that important when you're guessing.

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