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Doubting Electronic Voting 485

Posted by michael
from the clickez-ici dept.
twitter writes "The NYT is raising the alarm on electronic voting. After citing expert opinion on the need for a paper trail, they then quote election officials and vendors who dismiss that opinion as the ignorant work of dreamers. The reporter titles his article, 'To Register Doubts, Press Here' and seems less than convinced."
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Doubting Electronic Voting

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  • Free mirror (Score:5, Informative)

    by Bendy Chief (633679) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @09:00AM (#5963658) Homepage Journal
    No reg, wheeeee....

    The article [nytimes.com]

    Bon appetit.

    • Re:Free mirror (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      For those of you who read french, check out these pages:

      http://www.ge.ch/chancellerie/e-government/e-vot in g.html

      You will discover, that in some less meticulous countries, e-voting has already been a reality.

      Thanks also to HP, which has earned a lot of taxpayers money for developing a closed-source voting system never to be used at a larger scale than a 1'000 soul commune....
  • by Anonymous Coward
    So perhaps they've never heard of printouts?

    My bank doesn't seem to have a problem with me transferring thousands of dollars electronically, but this reporter is nervous about voting?
    • ...but this reporter is nervous about voting?

      He's nervous, beause with electronic voting, a paranoid, warmongering lunatic may be able to fix an election, get himself voted in, and start an aggressive campaign of pre-emptive...oh wait.

      • Fixing elections with touchscreen voting isn't just a conspiracy theory. It happened in 2002 in Nebraska and Georgia. Read more. [commondreams.org]
  • Yeah right (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ishin (671694) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @09:01AM (#5963680) Journal
    We all saw what good a paper trail did in Florida in the 2000 USA presidential campaign. The problems run much deeper than just a paper trail in the USA. When people are cut off from voting by police roadblocks, and thousands of ballots are thrown away, or arranged in a confusing way to try to get people to vote for someone that they don't want to, there's more than just a paper trail problem.

    Unfortunately, the US government runs its own elections, rather than a truely impartial third party.

    Politics are a dangerous thing in America.
    • Re:Yeah right (Score:5, Insightful)

      by PhxBlue (562201) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @09:06AM (#5963721) Homepage Journal

      If you think politics in the United States is dangerous, check out the political situations in places like Ivory Coast. At least American citizens survive the voting process.

      • Re:Yeah right (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Ishin (671694)
        The main difference seems to actually just be that when someone disappears in the US of A no one knows what happened to them. Being a dissident in any country is dangerous. No less so since the new witch trials began. (all this terrorism stuff) And it gets more dangerously legal everyday with guys like Ashcroft at the country's 'justice' helm.
    • Re:Yeah right (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Dr. Bent (533421) <ben@[ ].com ['int' in gap]> on Thursday May 15, 2003 @09:17AM (#5963808) Homepage
      Unfortunately, the US government runs its own elections, rather than a truely impartial third party.

      "a truely impartial third party"? Like who? What organization is responsible enough to oversee the elections of the most powerful nation on Earth and yet has no opinion one way or another on how they should go.

      There is no "impartial third party". The U.S. electoral process isn't perfect but handing it over to Deloitte and Touche, or the U.N. or any other supposedly 'impartial' body is just going to make it worse. The best way to keep it legit is just to make the counters accountable.
      • "a truely impartial third party"? Like who? What organization is responsible enough to oversee the elections of the most powerful nation on Earth and yet has no opinion one way or another on how they should go.

        The Stonecutters? Uh, wait, never mind...
      • by DickBreath (207180) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @10:10AM (#5964312) Homepage
        "a truely impartial third party"? Like who? What organization is responsible enough to oversee the elections of the most powerful nation on Earth and yet has no opinion one way or another on how they should go.

        Microsoft.

        They would be truly impartial.

        They would also be truly secure and trustworthy.

        (Don't believe me, just read their latest press releases! So there.)
    • Re:Yeah right (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Local state governments run elections not the US government.
    • by YetAnotherAnonymousC (594097) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @09:31AM (#5963912)
      Unfortunately, the US government runs its own elections, rather than a truely impartial third party

      An important point, though: the Federal government does NOT run any elections, period. Elections are the responsibility of the states. This was done on purpose so that the federal government could not rig elections for itself. Of course, as we've seen in practice, federal intrusion in state business has become so commonplace that federal action frequently affects state elections, from Federal voting rights acts to the 2000 presidential election. Of course, the ends could be said to justify the means for much of this federal interference. But there is a legitimate states' rights/federalism argument to be made against any federal interference in state elections.
    • Re: Yeah right (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Black Parrot (19622)

      > We all saw what good a paper trail did in Florida in the 2000 USA presidential campaign.

      The sad thing about the 2000 Florida vote is that the problem was thoroughly preventable. The same problem showed up in the previous election and an investigative commission determined that the way to fix it was to switch to a different kind of voting machine without the established history of problems.

      Unfortunately, public officials didn't think getting those people's votes was important enough for the money it

    • Yea, our "horrible system" has created one of the most free societies in history. This horrible system beckons millions to our shores in pursuit of a better life, to live in a country where they actually have a political voice. This horrible system insures that no tyrant or dictatorship could ever take power. This horrible system protects the minority while respecting the majority.

      This horrible system helped my father escape a terrible life in a foreign land. This horrible system helped my father later fr

      • by HiThere (15173) * <{ten.knilhtrae} {ta} {nsxihselrahc}> on Thursday May 15, 2003 @11:33AM (#5965187)
        We had a great system. Unfortunately, it was based on having a frontier. It was based on accountability. Now both of those are missing, and the system is rapidly declining in quality.

        Without the frontier, you can't run away from an intolerable situation. (The frontier was hostile and difficult, so the only people who went there were those who found the system where they lived intolerable..for one reason or another.)

        Without accountability, one can't keep corruption in check. Without a check on corruption, trust rapidly falls. Without trust, economic growth first stagnates and then crumbles. (Well, technology is a strong preventative to that last...perhaps strong enough. Unfortunately, we'll see.)
      • by Simon Brooke (45012) * <stillyet@googlemail.com> on Thursday May 15, 2003 @05:30PM (#5968470) Homepage Journal
        Yea, our "horrible system" has created one of the most free societies in history. This horrible system beckons millions to our shores in pursuit of a better life, to live in a country where they actually have a political voice. This horrible system insures that no tyrant or dictatorship could ever take power. This horrible system protects the minority while respecting the majority.

        You know, it's very hard to tell whether you're being sarcastic, satirical, or serious. I hope you're not being serious.

        I don't know what it looks like from the inside, but those of us who don't live in the US look across the Atlantic and see a country where the head of state got in as a result of a fraudulent election run by his own brother; where civil rights are being progressively torn up and destroyed; which breaks solemn international treaties as if they didn't matter.

        Wake up and smell the coffee! It looks to the rest of us asi if a tyrant has very successfully seized power over you, as a result of a minority riding roughshod over the interests of the majority.

        As President Mugabe of Zimbabwe said, no foreign observer could possibly have found the last presidential election in the United States 'Free and Fair'. And he's a man who knows a lot about how to 'run' a democracy.

    • Re:Yeah right (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 15, 2003 @09:56AM (#5964148)
      actually, since I worked the Florida reelect and I am a lawyer who knows some election law, I can clear up some of the FUD you are spreading.

      The paper trail in Florida DID help. The issue there was what standard you would recount by. Obviously republicans wanted a strict standard, since they were ahead. Dems wanted a loose standard, since they were behind and controlled the most populous counties.

      The roadblocks story was shown to be baseless - the same with stories about police attacking people with dogs, etc.

      Explain about the ballots being thrown away - never heard about that. Unless you mean the 'lost' ballot box from an overwhelmingly republican district in New Mexico. Or maybe you meant the military ballots that were thrown out.

      Ballots arranged in a confusing way? Oh you mean the ones that the Democratic election officials designed in Palm Beach, that 10% of the retards making up the democratic voting block couldn't use properly.

      And actually, most of the time the elections work fine because both parties are involved. Polling stations are staffed by volunteers from both parties. It's only when the government doesn't give proper oversite, like letting the redneck assholes run polling sites in Mississipi - where blacks really are still kept from voting in some areas. Or letting the unions run the polling sites in Chicago where the Democrat gets 100% of all ballots cast, or California districts where more ballots are cast than there are registered voters.

      Ever seen the log book at an LA polling site - they let you walk in with no ID and simply sign a book saying you are an eligible voter. Most books will have at least one person named God, along with an assortment of John Does and various celebrity names.

      You want to see what is wrong with elections here? Try going as a monitor to an urban election site in Chicago or Houston or Boston? I have been physically threatened more than once acting as an official observer. For some reason, local political bosses did not like me objecting to them walking into the voting booth with everyone who came in. And they really didn't like me pointing out that the person trying to get a ballot had already voted an hour earlier. Even had him on video tape. But since they bussed him and and were paying him for each receipt he had, he was determined to vote early and often. But apparently my pointing that out was racist. Ahh, good times, good times.
      • Re:Yeah right (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Blue Stone (582566) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @02:01PM (#5966573) Homepage Journal
        What about the 80,000 non-felons [mostly black and Democrat] assigned felon status by Florida?

        The illegal requirement by the Govenor of Florida that those non-felons had to ask him for clemency to return their voting rights (that they already had) despite being barred from doing so, and the cover-up of this, afterward?

        What of the voting machines being tampered with so that in black regions, spoiled ballots were swallowed by the machine, without the voter being informed of the errors, while in white areas, they were returned for re-checking/submission? [see your retard accusation]

        Here's to the UN overseeing all future US elections!

    • Re:Yeah right (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Asprin (545477) <(moc.oohay) (ta) (dlonrasg)> on Thursday May 15, 2003 @10:47AM (#5964710) Homepage Journal

      We all saw what good a paper trail did in Florida in the 2000 USA presidential campaign.

      Think that's bad? Imagine being pissed off at the results, absolutely certain you got rooked, but not even having a way to TEST whether the results are valid. At least in FL2000 there was a paper trail to argue about. Don't think there's any possible way 63% of your town voted for Mickey Mouse for Mayor? Sorry, Chuck, but the 'puter got that same exact answer 327 times in complete recounts conducted over the last 6 seconds. What are you going to do: go door-to-door and ask everyone to tell you honestly how they voted?

      My biggest fear with electronic voting systems, however, is the ease with which their automation can be made universal.

      If you assume that everyone gets their voting systems from the same 2 or 3 vendors, you can rig an election if you figure out how to electronically compromise 2 or 3 systems, and you can do it with much smaller numbers of tampered votes in each district because the software only needs to tamper where the voting is tight. A few here, a few there and BAM, Dennis Kucinich is your president.

      (*shudder*)

      It's much, much more difficult to do that sort of thing without e-voting because each voting district makes its own rules, and implements its own counting system. You'd need to plant spies in each district you thought MIGHT be candidates for tampering, and even if you guessed right, you'd have to hoodwink Ethel in each one (she's been counting votes in this district as a volunteer since the 60's and has breakfast with the City Council every Tuesday as a concerned citizen.) You'd need to study and compromise **MANY** districts to significantly rig an election in this way.

      Don't get me wrong, it can be done, but it is difficult to inflict damage beyond a few isolated districts because the voting systems themselves aren't universal. Compromising a vote tally in Florida cannot automatically compromise a tally in California - they are separate systems, even if they use the same equipment. IMHO, Some things NEED to be slow and sloppy and messy. Proponents of electronic voting are ignorant of the capabilities and limitations of technology, and **grossly** **negligent** in their lack of understanding of the fundamentals of system design.

      That or they're "gettin' paid".

  • by AlabamaMike (657318) * on Thursday May 15, 2003 @09:03AM (#5963691) Journal
    Doubting electronic voting? After the last presidential election, I doubt paper voting. At least with electronic voting there's no "assuming the intent of the voter." Oh yeah, and we'll never have to hear "hanging chad, pregnant chad, and dimpled chad."
    A.M.
    I got your chad right here ;)
    • by Waffle Iron (339739) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @09:17AM (#5963806)
      After the last presidential election, I doubt paper voting.

      The problem wasn't paper voting. It was using another computer technology: punched cards. Punched cards are designed for a machine to read and write. The last election demonstrated that they are not good for humans to write (uncleanly punched holes) or read (no visual feedback).

      I see no reason to use any method other than marking a box with a pencil on a piece of paper. Use the KISS principle.

      • Waffile Iron wrote:

        I see no reason to use any method other than marking a box with a pencil on a piece of paper. Use the KISS principle.

        That's what Canada does [elections.ca], and it seems to work well for them. They even count their paper ballots surprisingly quickly [commondreams.org]. Granted, the US has different voting requirements than Canada, but it seems to me that having fast and reliable pencil and paper ballot counting is a "simple" matter of having a well designed procedure in place and a good management system to ensure i
    • At least with electronic voting there's no "assuming the intent of the voter." Oh yeah, and we'll never have to hear "hanging chad, pregnant chad, and dimpled chad."
      Lets take a hypothetical situation: A new computer voting system is implemented. However, one of the towns in which it is set up configures the equipment improperly, the result being that the votes are recorded incorrectly. With a paper ballot, it is easy to see, just by looking at the ballot, whether the equipment is operating correctly. If a computer is used, you only see what the computer recorded, whether it is right or wrong. The problem I see is that you could have thousands of votes tallied incorrectly with noone ever finding out about it.

      I do, however, see a computer solution that would be a hybrid of computer and paper ballots:
      you walk up to the voting booth and vote on a screen. The results of your vote is printed on a thermal paper ballot. The ballot has a barcode that a computer can tally, as well as a human readable area stating who and what you voted for. you put this into a box, where the barcode is scanned and the ballot stored. The results of the scan are displayed so that you can see that the scan was correct. This system would allow you to tally votes by computer, but the ballots would be stored, so that they could be computer or hand tallyed later. Also, verification would be provided to the voter that his vote had been tallyed.
  • by s20451 (410424) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @09:03AM (#5963698) Journal
    The best idea is not electronic vote casting, it's electronic counting. The most recent Toronto mayoral election used a ballot similar to those used in electronic test-scoring, where you use your HB pencil to fill in a blank. The votes were all counted within a couple of hours after the polls closed.

    If you wanted to avoid confusing the easily confusable, you could have a touch-screen system that prints a paper ballot, with the blanks ideally positioned for the electronic counters. Efficiency and a paper trail.
    • Well, if you're using an HB pencil, doesn't the old rule apply where you have to fill in the whole space? You might find, given the lack of voting prowess say, the people of Florida exhibit, that a lot of ballots get tossed aside just because of a minor mechanical error like that.

      Of course, you could always have a human backup for those ones.

    • by abbamouse (469716) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @09:21AM (#5963836) Homepage
      One of the problems uncovered in Florida after the whole election/chad fiasco was that even in counties with optical scanners, there were still significant overvotes and undervotes (spoiled ballots). What's even more interesting is that while the overall error rate was lower than that for punch ballots (no hanging chad to worry about), the errors were not party-neutral. It really did appear to be the case that those attempting to vote Democratic were worse at using the optical system. Electronic voting offers the prospect of error-checking and instant feedback while still keeping the vote secret. Of course, that doesn't mean we still don't have to worry about the technical and verification issues.
      • by CashCarSTAR (548853) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @09:27AM (#5963890)
        As someone who thought a lot about this BEFORE Florida 2000, I can tell you what the problem is/was.

        It's rather simple. Well-to-do areas tend to have voting methods with less % of error than more poor-class areas. Why is this I do not know, although I suspect it has to do with local property value rates, similar to education.

        There was a substantial difference in the methods of voting. What needs to be done, is that there needs to be one standard, that is both simple and reasonably verifiable. I go for the pen and paper ballot myself.

        • You're correct -- wealthier counties were more likely to have optical scanners instead of punch ballots, and therefore they had lower rates of error. But that's not the whole story. Even in the optical counties, errors were still disproportionately made by Democrats. Of course, the only ones we're sure of are the overvotes (marking a candidate and then writing in that ticket as well, thus spoiling one's ballot). Moreover, Gore never asked for a recount of overvotes, only the undervotes. Perhaps the Dem
        • In Michigan, a state-wide ballot form is used in all elections, and all districts use electronic vote counting machines as mandated by state law. The Michigan ballots are counted by Scantron-type machine and have been since (I believe) the 1992 presidential election.

        • Well-to-do areas tend to have voting methods with less % of error than more poor-class areas

          And what exactly is the scientific unit of measure for "X voting method is more accurate than Y"? Or is your statement based on the relative error rates of well-to-do vs. poor areas?

          If this is the case, then how do you know that it is the voting methods that are causing the error. Isn't it just as likely that a college educated "well-to-do" person is better equipped to understand the voting procedure than a high s
      • by jeff4747 (256583) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @09:35AM (#5963946)
        Here in NC, they have a way to fix that. When you turn your optical ballot in, they feed it through the scanner right then. The box will throw up a warning and reject the ballot if there's an overvote or other error reading the ballot, allowing the voter to make corrections.

        If there's an undervote, it assumes you don't care about that contest.
    • Just print the result when they vote. If they see an error, let the user correct the problem and print again, shredding the bad one.
    • I don't see why voting has to involve a slip of paper. Why not have a line of buckets, one for each candidate, and you drop a small token into one of the buckets (or more than one, depending on your electoral system). To preserve confidentiality there would need to be a slot through which you drop the token, to stop you reaching in and removing some or looking to see who's had the most votes so far. Then counting votes is just weighing the buckets (and checking for invalid tokens).
  • When we did it... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dcs (42578) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @09:04AM (#5963710)
    Here, when we tested a new electronic voting machine that registered all votes in paper (and allowed you to see your vote "paper trail" through a small window), people found it MUCH worse than the system used in the previous election (and much of the rest of the country in that election).

    Me, I think it was because the ads teaching people how to vote in the old machines were displayed nation-wide, *including* the places where the new system was used.
  • Whatever (Score:3, Insightful)

    by the-dude-man (629634) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @09:06AM (#5963717)
    Whatever, as if it has to be a private company doing the polling, and whats to say the code does not send the data directly, encrypted to a key generated by the goverenment, to the government? In that event the data couldnt be tampered with.

    I agree we need to take some precautions to safegaurd the electorial process...but that dosnt mean we cant use electronic means to poll. Just like there were concerns about the inital voting schemes, there are concerns about this one, but that dosnt mean we cant simply make desgin changes to ensure the integrety of the data. And since when has the government been MORE credible than the private sector? They have had just as many scandals, if not more.

    In any event, the answer is to simply design in safegaurds....not go back to older ways just because your scared of technology...please
  • bound for corruption (Score:4, Informative)

    by meatbridge (443871) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @09:07AM (#5963724)
    it happened in florida in the 2000 elections. thousands of minority voters were deemed unqualified to vote because a corrupted registration system declared them to be felons. this occured because they shared a name with a felon others were barred having been convicted in the year 2009. if we can't get the registration right what chance do we have for the actual votes.
  • by AtariAmarok (451306) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @09:08AM (#5963740)
    5. Two words: Digital chads

    4. Chicago motto: "Log in early, and vote often"

    3. In the Mayor Daley election, even dead OS's like BSD can vote.

    2. You can now use Grokster and Kazaa to steal votes.

    1. "I'm from Chicago. Give me two public keys".
  • Paper, what paper? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gpinzone (531794) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @09:12AM (#5963761) Homepage Journal
    Here in New York, we use a mechanical switch voting booth. Why isn't that considered unreliable, too?
  • Bottom line (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    A) Electronics hardware just isn't reliable enough. Especially when thrown to the whim of the public.

    B) Software is even less reliable. Bug-free software is a near impossibility.

    C) No system, hardware or software, is 100% secure. People could probably figure out ways to change votes remotely via electromagnetic pulses if they had to.

    D) The human factor isn't completely eliminated. As long as humans have some role in the vote takin process, the results can fixed. Whether it be from software and hardware d
  • by asmithmd1 (239950) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @09:12AM (#5963770) Homepage Journal
    If you are old enough to remember the all mechanical machines where you flipped small levers to vote and pulled a large arm to cast your vote. The votes were mechanically accumulated and would sometimes get stuck yielding results like 2273 votes for one canidate and 999 votes for the other. What can you do then?
  • by cwernli (18353) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @09:12AM (#5963772) Homepage

    The two main points in electronic voting are:

    1. It's needed
    2. It'll be bug-ridden

    The vendor's point of view (unsurprisingly) is that "bugginess" is only a hypothetical threat, and that it in real-life situations no glitches will occur.

    This is very clearly horseshit. Every IT-implementation has bugs. Repeat: Every. The question is: how many of them can we tolerate ? If it comes down to a word-processor, or a webserver, or even telecom infrastructure: we can afford quite some. If it comes to medical facilities, nuclear plants, or, as in this case, political decisions, the threshold has to be a lot lower. You wouldn't want George W. Bush to have been elected by a bug, would you ?

    The (currently feasible safeguard) solution of the paper trail sounds like an excellent solution:

    a) the voter can immediately control if her vote was cast correctly
    b) the same rule applies as with financial and legal records (where a paper trail has to be conserved)
    c) the "black box" problem that is mentioned in the article is circumvented: the citizen doesn't have to understand how the e-voting booth works, but (see a) can control if her intentions match the outcome.

  • OK, generally I'm not one of those "everything should be open source" voices, but I do think that this is one case where this type of software should be required by law to be open source. The ramifications of any type of fraud is way to high. But more importantly, I think that a separate agency should be involved in the archiving/building of the source. After all, just because someone says "download our source code X" doesn't mean that X is what is actually running. The source should be baselined and ba
  • In 2000, Arizona Democrats [auburn.edu] had the first online balloting in their primary. The link contains some analysis also.
  • I don't think anyone reading Slashdot needs enlightenment on the dangers of a completely electronic voting system. Limited use of electronics could do wonders for stopping problems in the recording of choices by voters and the counting of the results. Instead of using pencil and paper, or especially punch cards, electronic machines should be used to create a ballot that is then printed out for the voter to inspect and drop in a ballot box. These perfectly formatted ballots can then be quickly and accurately
  • So when is the article going to come out about the dangers of trusting electronic news websites? Don't we need to remain firmly fixed to a concrete paper trail for news, lest history itself become so malleable as to resemble Orwell's 1984?
  • by curtisk (191737) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @09:22AM (#5963846) Homepage Journal
    Along with Dr. Dill, endorsers of the resolution include professors from Yale, M.I.T., Princeton, the University of California at Berkeley, Bryn Mawr and Johns Hopkins, as well as industry experts from Apple, Sun Microsystems, Cisco and Unisys. Dr. Mercuri has written substantially on electronic voting and is one of the group's most outspoken members. She worries that no electronic voting system has been certified to even the lowest level of federal government or international computer security standards, nor has any been required to comply with such.

    VS.

    "When you're dealing with computer scientists, they deal in a world of theoretics, and under that scenario anything is possible," Ms. Bonsall said. "If you probe a little further, the chance of these failures, the risk of that happening wide-scale in a national election is almost nil."

    Paul Terwilliger, director of product development at Sequoia Voting Systems, one of the largest manufacturers of electronic systems, said that while no one disputes the need for safeguards, complaints about machines like his company's were uninformed. "I think the concerns being raised are 100 percent valid," Mr. Terwilliger said. "However, they're being raised by people who have little idea about what actually goes on."

    I think I'm going with the doubters on this one, not with the people selling it. I also like the quote(s) that question the fact of "how can we verify there's been no tampering? And "if its so secure why can't we look in it?"

    And in regard to Ms. Bosnall's quote, we're not so much worried about wide-scale national failure as we are with tampering .....big difference.
    America gets scarier by the day.

    • The day we adopt a closed-source electronic voting system is the day that US democracy, sick after decades of fighting the two cancers of corporate influence and voter apathy, is finally murdered in its hospital bed.

      Will anyone outside Fort Slashdot notice?
  • Misgivings (Score:4, Informative)

    by foo fighter (151863) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @09:24AM (#5963869) Homepage
    I'm definetly a techno-geek, but I'm also a pragmatist. Electronic voting isn't going to solve any more problems than it creates.

    A bunch of my concerns that haven't been addressed in the media:
    * The hardware and software are proprietary and not open to public review. My paper has a full page copy of the ballots before every election so the public can review it.

    * Not accessible. How do people missing vision or limbs use them?

    * How are the results audited? Do the electronic logs go into the public domain?

    * Is the incredible expense and TCO of these machines justified? Paper ballots are practically free by comparison.

    * What about absentee voting? What wacky "voting method of the future" can we come for that?
  • Brazil (Score:5, Informative)

    by Gleef (86) * on Thursday May 15, 2003 @09:26AM (#5963879) Homepage
    National Semiconductor and Unisys (two American companies) made a really good electronic voting system for Brazil [national.com], they've been using them since 1996. It has a tamper resistant paper trail, so it is completely auditable, unlike most of the systems described in the article. From what I've heard, the machines work quite well, and people are happy with them. (Please, if someone has actually voted with these, share your experiences)

    I fail to see how having a paper trail with electronic voting is "dreaming", it strikes me more as "required", particularly if we want to consider our government democratic.
    • Re:Brazil (Score:2, Informative)

      by Gauchito (657370)
      And to those other posters who are afraid electronic voting will subvert the democratic process, a nine-fingered man who started on the bottom rung of society just managed to achieve the highest post in the land. He didn't need a Harvard education or a rich dad. Sure, he had to try and try again (and try, and try :) ), but when a man with his roots makes it to the presidency, you know democracy is alive and well.
    • Re:Brazil (Score:3, Interesting)

      by leandrod (17766)

      >

      National Semiconductor and Unisys (two American companies) made a really good electronic voting system for Brazil, they've been using them since 1996.

      No, the original machines were made by Procomp. Please check your facts.

      >

      It has a tamper resistant paper trail, so it is completely auditable

      No, the original machine had. In the last election only a small percentage of the machines had the paper trail. Please double-check all your facts.

      >

      people are happy with them

      I am not. Source

  • by dszd0g (127522) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @09:26AM (#5963880) Homepage
    Any opinions on the following:

    When one goes to the polls, you do the signup sheet thing. They hand you a card with a barcode on it. The barcode is not tied to the voter in any way. Only the voter knows their number.

    Of course some algorithm would be used to generate the numbers and they would have large gaps. A good algorithm should prevent people bringing their own cards and hiding them in their pants, right? Smart chips could be used if people want to be paranoid (that would get expensive).

    You go to a machine, insert the card. You place your votes on a touch screen. The software confirms your votes. Then it prints the results onto the card.

    If you look at the card and see a mistake or for whatever reason, you go back to the main desk. They swipe the barcode, which cancels the vote and hand you a new card. If someone starts swiping invalid numbers the front desk is notified.

    One can then bring the card home. After the election you can enter the barcode and check to make sure the database matches what is printed on the card.

    This last one is important to me, because I feel it adds some accountability. If someone can get enough people to hand over their cards after an election an audit should be possible.

    I've been up all night so this probably has holes in it, but what do you think of the overall process?

    One could take the barcode thing a little farther and when the voter pamphlets are handed out there is a barcode printed on them that one can bring to the polls to make it easier for them to find the voter's name. One would still be required to sign (this isn't really any security, I assume it is allows some legal protection). If the voter does not have the barcode they would be required to provide some form of identification. I don't flat out like requiring identification, but this provides a way out.
    • You go to a machine, insert the card. You place your votes on a touch screen. The software confirms your votes. Then it prints the results onto the card.

      And how do you ensure that your vote for Joe actually went to Joe? The printed card? Or the code redirection, which sent your vote to Mary instead.

      You end up with 2 'votes'. The one printed on the card, and the one actually recorded. With no real way to ensure that they are the same. Even if you can check later. It's only a program telling you what it
    • One can then bring the card home. After the election you can enter the barcode and check to make sure the database matches what is printed on the card.

      Any system which allows the voter to verify that their vote has been recorded correctly also allows someone else to coerce the voter into voting a particular way.

      I'd like to see this statement disproven, but I don't think it's possible.

    • I've been up all night so this probably has holes in it, but what do you think of the overall process?

      FWIW, I agree with you--I think your solution (which is almost identical to one I've thought about in the past) is probably the best solution to a real problem.

      I think the biggest hole in it though is the number you take home. We have a secret ballot for a reason--someone can put pressure on you to vote a certain way, but only YOU know how you actually voted. With a receipt that has a RECORD of your v
    • I think it's far easier...

      The system we use in my county is to get a sheet of paper with the candidates listed and you circle the dots next to the names. Then you take your paper over to an optical reader and it sucks it in, even supposedly makes sure the ballot is accurately filled in.

      Ok, I think that system works.

      So now just put a touch screen like your suggesting... you put your paper in, and it fills it in with the results from the touch screen. This helps making voting easy, because the screen wou
  • Casting of Risk (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Effugas (2378) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @09:32AM (#5963918) Homepage
    It's pretty simple, really.

    The threat model that the voting machine manufacturers want to work with is: "Given a particular system, how likely is it that it will get hacked?".

    The real threat model is substantially different: "Given a particular system, how likely is it that it will be accused of having been hacked, and how damaging will that accusation be?" Much different scenario. Accusations, and the credibility they carry, are directly rebutted by evidence to the contrary. The simple availability of an irrevocable audit trail prevents challenges -- "they might be able to prove us wrong, so we better not challenge the results of the election."

    No evidence, no risk of accusation, no credibility for the election.

    None deserved, too.

    Disclaimer: I _am_ a security engineer. This isn't a technical problem, it's a sociological one. Counting is easy.

    Yours Truly,

    Dan Kaminsky
    DoxPara Research
    http://www.doxpara.com

  • "I think that any voting system, if it is programmed and used properly, can be very reliable," she added.

    <rant>
    I think that this, like many other issues, is something that we at /. need to comment on. For good or ill we are the pople who know just how hard it is to ensure that systems are always programmed and used *properly* especially when you users include every regestered voter in the U.S.

    The fact that people feel more confident about them says nothing about how tamper-proof or accurate they re
  • Poor article... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Goonie (8651) * <robert DOT merkel AT benambra DOT org> on Thursday May 15, 2003 @09:38AM (#5963972) Homepage
    This strikes me as a classic example of how "getting quotes from both sides" does not a fair and accurate article make.

    The key points that opponents of electronic voting make are that a) there might be flaws in the system either by error or by design, b) that the machines cannot be easily inspected to check their operations, and c) that without a paper trail there is no way to check after the fact whether the votes were correctly counted or not.

    The response from a voting machine manufacturer, however, is classic obfuscation:

    "I think the concerns being raised are 100 percent valid," Mr. Terwilliger said. "However, they're being raised by people who have little idea about what actually goes on."

    At this point, the question arises - why are these critics wrong? What are they not understanding about the system? Rather than following up on this point, though, the reporter takes a completely different, and totally irrelevant tack, discussing public confidence in the machines. So what? Lots of people probably think that Microsoft invented the Internet. It doesn't make it true. The only conclusion I can come to is that the journalist did not take the time to understand the issue properly, and just got quotes from "both sides" and that was good enough.

    Do experts in other fields (if I may be so bold as to count myself an "expert" in it) get as frustrated with journalists, or is it just a particular problem with science and tech journalism?

    • Do experts in other fields (if I may be so bold as to count myself an "expert" in it) get as frustrated with journalists, or is it just a particular problem with science and tech journalism?

      You are not alone. If you are still in college (or still facing starting it) by any chance, take a journalism course as a general ed elective. I did because I like writing and wanted to try something other than short stories. It was an eye opener about the sorts of people who major in journalism (by the end of the seme

    • At this point, the question arises - why are these critics wrong? What are they not understanding about the system? Rather than following up on this point, though, the reporter takes a completely different, and totally irrelevant tack, discussing public confidence in the machines.

      I dissagree, the article was beautifully constructed to alarm the reader:

      • Expert Opinion crying for a paper trail with a link to more information
      • insulting and vauge official dissmisal of concerns
      • insulting and vauge vendor dissm
  • by Dan Crash (22904) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @09:38AM (#5963976) Journal
    From the article:
    Dr. Dill argued, however, that if voting machines were really secure, then voters would be able to see the insides of their "proprietary" technology. "If someone really has a tamper-resistant machine, they should tell you enough about how the machine works so you can assure yourself that the machine works," he said. "We don't know what the weaknesses are. We don't know who the people are that control that stuff."

    Mr. Terwilliger said that Sequoia was willing to share its source code, provided viewers sign nondisclosure agreements.
    So if I look at the code, I can't talk about it? Grrrreat.

    I'd like to see someone file a Freedom of Information Act [epic.org] request to see the code. The FOIA applies to the following documents:

    552. Public information; agency rules, opinions, orders, records, and proceedings

    (a) Each agency shall make available to the public information as follows:

    (1) Each agency shall separately state and currently publish in the Federal Register for the guidance of the public--

    (A) descriptions of its central and field organization and the established places at which, the employees (and in the case of a uniformed service, the members) from whom, and the methods whereby, the public may obtain information, make submittals or requests, or obtain decisions;

    (B) statements of the general course and method by which its functions are channeled and determined, including the nature and requirements of all formal and informal procedures available;

    (C) rules of procedure, descriptions of forms available or the places at which forms may be obtained, and instructions as to the scope and contents of all papers, reports, or examinations;

    (D) substantive rules of general applicability adopted as authorized by law, and statements of general policy or interpretations of general
    applicability formulated and adopted by the agency; and

    (E) each amendment, revision, or repeal of the foregoing.
    I know there are arguments against this, specifically that the code is the intellectual property of a private business, and that it is protected by both US Copyright laws and the Berne Convention, but I'd like to see the courts wrestle with this one just the same. Knowing how our votes are counted is one of the sacred founding principles of democracy, and personally, I think it trumps any other interests in this case.

    Unfortunately, this has little to no chance of succeeding while Ashcroft is Attorney General, since he's declared an effective moratorium [alternet.org] on FOIA requests while he is in office.

  • NYT? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by wolf- (54587) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @09:40AM (#5963998) Homepage
    Um, like the old grey lady has any credibility at this point.
    Troll? No, legitimate comment on the credibility of a "source" of information.
  • Bartcop (Score:4, Informative)

    by Rudeboy777 (214749) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @09:42AM (#5964017)
    For a glimpse into the potential repercussions of the Diebold e-voting machines used in the last federal election look here. [bartcop.com]

    WARNING: This is really unsettling stuff and may cause you to lose (more) faith in the U.S. election system.
  • Seriously, it'd be so easy to cheat with a system like this. Do people in favor of this know how powerful computers are?

    I don't mind using scanners to count faster, but the day I have to vote online is the day I move to Canada.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    We have voted in belgium electronically for years now, never had any problems at all. The source code of their app is even available online. http://www.verkiezingen.fgov.be/Logiciel/Jites/NL/ Cdoku1.htm
    They even have a flash example of the electronic vote, and organise tryout sessions for the elderly people who fear everything that has a screen connected to it ;-)
  • by Millennium (2451) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @10:01AM (#5964213) Homepage

    The only way you can possibly make electronic voting machines acceptably secure is to not network them at all. This isn't so much a measure to prevent hacking as it is a measure to control the amount of damage a hacker can do; if only one machine at a time can be hacked, then damage remains localized. Here's my idea for such a system:

    • The user shows up at the polling place, and is given a token, which will be used to operate the voting machine. The user then goes to one of several voting booths, which can be chosen at random.
    • The user presents the token to the machine, which marks that token as used (such that it can never be used to operate another machine). Only then is the user allowed to begin the voting process.
    • The user chooses a language for onscreen text and voice instructions. Ideally, instructions should be phrased in such a way that they can be reused between elections.
    • The user is presented with a list of candidates, including names and pictures. One by one, each candidate is highlighted; as this occurs, a voice sample is played of the candidate saying his or her name. This is important, because it allows for a person to recognize the proper candidate based on written name, picture, spoken name, and sound of voice. This is pretty much everything that can reasonably be done to ensure that a person knows which candidate is being voted for.
    • The vote can be controlled in two ways: by touching the candidate's name onscreen, or by pressing a button as that candidate's name is being read. This latter is a measure to accommodate blind voters., or others who could not effectively use a touch screen.
    • Each vote is confirmed twice, onscreen and by voice -again using the sample of the candidate- to ensure that the voter is absolutely certain that this is the proper choice.
    • Once the voting process is completed, a paper ballot is printed for the user (there will be strong warnings onscreen and in voice to ensure that the user understands to take the ballot). This ballot is marked with a barcode stating what machine it came from, but no information which could identify the user (this is why it is important to let the user pick a booth at random). The purpose of this barcode is so that if a machine is known to be tampered with, votes cast using that machine can be tracked down.
    • The ballot is then taken by the user to a ballot box, where it will be shipped to the usual facilities for counting purposes.

    The advantages to this system are many:

    • Every possible method of recognizing candidates is taken into account. This won't totally eliminate confusion -some people are so monumentally stupid that nothing will get through to them- but this minimizes that problem.
    • There is a paper trail which can be consulted. The value of this cannot be overestimated.
    • There is no single point of failure. Tampering with a single machine cannot in and of itself damage any other machines, so the number of votes which must be considered suspect due to machine tampering is minimized.
    • Counting is still done by machines, which are not prone to bias as humans are, but because the ballot os filled out by machine, the process is somewhat more controlled.

    And one final note, particular to US elections: poll results should be considered classified information until the polls are closed in all fifty states. Timezones being what they are, this exit-poll crap is causing election results in East Cost states to affect West Coast states, however slightly, and that needs to be dealt with. Each state's results must be completely independent of the results of any other state, and measures need to be taken to ensure that.

    • Each vote is confirmed twice, onscreen and by voice -again using the sample of the candidate- to ensure that the voter is absolutely certain that this is the proper choice.

      And everyone in the voting station will know who that person voted for becuase the machine just read the names of the selected candates out loud.

      Votes are suppost to be private. There should be no way that even someone standing outside the voting booth can tell who you just voted for.

  • It needs to be open (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ripplet (591094) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @10:03AM (#5964231)
    There's (allegedly) a good example already of how electronic voting can be abused.

    1996: Chuck Hagel wins "stunning upsets" in both primaries and the general election in Nebraska.

    2002: Chuck Hagel gets reelected in a landslide, with 83% of the vote.

    A single company programmed, installed and largely operated the machines that counted about 80 percent of those votes.

    This company used to be headed by, and is still part-owned by, you guessed it, Chuck Hagel.

    Coincidence, yeah right.

    Oh, one more thing. Charlie Matulka, who lost the 2002 election, requested a hand count of the vote. His request was denied because Nebraska has a just-passed law that prohibits government-employee election workers from looking at the ballots, even in a recount. The only machines permitted to count votes in Nebraska are those made and programmed by the corporation formerly run by Hagel. Hmm, wonder who pushed that one through!

    Matulka's comment:"If you want to win the election, just control the machines." [commondreams.org]

    (most of the above info shamelessly plagiarised from that last link).

    Now, this doesn't mean that you can't use electronic voting, just that the whole process needs to be completely open and exposed. The source code needs to be open, the hardware design needs to be open, you need independant and unbiased people to check that the open source code is actually what is running on the open hardware, the whole thing needs an open audit trail in the event that a recount is required etc. The whole process is a helluvalot more complicated than just a machine that counts votes. So people need to be given proof that their votes are not corrupted in any step of that process.

  • The main reason is actually political, not technical. Imagine a world where we have really foolproof and very convenient electronic voting (like everybody just voting from home over the Internet, provided that a good and secure protocol is invented for it). Elections would be hundreds of times cheaper because of lesser staff and organization costs. As a result it would become possible to have people vote for many more issues than just who is going to be a president (think Switzerland where almost everything is decided by popular vote). We would never have DMCA or any of the other strange laws pushed through by special interest groups and hurting the general public. Congress would suddenly lose 90% of its importance, becoming just a law-drafting institution without too much decision power.
    Obviously this is something that today's rich and powerful would never want to happen, and they would fight long and hard before giving any of this power up.
    • Elections would be hundreds of times cheaper because of lesser staff and organization costs.

      And less democratic and trustworthy. Personally, I like the fact that the polls are run by ordinary citizens, not by the state's IT department. There's a whole level of abuse that this system makes difficult. The more centralized the voting process becomes the easier it is to corrupt.

      As a result it would become possible to have people vote for many more issues than just who is going to be a president

      I'm for t
  • by bmasel (129946) <bmasel AT tds DOT net> on Thursday May 15, 2003 @10:16AM (#5964380) Journal

    In January, 2002 the State Elections Board approved two touch screen voting systems, the ES&S Votronic
    DRE and the GBS Accu-Touch EBS 100 DRE.


    This spring I raised the system integrity issues with the Board, and persuaded them to revoke the certifications [state.wi.us].


    It helped that after garnering over 10% in the last race for Governor, the Wisconsin Libertarian Party was able to place a representative on the Board, the only 3d Party State Elections Official in the US.

  • by liquidsin (398151) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @10:24AM (#5964472) Homepage
    "I think the concerns being raised are 100 percent valid," Mr. Terwilliger said. "However, they're being raised by people who have little idea about what actually goes on."

    Somehow I just don't trust a man named 'Terwilliger' to *not* rig an election. He'd probably have our dead pets voting him in as mayor...

  • 99% (Score:5, Insightful)

    by linuxwrangler (582055) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @10:28AM (#5964507)
    "...a feedback card in the August 2002 statewide primaries found that 99 percent of voters were pleased with their Diebold machines."


    Isn't that the same percentage of people who "voted" for Saddam Hussein in the last Iraq "election". I wonder if the "feedback" was tallied on a Diebold machine.

    I work in market research and I have never, ever seen 99% of people polled agree on anything. This 99% of the vote statement should give anyone considering e-lections the willies.

  • by doublem (118724) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @10:39AM (#5964624) Homepage Journal
    "Those who cast the votes decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything."

    -- Stalin (Former leader of the USSR)

    So the voting machine manufacturers are now the ones who really run the country.

    Great.
  • Voter Verified! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by xenocide2 (231786) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @10:47AM (#5964706) Homepage
    "voter-verifiable audit trail," meaning a permanent record of each vote that can be checked for accuracy even after the election.

    After discussing with Dr. Dill for a presentation, the meaning of voter verifiable is very specific. It means that the voter can look at their ballot, and verify that their vote reflects their intention before they hand it in. Nobody I know can inspect the electrical charges to determine whether their vote was recorded correctly or not (or even at all!).

    I happen to live in Johnson County, Kansas, one of the sites mentioned. There's two things to keep in mind there. 1. Its an off year so turnout is usually very low. 2. The feedback card is optional, so unless you have something specific to say, you're not likely to fill it out. 3. Its difficult to evaluate the system as a whole until the vote is canvassed. Even fraud can be user friendly.

    The independent testers aren't exactly trustworthy either. There's only 3 nationwide. VoteHere machines were verified from these ITAs (VoteHere is currently facing a wrongful termination suit for firing a QA Engineer who put too many bugs on the 'Critical' list.)

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