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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 macemoneta (154740) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @02:08PM (#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.
  • Re:Oh no. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by kaybi (261428) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @02:17PM (#7398961)
    They seem to be working okay in Oregon [oregonvoting.org].
  • by sulli (195030) * on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @02:17PM (#7398965) Journal
    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!

  • Re:Oh no. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cmowire (254489) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @02:24PM (#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.
  • Re:How hard is it... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by zod1025 (189215) <zod@modern[ ]ardry.org ['wiz' in gap]> on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @02:29PM (#7399107) Homepage
    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 anyway.

    We are stuck deep in the dark ages of computing, surely.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @02:29PM (#7399116)
    What happens if you get to the polling place and you don't want to use their electronic system? Is there an alternative available?
  • First-hand account (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @02:35PM (#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 katre (44238) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @02:50PM (#7399329)

    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 @02:53PM (#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.
  • by Eraserhd (21298) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @02:55PM (#7399391) Homepage
    The point is that, if the machine does not produce a voter-verifiable ballot, you cannot guaruntee that your vote was recorded. We have instances of machines loosing up to 100,000 votes due to software errors (Florida, 2002) since all they have to do is print totals at the end of the night.

    While a manual recount can have issues, these issues aren't of the same order of magnitude and are controllable. Not to mention that we still have the paper trail if we have any evidence of foul play.
  • by Joe Decker (3806) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:14PM (#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.

  • 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, as the addition of the redundancy also complicates the system more. The best way I ever heard it put is 'The more they overhaul the plumbing, the easier it is to clog the pipes.' - Scotty, Star Trek.

    What we need is not a more complex way to vote, that only benifits the politicians and voting machine companies. We need to apply the KISS principle. Keep It Simple Silly. Quit trying to get instant results, exit polls, and the like, and focus on getting complete, accurate votes and counts. Introduce a concept that, though unfashionable right now, is well proven to increase accuracy and efficiency. Have some patience.

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

    by LeftOfCentre (539344) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:30PM (#7399748)
    I have to agree with you. That's how we do it in Sweden as well (however, we can also vote at the post office if we want, making it possible to vote from other places). I'm puzzled by this American tendendy towards high-tech elections for little gain and enormous risk.
  • by Councilor Hart (673770) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:32PM (#7399765)
    You don't need paper for that.
    In belgium it's recorded on a chip (creditcard-size).
    You can re-insert the card into the computer and verify (not change) your vote.
    Afterwards the cards/chips can be recounted.
    I understand that there are problems in the US since the 2000 presidential election and the us is searching for a new system.
    But you don't have to re-invent the wheel. It's working in Belgium, come take a look. It's working to that extent that no mayor problems are known, such as losing 100000 votes.
    Nothing works a 100%. not even doing everything with paper, because that leads to counting problems. You can't count accurately several hundred million votes.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:33PM (#7399779)
    Here in the Netherlands, we've been voting by electronic machines for quite a while now. So: why use crappy technology while proven technology is available??
  • by Joe Decker (3806) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:59PM (#7400053) Homepage
    Yes, no ID. With the exception of a corner case (where a voter has moved into a new polling area but stayed in the same county in the last 90 days and wants to vote in their new polling place, and is willing to cast a provisional ballot), it is illegal for California pollworkers to ask for ID.

    Now, you do sign in, and the vast majority of folks who vote either bring in their sample ballot or just present their driver's license. But if you know "old Fred" won't be voting, you could walk in, say you're Fred at 321 Iris St. (if that's his address), sign his name, print his address, and be allowed to vote.

    Now, that's dangerous to do, because there's a small chance that Fred is known to one of the poll-workers. But yeah, you can't ask for ID. I can't even begin to imagine why.

  • by anwyn (266338) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @05:00PM (#7400798)
    Would it be possible to use the mathematical technique of
    zero knowledge proof to create a voting machines that would allow the following:
    (1)Each voter could individually verify that his vote was used (as he voted) in the count.
    (2)Anyone could verify that the numbers add up correctly.
    (2a) But no one except the individual voter could know the individual votes.
    If this could be done mathematicly and implemented in voting machine software, it would make backup paper trails unnecessary to prevent voter fraud!
    I believe the zero knowledge proof allows a proof to be checked without knowing the individual statements of the proof! What is election vote count checking but a particular kind of proof checking! It would seem the technique might apply!
  • by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @05:39PM (#7401221)
    What happens if the box runs out of ink, or the paper jams, or I fail to insert it all the way, or pull it out as the paper is printing...


    or the paper jams,

    Valid. Call an election official to unjam. Print again.

    I fail to insert it all the way, or pull it out as the paper is printing...

    Change the system slightly. Don't insert, just a rack of blank paper. When you're done, it prints the whole thing. Nothing to insert, nothing to pull out early.

    What if I insert the paper a second time?

    See above.

    What about a power-failure during the printout?

    Makes no difference. The 'voting' does not happen until the paper ballot runs through the optical scanner.

    What about a power-failure during the printout?

    That does not work well now. People would put an X or a checkmark instead of filling in the circle.

    All this does is failsafe the printing process. Don't like what got printed on the paper, or it screwed up? Shred that one, and print it again. Each person only gets to put one and only one ballot through the optical scanner.

    Filling in a circle or punching a hole is not rocket science. But people still screw it up, as witnessed with pregnant, hanging, multiple, dimpled chads. Take that screwup option away.
    In case of a power failure...you can fill them in manually. But since there seems to be such a push to 'eVoting'...this might be an end run around that.
  • by Urox (603916) <luthien3@ju[ ]com ['no.' in gap]> on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @05:43PM (#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.
  • Re:What's wrong with (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DunbarTheInept (764) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @06:13PM (#7401628) Homepage
    While I too don't like the "one vote" system, as it tends to make people polarize into two parties, you have to realize that a ranking system doesn't work either because (in theory) in the USA a write-in candidate should always be an option. So, how do I rank *your* write-in candidate low when I didn't even know you were going to write it in? So, to vote *agaisnt* a candidate by ranking it low, that candidate has to be printed on the ballot. It could be possible to make a grassroots campaign unfairly sneak a write-in under the radar such that people don't know to vote against it.

  • Re:Oh no. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by zenyu (248067) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @07:29PM (#7402421)
    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, or you double voted, it will spit out the ballet so you can make corrections. Or get a new one and try again.


    Those machines work great if you want them to. One of the problems with the Florida election was that Kathrin Harris had all those machines sent to Tallahassee where she programmed the ones in mostly Republican Counties to spit out the ballot for revoting if you made a mistake, and to swallow the ballots in mostly Democratic Counties. Same hardware, different software. This was reported widely in the British press, but came out on the back pages of American papers eight months after the election. (Jeb denied he fixed the election so CBS didn't have the guts to report what his workers said they had been ordered to do, until a government investigation confirmed the irregulaties were real. No I didn't vote for Gore, but fixing elections on a grand scale is much more dangerous than any differences between which cracker screews us over this time around.)

    I say go back to paper ballots filled out in pen and counted by hand by all the parties involved. Locked boxes, etc. It's not like we have elections often enough for this to be expensive in the scheme of things.
  • by JohnA (131062) <johnanderson@gma ... m minus math_god> on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @08:36PM (#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

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