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Touch-Screen Voting Snags Continue 522

Posted by timothy
from the poke-it-harder dept.
micromoog writes "New touchscreen voting machines caused problems last night in the suburbs of Washington D.C.. Several machines failed and had to be rebooted, and nine were actually removed from the site, repaired, and returned, in violation of election laws. The machines also failed to report their results correctly due to network problems. At least one lawsuit is pending. Interesting quote: 'County elections officials said it was the slowest performance in memory for counting votes on election night.'" Read on for more on how the current crop of electronic voting machines are faring.

Not every electronic voting machine misstep comes from Diebold; reader zznate points out that the Virginia machines came from Advanced Voting Solutions (dcw3 butts in: "The slogan on their home page really gives you a warm fuzzy: 'Helping Shape American History for over one hundred years.'"), as well as that the EFF won a decision for an accelerated court date of November 17 in their attempt to stop Diebold from shutting down sites that make the infamous memos available. Let's all hope this is the first in a series of many wins for the EFF against the Diebold folks and crappy e-voting schemes in general. Have you donated lately?"

Reader meadowreach writes points out more trouble on the other coast: "From news.com: 'As voters in California go to the polls, the state is launching an investigation into alleged illegal tampering with electronic voting machines in a San Francisco Bay Area county.' Diebold upgrades software without letting the state know? How reassuring."

Generic Guy writes "CNN is running a story about California not certifying the Diebold voting machines and instead opening an investigation into the use of uncertified systems. Maybe there is still hope for democracy in the U.S."

And from Cambridge, Massachusetts, Peter Desnoyers writes "Cambridge uses an optical scanner system, where you fill out SAT-style ovals with a pen and the election officer feeds them into a scanning machine. From last night's preliminary results on the Cambridge website:

'In two precincts at 7:55 and 7:59pm the memory cards reached capacity. To ensure that every ballot was counted , the Election Commission has decided to rerun the ballots for 9-1, Lexington Avenue Fire House and 11-3, Churchill Avenue. We expect that it will take between one to two hours.'

I interpret this to mean that they took all the paper ballots out of the box and ran them back through the reader. (with a bigger memory card?) In the mean time, voters were able to continue voting and no votes were lost."

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Touch-Screen Voting Snags Continue

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:07PM (#7398819)
    "Aww man, Windows crashed again. We probably lost 3000 votes due to the reboot."

    "Don't worry about it, 3000 votes isn't enough to make a difference!"
    • I'm sorry -- systems like diebold leave no audit trail. As a voter, this is unacceptable. There needs to be a way to verify the vote count.

      The only way I can see that happening is if a verified (by the voter) paper receipt listing the voters choice going in to a balot box and stored. Let the machines tally. Audit random counties every election. Let recounts count the printed votes. At least this way a "crash" wont result in any lost votes.

      I just dont trust anything that isn't transparent.

      -jhon
      • Agreed, although note that an issue with this is that the printers break down, so you might have a vote with no matching receipt. I'm sure there's a way of dealing with that issue (ask the voter to confirm that the receipt printed before recording the vote?) but the point is that we have to think this through all the way.
        • we have to think this through all the way.

          Actually, that's been done. Do you thinks banks that set out ATMs aren't worried about a lot of the same issues? Those things all print paper receipts internally, and you can bet the bank won't let it lose those records for a little thing like ink. We need to get the same level of accountability for voting that we do for getting $20 to buy movie tickets.

          • by Dielectric (266217) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:53PM (#7399365)
            Oddly enough, Diebold also makes ATMs. I wonder why the same accountability standards weren't used for the voting machines?

            This just gets murkier the more I think about it.
          • As many times as I have gone to an ATM and not gotten a receipt because the paper was curled inside the machine, or it was out, or whatever, and given the number of times I have had to contest an ATM transaction that I canceled and still went through, my hopes for the stability and accountability of the Diebold (and other) machines is rather low.

            The primary thing to keep in mind is simple. The more complex the system, the more places it can break or be broken. Redundancy helps, but only to a limited degree
      • No kidding, voting with only an electronic record is so foolish, what is to be done in the event of a recount?

        The voting machine should print a clearly defined receipt for each vote cast. This receipt is tossed in to the box that only election officials have the key to, after the user can preview it through a piece of glass. The receipt can contain a human readable printout of results, as well as a barcode machine-scannable printout of results. Auditing can then be established on a variety of levels, re
  • by macemoneta (154740) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:08PM (#7398844) Homepage
    OK, I keep hearing about the violations in election laws going on, but I never hear about people being taken away in handcuffs and being brought to trial. If the laws aren't being enforced, then they don't really exist. Might as well vote 50 or 60 times while you're going out; it looks like a free-for-all.
    • by kiwimate (458274) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:26PM (#7399063) Journal
      Such a good point! One of the most telling points was the tale of nine machines being removed from the site for repair and then brought back onsite in violation of election laws. Forget for a moment the problem of the election machines failing. Aren't there supposed to be people supervising who know that you can't do this and who should've stopped the machines from being removed and brought back on-site? If there is a problem, then there needs to be a protocol to follow, and the people in charge at each voting site must know that protocol and enforce it.

      By the by, I live just outside of Philadelphia and we had an election yesterday (mayor and various other positions). Listening to the news, I kept hearing the news casters talking about how wonderful it was to be able to participate in this democratic process and just about going into tears over how fabulous it was to have this right. They sounded like they were somewhere that had only had free elections for a few years and everyone was still getting used to the idea.
    • people need to get the news out. While the washington post is a news worthy organization... how many people really know about this. Send the article around to friends, family, to just random people you know on your address book.

      and especially write to your senators and people in washington. If they argue that they represent the people and they get enough voices saying this is absurd. then things will happen.

      We can just complain about what happens or we can spread the word. even the smallest amount
    • by Joe Decker (3806) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @04:14PM (#7399581) Homepage
      Tempting thought, isn't it? I'm curious who took the machines to repair, the registrar's office or the manufacturer.

      As a learning experience and a lark, I worked a polling area in San Jose, California yesterday. The machines were "Sequoia Edge", and worked well, save that some people had trouble figuring out that they needed to push a bit harder to get the voter card into the voting machine.

      Had a machine gone down, I can easily see how the folks in that polling place might have allowed the machine to be taken, repaired, and brought back. Each of the four folks full-time at the polling place was required to have only a few hours of training, much of it centered around operational issues and not legal issues. Poll workers are mostly retired folks who do elections for fun or small profit ($95, covering fourteen hours of work and three of training.)

      I couldn't tell you if such a removal and return would be illegal under California law, I bet that's true for most of the poll-workers in California last night.

      I do know that down machines would be reported to the registrar's office, where presumably they would have some legal responsibilty to insure the right things happen. How many people would be watching the machine at any given point during the process is open to question.

      In my opinion, for the systems I used and the procedures and people in place, the easiest way to cheat the system would be to get a couple poll-workers in on whatever you wanted to do. With that, it'd be easy to tamper with results no matter what voting system was used.

      You want fair elections, nine machines whose votes are subject to concern just doesn't bother me to the extent that more fundamental problems with election procedure do. In California at least, in most cases (there's an exception in a corner case called Fail-Safe provisional voting) there's no requirement that you demonstrate identity when you vote. You just have to sign in. No IDs, etc. Big deal. Given that voters are never removed from the registration roles in California (I believe this is true even after death, but the cases I've heard of may have been glitches), I'm suspecting there's a lot more vote fraud caused by folks voting who aren't legally entitled to than there is by subversive maniuplation of machines in that particular case.

      Not that I'm not bothered by the various Diebold scandals. And I do agree that significant violations of election law should be punished severely. But I hear a lot of this electronic voting discussion as hysteria, and that concerns me as well.

      • by Urox (603916) <{moc.onuj} {ta} {3neihtul}> on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @06:43PM (#7401260) Journal
        I'm in San Jose also. There are two polling places in the apartment complex where I live (because it it THAT huge). They said they'd tabulate the votes after the polls closed.

        Around 8:30, the power went out in the apartment complex. The whole thing. *IF* the machines were still attached, I'm not sure they had UPSes. What does that do to the tallying? What does that do to the data stored? What will a reboot do to the system?

        It was a little frightening that when I dropped off my absentee ballot, that there was no lock on the box to go to the registrar's office. The guy was able to open that puppy up completely (without me needing to drop it into the provided security slot) and show that I was the only absentee drop off so far. I can definitely see how ballots could be "lost" there.
        • Around 8:30, the power went out in the apartment complex. The whole thing. *IF* the machines were still attached, I'm not sure they had UPSes. What does that do to the tallying? What does that do to the data stored? What will a reboot do to the system?

          Power: The Edge machines have internal batteries good for a few hours, built-in. The machines are left plugged-in the night before the election to make sure the batteries are fully charged. You know you've lost power even if you're outside because a yellow

  • What's wrong with (Score:5, Insightful)

    by reboot246 (623534) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:09PM (#7398851) Homepage
    using paper ballots that are scanned? You can have the results instantly and the ballots are locked inside the box in case of a recount.

    Just because the technology of touchscreen voting is considered "cutting edge" doesn't make it better.
    • and results were extremely fast last night. Done by 10:31 pm [sfgov.org]. (And my candidate came in first and my initiative won, which was nice!)

      Many SF voters mail in their ballots, which makes it easier with optical scan as they can all be processed immediately after the polls close.

      I have heard rumors that SF wants to switch to touch screen, but if they propose this I'll lobby against it. If it ain't broke, don't fix it!

    • by Shakrai (717556) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:18PM (#7398973) Journal
      using paper ballots that are scanned? You can have the results instantly and the ballots are locked inside the box in case of a recount.

      My idea (as noted in a previous article about this subject) is to use touch-pad voting machines that print a paper ballot that would then be scanned. In the event of a recount (or a dispute with the e-voting machine) these ballots could be counted by hand.

      The machine prints the ballot so there is no chance of user error (unless they can't figure out how to use the bilingual touchscreen). The user gets to see the results before he drops the paper into the ballot box.

      Isn't this the best of both worlds?

      • by Greedo (304385) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:42PM (#7399252) Homepage Journal
        My idea (as noted in a previous article about this subject) is to use touch-pad voting machines that print a paper ballot that would then be scanned. In the event of a recount (or a dispute with the e-voting machine) these ballots could be counted by hand.

        Hey, how about a touch-pad voting machine, that prints an empty paper ballot, which you then fill in by hand, and then put it through a scanner?!

        Foolproof, I tell you!
    • by Flarenet (31299) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:26PM (#7399068) Homepage Journal
      This leads to a question I have: why isn't pencil and paper good enough in the United States?

      I'm only familiar with elections here in Canada. Here we have a ballot with X number of names on it with a circle beside each name. You're handed your ballot and a pencil and then go into a booth to mark an "X" beside the name you want. The the ballot is folded and placed in the ballot box. No problems with hanging chads or ballots that are confusing to read. Why isn't a low tech system like this used in the States? Is it a population problem? (Too many people to allow this to scale well?)

      • But that's an old way of doing things. Its not flashy and shiny and new!
        Seriously, the main argument against it here in the US is scale. The belief is that, we have 250 million people plus or minus a few. Now, if all of them vote, counting that by hand will take longer than an hour, and our news media would be screaming about that, afterall Americans want their results NOW! Unless, of course, it provides for good TV drama (see 2000 election). This entire argument is bullshit, of course, with only 20% o
        • Re:What's wrong with (Score:3, Informative)

          by steveg (55825)
          At least here in California, I can go to any polling place as long as I can confirm my identity

          Not in my part of California. I have to go to the precinct that contains the address at which I'm registered. They have my name and address on a list, and they check it off.

          If I go to the wrong precinct (last election my polling place handled three precincts) they tell me I'm not listed there and to go to the correct one.

          I suppose if you were registered multiple times at different addresses you might be able
      • Re:What's wrong with (Score:4, Informative)

        by SVDave (231875) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:45PM (#7399277)

        This leads to a question I have: why isn't pencil and paper good enough in the United States?

        One factor is that ballots in the United States tend to be quite long, due to our multiple levels of government and the fact that elected officials serve set terms (with terms at the various levels being synchronized). In the general election next year, for example, I'll be voting for three federal office (President, Representative, Senator), a state equivalent of a Representative, city council positions, a county council representative, various other boards (e.g. school board), probably a dozen statewide referendums and maybe one or two local (city- or county-wide) referendums. And it generally takes a month to certify an election, even with an automated counting process (which is why Arnold Schwarzenneger hasn't been sworn in as governor of California yet).

        What's it like in Canada? Does a general election include anything other than federal MP? Do you have separate elections for sepearate offices?

      • Re:What's wrong with (Score:2, Informative)

        by Llyr (561935)
        why isn't pencil and paper good enough in the United States?

        Two words: synchronous elections.

        In Canada we elect different levels of government at different times; we also don't have as many elected positions. So the most different ballots that might have to be counted at once are for municipal elections, where you might vote for mayor, a couple of councillors, and some school board members. Contrast this to voting for President, US Senator, US Congress, State Senator, State Congress, various municipal

      • Re:What's wrong with (Score:3, Informative)

        by wrenkin (71468)
        In municipal elections in Toronto, we also have pencil and paper ballots, which are then optically scanned. You fill in an arrow next to your candidate's name:

        Joe Schmo [== ==

        like this

        Joe Schmo [==#==

        And then it is fed through a scanner. Results are available soon after the polls close, and you have all the ballots if you want to recount (which you could do manually if you wanted to.)
    • Re:What's wrong with (Score:4, Informative)

      by iabervon (1971) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @04:46PM (#7399907) Homepage Journal
      The third section of this article actually talks about Cambridge MA, which does exactly that. Somerville, next door (where I voted yesterday), does that as well. And Cambridge actually did have a hardware problem and rescanned the ballots.

      As for the capabilities of this system, you can actually do ranking quite easily (and Cambridge actually does use ranking in their voting, although Somerville does not); you don't write numbers, but you fill in an oval in the grid for each rank, like on the SAT.

      Cambridge City Council elections have an "instant runoff" system, which uses some algorithm that eliminates candidates who have either won or lost, and moves votes to candidates the voter ranked next until the right number of candidates have been chosen. It's what you'd expect for the city that has both MIT and Harvard in it.

  • by Hard_Code (49548) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:10PM (#7398862)
    Really, you guys are getting all worked up over nothing. Polls clearly show:

    Americans in favor of unregulated electronic voting: 25%
    Americans in favor of strict auditing and accounting of electronic voting systems: -75%.

    So clearly this is nothing to get bothered about.
  • Oh no. (Score:5, Informative)

    by DrEldarion (114072) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:11PM (#7398869)
    Scantron sheets for voting? That's NOT a good idea. I'm currently working for a company that deals with standardized tests, and those things are a PAIN to clean up in the database becaues NOBODY can fill the damn things out correctly. I'd say at least a good 5% of them have messed up bubbles in the user/test-ID field ALONE. The answer fields usually fare much worse.

    These aren't just 2nd graders, either. High school tests are usually WORSE in this aspect.
    • Re:Oh no. (Score:2, Interesting)

      by kaybi (261428)
      They seem to be working okay in Oregon [oregonvoting.org].
    • Re:Oh no. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by cmowire (254489) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:24PM (#7399043) Homepage
      My personal model for the best system is what my county uses.

      There's a big fscking arrow with a gap in it, not a little bubble. You have a big black marker of the correct optimal type. They tell you to connect the arrow. We're talking about a broadsheet-sized ballot card here, so space is decidedly *not* a problem. There's no key, everything you need is on the ballot.

      When you are done, you put it in the machine. If you screwed up or made some incorrect marks, it tells you, so there's an immediate feedback loop. If you don't mark a candidate, it will require an election official to make sure that you did, in fact, mean to leave it blank.

      Paper record, cheaper than a computer, a check to make sure that it will scan before the ballot leaves your sight.
    • The Sequoia Eagle [sequoiavote.com] system used in many cities, including San Francisco, automatically rejects overvoted and spoiled ballots. The ballots themselves are very simple to fill out - you complete a black arrow pointing at the candidate's name using a Sharpie or other pen.

      The same ballots are used for in-person and mail-in ballots.

    • I hated those things. Even if you managed to saty in the circles, and by some stroke of luck didn't need to erase any of your answers (those erasers were crap), then the force required to completely fill in that circle usually left a balck dot on the opposite side (messing up the answers on the back.)
    • The bubble-sheet voting in Leon County Florida where I live works flawlessly, I don't see why the rest can't its just a matter of good equipment.
      As I assume you are going to require me to define flawlessly I will.
      When I go to vote, the ballets simply have each canadates name with a bubble right after their name that you fill in, it is a large bubble and each name is well spaced from the next. Anyways once you are done you put the sheet into the scanning machine yourself, and if it is unsure how you voted, o
      • Re:Oh no. (Score:3, Interesting)

        by zenyu (248067)
        The bubble-sheet voting in Leon County Florida where I live works flawlessly, I don't see why the rest can't its just a matter of good equipment.
        As I assume you are going to require me to define flawlessly I will.
        When I go to vote, the ballets simply have each canadates name with a bubble right after their name that you fill in, it is a large bubble and each name is well spaced from the next. Anyways once you are done you put the sheet into the scanning machine yourself, and if it is unsure how you voted, o
    • "Scantron sheets for voting? That's NOT a good idea."

      Its easy to deal with on Scantrons...its just too many folks try to fill this stuff in with too much information.

      For instance, for my employeer, we've developed a system for our scantrons that we run them through printers BEFORE they are passed out to precode these things. That took away 90% of the problems right there. This would be in the area you are talking about Test-ID, though the User ID is still a problem :-)

      Past that, you have folks that mig
  • by blanks (108019) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:11PM (#7398885) Homepage Journal
    Line the two (or more) candidates next to one another, voters stand in line.

    Each voter gets to walk up and hit the person they are against winning to, aka the one they do not want to win. Last man standing wins the election.

  • by jdreed1024 (443938) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:12PM (#7398890)
    ... made by Diebold, it should be noted. They are the AccuVote OS [diebold.com] models. This is not indicated in the article summary, however it is the case. I voted in Cambridge last night, and noted with mixed emotions the little Diebold logo as I slid my ballot in, and then the machine rejected it. (It worked on the second try)
  • by schmidt349 (690948) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:12PM (#7398900)
    One potential problem with the rollout of electronic voting hardware and software in this country is that many people automatically assume that electronic devices are more reliable and less prone to failure than the older voting hardware, when it certainly appears that this is not the case.

    I'm sure that at least some non-tech-savvy election officials are content with the Diebold machines on the basis that "at least they won't have dimpled chads," or something similar. As a result, the people in the know (ie, anyone who knows the inherent unreliability and insecurity of the Diebold devices) should be making it very clear to everyone else that the superiority of newer technology ain't necessarily so.
  • by Eraserhd (21298) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:13PM (#7398908) Homepage

    ... and talk to your representatives in the house to get them to sign on. HR2239 requires touch-screen voting machines to print a receipt which the voter can read, then drop into a lock-box. This receipt is then used for recounts, and in a mandatory recount of .5% of districts chosen at random to verify the accuracy of the machines.

    While you could theoretically build a cryptographic system to do something similar, I'd rather not have a theoretic democracy!

    (Petitions are linked to at the bottom of VerifiedVoting.org [verifiedvoting.org].)

    • More importantly than just signing the petition: Contact your Senators and Representatives! Let it be known that people want verification on all voting systems. This is no joke. If your Representatives do no currently support or sponsor this bill there is no excuse. Call them, e-mail them, generally annoy the hell out of them.

      To know what's going on in your state visit: State Lists [verifiedvoting.org]

  • by goldspider (445116) <ardrake79NO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:14PM (#7398913) Homepage
    Since the 2000 debacle, politicians seem to have been clamoring all over each other to be the first to bring electronic voting to their constituants. It is obvious from reading this article (did you?) that these systems are far from ready to be used to determine something as important as the leader of the free world for 4 years.

    So a few old goats in Florida don't know their right from their left. Big deal! It was hardly a symptom of a problem that, had it really been a problem, would have plagued the voting system since John Adams was elected president.

    So now our politicians have decided that the solution to fix a complicated system is to replace it with an even more complicated system. How this kind of logic keeps these idiots in office, I will never understand, but it is clear that these new voting systems are not ready for next year's election.

    • In the end it is prett obvious the outcome: every year there will be contested electiosn where very close vote will need to be recounted ad infinitum. Gore eventually realized he lost and conceded. What if he didn't? What if both sides decide never to concede and are both popularly supported? Elections were a means to choose our leaders. If we one day decide that an election was so flawed that thier results aren't reliable, what will we do? Hold another one? What makes you think the loser will conced to tha
    • So a few old goats in Florida don't know their right from their left... ...would have plagued the voting system since John Adams was elected president.

      In the 1800's, life expectancy was around 45; now it is about 74. There were no old goats back in John Adams' day.
      • In the 1800's, life expectancy was around 45; now it is about 74. There were no old goats back in John Adams' day.

        "Expectancy" is the same as "average". In the 1800s the infant mortality rate was much, much higher than today, and this drags the average down. There were plenty of old goats in John Adams day. John Adams himself lived to be 81!

        The problem with averages is that few understand them. As evidenced by the joke you may have heard: "Oh no! It says here that 50% of Americans are below average!
  • by adamfranco (600246) <{moc.ocnarfmada} {ta} {mada}> on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:14PM (#7398917) Homepage
    Electronic voting in the US is in horrid shape.

    Seriously, why don't we get/license the well working system [slashdot.org] that was put in place in Australia? Yes, its not domestically produced, but the source is there and can be verified. If domestic production is an issue, do we have any reason to believe that all of the Windows code in the Diebold machines was written on American soil? Also, it works. When our own system can say that a switch could be considered, but for now I'd like my vote to be counted on software that has proven itself.
    • do we have any reason to believe that all of the Windows code in the Diebold machines was written on American soil?

      Nope [cnet.com], here's a quote from the link and note the choice of the word "continue":

      "To meet the needs of our customers worldwide, we expect to continue to invest in a technical work force in India to assist us with our expanding product development, information technology and customer support functions," a Microsoft India executive was quoting as saying.
    • by jbn-o (555068) <mail@digitalcitizen.info> on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @04:19PM (#7399646) Homepage
      Seriously, why don't we get/license the well working system that was put in place in Australia? Yes, its not domestically produced, but the source is there and can be verified.

      Because there are serious problems with that system. The software issues are virtually a red herring and do not make their machines trustworthy. Although it seems ironic to some, the same issues exist with free software-operated and non-free software-operated voting machines. Wired revealed big problems with eVACS but buried the description of the problems midway into their article and then posted their eVACS article under a misleading headline which is probably why you reached the conclusion you did. I commented on this system in that thread and responded to one of the system's developers when the software trustworthiness question was raised. [slashdot.org]

      The Australian system you refer to does not allow the voter to verify that their vote was recorded correctly and there is no permanent non-computer record of the votes to recount after the election. Even though the article quotes one of the system developers saying as much, this showstopper revelation is midway into the article and then apparently ignored for the purpose of writing the article's title. From the article [wired.com]:

      The [eVACS] machine does not include a voter-verifiable receipt, something critics of U.S. systems want added to machines and voting machine makers have resisted.

      A voter-verifiable receipt is a printout from the machine, allowing the voter to check the vote before depositing the receipt into a secure ballot box at the polling station. It can be used as a paper audit trail in case of a recount.

      Green [Phillip Green, electoral commissioner for the Australian Capital territory] said the commission rejected the printout feature to keep expenses down. The system cost $125,000 to develop and implement. The printouts would have increased that cost significantly, primarily to pay for personnel to manage and secure the receipts and make sure voters didn't walk off with them.

      Quinn, however, thinks all e-voting systems should offer a receipt. "There's no reason voters should trust a system that doesn't have it, and they shouldn't be asked to," he said.

      "Why on earth should (voters) have to trust me -- someone with a vested interest in the project's success?" he said. "A voter-verified audit trail is the only way to 'prove' the system's integrity to the vast majority of electors, who after all, own the democracy."

      As for the costs of securing and storing such receipts, Quinn said, "Did anyone ever say that democracy was meant to be cheap?"

      There's no way to determine if only the software you trust is running on the machine you vote with. Your /. post is vastly overrated (+5 Insightful).

  • by jdunlevy (187745) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:17PM (#7398967) Homepage
    My favorite part of the Washington Post article [washingtonpost.com]:
    The problem came when precinct workers tried to electronically send results from the 953 new machines to election headquarters,
    unexpectedly overloading computer servers.
    (Italics mine)

    "Unexpectedly"?? What, the servers hadn't been set up with the expectation that they'd be receiving results from lots of new machines at the same time?

  • by mishehu (712452)
    ...to a cemetery near you in Chicago! Now the dead can vote, even earlier and more often!
  • by DavidH_Mphs (657081) * on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:18PM (#7398975)
    ok -- so the fix-it people removed some of the machines, took them away to the fix-it place, repaired them, and then took them back to the voting sites?

    This raises serious questions about the accuracy of the count, no matter how many machines had to be fixed. One machine or twenty machines, if you've got to take one away for repair & then bring it back, the accuracy of the data must immediately be called into question.

    If someone has to physically remove a machine, then something must be seriously wrong with it. What if they accidentally erased the data & then, in an effort to cover their mistakes, 'fudged' the votes?

    On top of that, election officials made a stupid error -- a preventable error. [Some] memory cards were full before the close of the polls.

    Election officials know exactly how many people are registered to vote in a given precinct. Therefore, they have the ability to determine the amount of memory they'd need on the machines. They should have asked the software folks, "how much memory will I need for each registered voter?"

    Instead, voters are left to fend for themselves as inept voting officials stumble their way through technology.

    This is completely absurd & inexcusable!

  • How hard is it... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ThisIsFred (705426) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:18PM (#7398976) Journal
    ...to design a reliable electronic voting machine? Why does it need a full operating system basic on modern hardware? Why does it need a touchscreen? And for heaven's sake, why does it have to be networked? Maybe I'm just showing my ignorance here, but I would have approached the problem entirely differently. I probably would have ditched any type of video output for a number of labelled buttons, made a simple mainboard based on a reliable, cheap 8bit CPU, and had the results stored in EEPROM, not sent down a network. I also would make the firmware and hardware available to everyone, far in advance of the election. I also would have tested it under many bogus elections, and would have accepted input in the form of peer review.

    I can't believe we can't make an electronic voting machine that is as reliable as a slot machine. If we're going to do it this way, I'll show my support for the older, mechanical machines. What are the benefits?
    • Re:How hard is it... (Score:2, Interesting)

      by zod1025 (189215)
      Exactly, man. A voting application is maybe ONE step above the ubiquitous "Hello World". You present a list of choices, accept and record the input. Repeat.

      How can this crash? Seriously! You can code up something in MINUTES that uses off-the-shelf hardware (say, a Dell box) to present a menu of choices 1,2,3. They send the results off to a server, too, so there's nothing to eat up the local memory. The most complicated part is validating the voter's registration, which is handled by human volunteers anywa
    • It doesn't even really have to be counted mechanically. Just have a device which is a glorified printer that PRINTS out the selection in both human and readable form, on a card or piece of paper, then FEED that card or piece of paper into a second (again, very simpl) machine like a scantron that does the counting, then put it in a locked box so a manual recount is possible.

      Of course there are tons of options (described in Applied Crypto) to allow the voter to independently verify his vote was counted corr
  • Hmmm... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by The Fanta Menace (607612) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:18PM (#7398977) Homepage

    You know, I'm quite happy with voting on paper... why do we need electronic voting?

  • Hmm... (Score:2, Funny)

    by Kedisar (705040)
    I predict for the 2004 election, there's just going to be 2 buttons:

    Bush.

    Please send me on a rocket to the moon to work in a rock goulag.

    And then Iraq will invade US and say they're liberating us from a leader who always wins. ;)
  • by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:19PM (#7398990)
    it's not that hard, people!

    You want 'electronic voting'?

    Fine, here it is:
    Registered voter gets handed a paper ballot. Completely human readable. Little circles next to each person/issue.
    Voter enters the booth
    Voter inserts paper ballot into the slot below the (oooh, shiny!) touchscreen.
    Voter selects, each person issue they want to vote for. Change at any time.
    At the bottom, the voter presses "Done". Maybe even a confirmation "Are you sure?"
    Paper ballot is spit out of the slot, with the circles filled in for each item the person has voted for. The touchscreen is merely a printer.
    Voter can verify the paper against what is on the screen.
    Voter walks out, slides the paper ballot into a ScanTron. Said Scantron counts and tabulates as necessary.
    The paper ballot goes into a locked box for future verification if necessary.

    Done.
    • Heck, even user-filled box things usually/should work. The tests I take where I simply fill in a rectangular box in pencil are wonderful.
    • by temojen (678985)

      so much more reliably when you replace "printer" with "pen" and "scantron" with "cardboard box".

      Really, why do you need anything else?

      • "Really, why do you need anything else?"

        Because, apparently some people have problems following simple instructions. Even with something so simple as filling in the circles, there will be people who can't figure it out and instead put and 'X' or check mark and then complain that their vote wasn't counted correctly.

        This phenomenon (sp?) is explained in today's news [theonion.com]

  • I have devised a machine that, when a user applies pressure to a compressed wood-pulp interface module, creates a permanent mark, indentation, or hole on said module with a stylus. This single-use module would then be delivered over a I.P.-over-hand network to a voting official, thus ensuring the voter that their vote has been collected. These votes would then be tallied by a separate machine that, by examining the mark, indentation, or hole in the aforementioned hole, would thus tally all votes. Providi
  • Now, remember... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jerf (17166) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:22PM (#7399027) Journal
    Now, remember, those hundreds of educated Computer Scientists [verifiedvoting.org] scared of current E-voting trends [verifiedvoting.org] are just morons, and the election companies have it all under control [diebold.com]. (more [avirubin.com] info [verifiedvoting.org])

    These events prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the election companies are completely trustworthy, and public officials should continue to poo-poo the concerns of people who know what they are talking about. After all,
    "I don't know what the holdup is," Margaret K. Luca (D), secretary of the county's three-person elections board, said late last night. "I thought we had it covered. We tested all week in the county."
    They tested the machines all last week . Obviously electronic voting is working.

    (Satire aside: This points out the problem very nicely; the "secretary of the county's three-person elections board" is simply not qualified to assess the ability of a voting system to perform in advance of the actual vote. This is intended as an elitist statement, it's just simple truth. "Secretaries of county election boards" should probably put a bit more trust in the concerns thousands of knowlegable citizens have with no vested interest in selling anything, and a lot less trust in companies trying to sell them snake oil. For one thing, they obviously don't know how to test these systems, or they would have found these problems.

    "Stress testing", anyone? If the news report linked to can be trusted, this was nothing more then a bog-stadard "lack of resources" issue, the kind easily diagnosed by a knowlegable tester, and fixed in advance given enough time, but something that most people have no clue about. The idea of "stress testing" may be obvious to most of us, but we are not average.)
  • Why is this so hard? My calculator can increment by 1 for a heck of a long time with total stability. Is electronic voting screwed up for real technical reasons or for some behind the scenes scheming/politicing/pointyhairs?
    • Both. It is both a complicated technical (security/cryptography/reliability) problem, and political problem (everybody wants to point to the shiny new machine and be the "candidate for progress" whatever the hell that means).
  • GOP suit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cluge (114877) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:25PM (#7399062) Homepage

    Wait the GOP is suing? What about all that stuff I read on the internet that Diebold is in the pocket of the GOP? How can I believe anything I read on the Internet any more? Does this mean that Diebold is in the Democrats pockets?


    Answer:Yes, it's ture, Diebold isn't in anyone's pockets - they are simply incompetent.


    I will not vote on any machine that doesn't produce a verifiable paper trail at the time I vote. Neither should you.

    • Answer:Yes, it's ture, Diebold isn't in anyone's pockets - they are simply incompetent.

      The more cynical in here would say that Diebold screwed up the tampering to force a GOP victory, not the actual election.

      But yes, they are incompetent. Criminally so. And should be prosecuted.
    • Re:GOP suit (Score:3, Insightful)

      Wait the GOP is suing? What about all that stuff I read on the internet that Diebold is in the pocket of the GOP?

      That's just FUD to sucker the Democrats onto the bandwagon to pass laws to fix the problem, rather than hiding in the back room figuring out how to use the bugs to cheat. B-)
  • When Al Gore sued over voting irregularities, these same GOP groups were some of the most vocal in opposing it.

    I hate hypocrites.
  • Voting (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Bendebecker (633126) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:27PM (#7399081) Journal
    Which canidate will you vote for: 'Carbon Copy Canidate #1' or 'Carbon Copy Canidate #2'? Just don't vote for the independent 'Carbon Copy that got stuck in the printer Canidate #3' cause he'll never win and you'll just be wasting your vote. What if your candiate loses? Doesn't matter, he wouldn't have done any of the things he promised anyway...

    But seriously, the fact that the whole country is not in an uproar about this is evidence of the continued decline of our democracy. Quite simply, it appears no one cares anymore who you vote for cause who wins doesn't change anything. The last time I voted, I found half the canidates were running unopposed, most of the other voters were not only uninformed but seemed to have gone out the way to remain ingnorant of the issues, the canidates had almost no distinguishable differences from one another, and just about everyone of them was doing it not to serve the people but to serve themselves. The only difference nowadays is which special interest group gets its needs met at the expense of the public good this time around. Do your duty as a citizen: wipe your ass with your vote - at least it will make a differnce. Don't like the current system? Get yourslef elected by selling your soul to the lowest bidder, do your duty as an purchased official, and then wipe your ass with the consitution.
  • by phorm (591458) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:29PM (#7399104) Journal
    When the first "electronic voting" machines went in, I think that they should have accompanied a paper-vote, or perhaps put out a paper receipt indicating the vote that could be stuffed in a ballot box. This way, you could use the physical (paper) votes to compare to the accuracy/loss in the electronic ones.
  • ... but this particular article on the Republican affiliation of Diebold's CEO [portclinto...herald.com] comes from the Port CLINTON News Herald.

    ** Pulls lever for (take your pick) Democrat, Green, Libertarian, Reform ** ... Machine: BSOD.
    ** Pulls level for Republican ** ... Machine: "Thank you for being a good American"

  • The 3502 people who voted for "Elvis," even though he wasn't on the options screen.

    Faster and Secure my ass... I wouldn't be surprised to see something like this happen.
  • I for one welcome our new voted-in-by-crummy-electronics overlords.

    Seriously though, why is it so HARD for people to get it right? Voting is one of those things that should be summed up with this word: KISS.

    Keep It Simple, Stupid.
  • First-hand account (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:35PM (#7399171)
    Okay, I work as one of two computer consultants responsible for overseeing the election tabulation process in my county. Yesterday's election was the first time we used the new electronic voting machines (iVotronic [essvote.com]).

    Things went off without a hitch. We began tabulating at about 6:30 and were done by 8:00. We used to use punch cards, and would normally get done around 11:00. So you can see why a lot of government officials are praising these things. They are faster, easier to use, and less prone to voting mistakes. Last year there were dozens of cards punched backwards or upside-down, hanging chads, and whatnot. That really slows things down a lot.

    That said, I don't like these machines. There's a fundamental flaw in the construction that makes the whole thing insecure. Given the incentive ($$$), it would be incredibly easy for an employee of the manufacturer to slip some deviant code into the machine that said, "on election day make every fifth vote go towards this candidate".

    I think the best analogy was one I heard on NPR the other day (I believe it was David Dill [stanford.edu]). The current process with electronic voting is akin to walking into a booth and telling your vote to a person on the other side of a curtain. Did he write down what you told him to? Who knows.
  • by pixelpusher220 (529617) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:36PM (#7399186)
    from the AVN web site [enfocom.com]

    These things are wireless.

    All those that think this is a BAD idea raise your hands...

    • From their website:
      "Helping Shape American history for Over One Hundred Years"

      We don't want you to help shape history. We'll do that. You just count it.

      On second thought, no, we don't want you. Wireless voting terminals? No thanks.
  • I knew that our touch-screen machines were hackable when last night's returns had Gandalf the Wizard leading Han Solo by 54% to 43%, with the remaining votes split among write-in and third party candidates Neo, Captain Kirk, and CowboyNeal.
  • by color of static (16129) <smasters@ie3.14ee.org minus pi> on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:47PM (#7399297) Homepage Journal
    I voted in the State/county election in question Fairafx Virginia and I can tell you these things really troubled me.

    We have been using a combination computer mechanical system for years which I felt very comfortable with. Yesterday we walked in to find the new "WinVote" machines. They offered no privacy and were actually slowing down peoples vote entry by quite a bit (I saw most people take over 10 minutes to vote compared to one or two I would normally see).

    The officials were telling me about how one machine stopped working and couldn't be revived. The others they had apparently been able to reboot multiple times to keep going. They of course didn't know how the vote count was protected in these cases. I have a guess though.

    Before each person votes, an official inserts a smart card. The application restarts, displays some statistics and proceeds to allow me to vote. My guess is that the results are copied to the smart cards. In that case the state of the machine isn't really in question so long as the tally increases as the voter voted.

    What worries me is the use of smart cards. Now these tend to hold a handful of memory (8K to 64K in general), and can run some code internally. My question is, if a machine crashes then could it alter the contents of the smart card? A write only smart card would not have enough room for a busy polling location. A card where a count is updated would be vulnerable to coding or transfer errors.

    Like the user who asks for a database when they need a filing cabinet, I think this may be an idea to early for its time.
  • by rsidd (6328) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:47PM (#7399298)
    The machines' manufacturers in India claim [rediff.com] that the machines are tamper-proof. This is 1980s technology (and the article I link to is from 1999).

    I'm not an expert but it seems reasonable. These machines are standalone units, not networked; they have hardcoded (machine-language) software on their chips, with no facility for modifying it or running an external program. To tamper with them you'd have to replace the motherboard with your own, on which you've embedded your own program, and even then it probably won't work since the machine has various safeguards for tampering. And these machines are extremely rugged and sturdy, and easy to use (I've handled them) and inexpensive (around $100 each).

    Sometimes antique push-button technology is better than the latest cutting-edge stuff (anyway, who needs touchscreens, what's wrong with buttons?)

  • In Britain (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mrsev (664367) <mrsev&spymac,com> on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:55PM (#7399390)
    In Britain we ahve all our votes on paper and they are all hand counted and stored. We get our election results by the morining. Even for small Scotish islands. It is not such a big job to count a few votes. Each person can count several thousand per hour. This means that you need only need 500 counters per million votes and it is done in a night.

    When the result is close there is a recount and I have never seen the second result to be out by more than 5-10 per 60,000 votes.

    There is an important principle that every person has the right to have their vote counted. Errors above 1 per 1000 are not acceptable. The system must not only be fair but be seen to be fair. Furthermore there must be a permanent record of the votes cast. How else can we be sure that all was fair.
  • by JohnA (131062) <johnanderson&gmail,com> on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @09:36PM (#7402952) Homepage
    This is the letter to the editor I sent to our local paper, The Merced Sun-Star [mercedsun-star.com].

    Yesterday after voting, I was given the wrong sticker by a poll worker. It said "I Voted" when it should have said, "I may or may not have voted." The uncertainty of the disposition of my vote comes from the fact that instead of marking a paper ballot and verifying that it was inserted into a locked ballot box, I touched a computer screen and pressed a flashing "Vote" button.

    I asked a poll worker if I would receive some sort of paper confirmation of my vote, and she replied that I did not. How then can I be sure that my vote was actually counted, and that the system reported my vote for the proper candidates? Quite simply, it cannot.

    As a computer programmer by trade, my bread & butter comes from the design & implementation of new computer technologies. But creating an all-electronic system with no voter-verifiable audit trail is one of the worst threats our democracy has faced.

    First, how can I be sure that the software powering the voting device is free of defects? Next, how can I verify that my "ballot" is not corrupted in the transfer from the device to whatever central system is used to count the ballots? Finally, what happens if a recount is requested? By virtue of the fact it is a computer, a system making a mistake the first time is likely to make the same mistake the second time.

    Our democracy is too precious to be entrusted to the hands of some overworked software developer answering to a bottom-line driven management. If we truly want honest and open elections, we must first insure that the technology driving it is open, honest, and voter-verifiable.

    Regards,

    John Anderson

"Of course power tools and alcohol don't mix. Everyone knows power tools aren't soluble in alcohol..." -- Crazy Nigel

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