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Early Voting Problems, Open Source Alternative 164

Posted by Soulskill
from the off-to-a-great-start dept.
Techdirt makes note of some problems cropping up already for early voters in the presidential election. CNN covers some of the issues, including machines in a West Virginia county which recorded some votes incorrectly because of an alignment error. A lengthy discussion of the problems was also featured on NPR. Reader Rooked_One points out a related story at NPR about a voting program called PVOTE, written in Python and only 500 lines long. "Pvote is not a complete voting system. It is just the software program that interacts with the voter. Other necessary functions, such as voter registration, ballot preparation, and canvassing, are not part of Pvote. It is especially important that the voter interaction be correct because it is the only part of an election that must take place in private, whereas all other parts of an election can and should be subjected to public oversight and verification."
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Early Voting Problems, Open Source Alternative

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 25, 2008 @07:37AM (#25508867)

    We're going to have a very close race and it's going to be more acrimonious than 2000. And when it hits the fan, they're going to be looking for a goat. Guess what, not who, it's going to be?

    Folks are NOT going to be pleased that there's no paper trail or any other way to audit the machines. I may have to go and buy surplus paper voting machines and make a killing.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by AdamHaun (43173)

      The presidential race probably won't have as many problems. The polls are predicting an Obama shut-out. The question now is not whether the Democrats will win the White House and gain seats in the house and senate, but how big of a landslide it will be.

      • The presidential race probably won't have as many problems. The polls are predicting an Obama shut-out.

        I seem to recall that that media predictions were a major contributor to Gore losing the election in 2000. [mclaughlinonline.com] Never stop running until the race is completely over.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by kalirion (728907)

        Obama will almost definitely win the popular vote. The question is whether or not he will win the machine vote.

    • What polls are you reading!? It's not even kinda close right now, unless you look at that one outlier poll with an unrepresentative sample of younger voters.

      Even the mainstream news outlets, which only call it for a candidate when they're 10% ahead, show Obama winning. The most likely EV total is 375 (and you need 270 to win).

      That said, you're right that both candidates and the news would rather we treat it as if it's close. After all, if people don't bother to vote, the election could swing big time.

      But

  • by Casandro (751346) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @07:37AM (#25508869)

    Even if you have a short programm you still cannot guarante that it works because there's still a system surrounding it. In fact you could even manipulate the CPU hardware to give you false results.

    The _only_ practicable and moderately secure way to do an election is by pen and paper and manual counting. It's done all over the world and it works near flawlessly. Everybody, not just programmers, can watch the process and see what's happening. There's no "black magic" involved and it's completely transparent.

    As soon as there is some form of technology involved, people will cease to understand it, therefore making the whole system intransparent and prone to manipulation.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      My optimal system for the US race:

      Optical scan machines or touch screen with voter-verified paper trail (i.e. receipt that you drop into a bucket). Choose a random sample of let's say 200 ballots from each polling place; if they don't match the official totals by say five percent, recount the entire polling place by hand. This will happen occasionally by chance, but it won't be that often. Combine the results of this sampling for each congressional district and perform the same check (with a lower margin of

      • by Casandro (751346) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @07:53AM (#25508917)

        Still with close elections beeing extremely likely that's no solution. It might only find completely defunkt machines, but none that just change the results slightly. In your system, elections get decided by very few votes.

        Besides with a bit of organisation, counting votes it extremely quick and simple.

        Just do it in 2 steps:
        First sort your ballots according to some system. If you have simple "choose one of the following 5" this is trivial.
        Then count those sorted ballots.

        Believe me, Germany has one of the most complicated voting systems in the world, still we have official results in the papers, the next day.

        • by foobsr (693224) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @08:49AM (#25509157) Homepage Journal
          Germany has one of the most complicated voting systems in the world, still we have official results in the papers, the next day

          But with voting machines our trusted politicians would have the results even before the elections. Just figure!

          CC.
        • Germany has one of the most complicated voting systems in the world

          Please say more! Americans often say they need machines to do the counting because they directly elect so many officials -- not just the President but senators, sheriffs, judges, and more -- which makes the counting process very complicated. How complicated is it in Germany?

          • by Sique (173459) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @10:44AM (#25509753) Homepage

            Lets put it like this: The Black Forest town of Villingen-Schwenningen has something called "unechte Teilortswahl" (literally translated: "not really an election per suburb"). Basicly every suburb has some seats reserved for their local candidates, but there are no party lists for each suburb, every party has a list for the whole of Villingen-Schwenningen. Each party can nominee as much candidates on its list as there are seats in the town council. With up to 20 parties running, this can easily amout to about ~450 candidates. It has happened that the voting ballot for the town council was a square metre!
            Now the voter can either accept the whole list of one party, or he has as much votes as there are seats in the council. Those votes he can distribute freely: all on one candidate ("cumulate") or evenly distributed between candidates of different lists, or some of the votes on a single candidate, and others on other candidates... it's completely up to him. He can even write new candidates on the lists and give them votes.
            During the count one determines which candidate got the most votes in his suburb, he gets a direct seat. If the suburb has a second seat, also the second best candidate gets a second seat etc.pp. But because different parties are running, it can happen, that other lists got many votes on their lists, but are not represented by the suburb. Then they get so called "Ausgleichsmandate" (compensatory mandates). Those are additional seats in the town council. In the end the council thus consists of as many candidates from the different lists as the relative number of votes the lists demands. With all those compensatory mandates the town council can often double or triple the number of seats.

            • I only understood about half that! I'm therefore thoroughly convinced your system is way too complicated.

            • by Zerth (26112)

              That is scary, but kind of awesome. Being able to pile all your votes on one guy is neat.

        • by goombah99 (560566) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @10:16AM (#25509593)

          First off Germany has a relatively simple ballot, its only complex because it's evaluated in a complicated way. The US to begin with is large with diverse kinds of governing bodies, and has far far far far more elected offices. So comparing it to German elections is silly.

          Second Pvote is not 500 lines. it's 500 lines sitting on top of hundreds of thousands of lines of interpreter code, device drivers, and the tens of millions of lines of Linux.

          Third writing a voting system, while non trivial, is not the hard part.

          The hard part is twofold
          1) creating a viable bussiness model for it's distribution, component agregation, certification, and service it.

          2) designing a voting PROCESS so that you don't have to trust the third parties that build or maintain these or the people that operate them. Things have to be transparently secure.

          Now the OVC system OPen voting Consortium has had a python based system for years. it's open source too. But more importantly it is designed so we dont' have to trust the programmers (it produces an intermediate paper ballot and physically separates the vote selection hardware from the vote counting hardware ---just as optical scan does.) And it has a well thought out and viable bussiness model that will allow for it's practical distribution and maintainence.

          That is what the world needs. so if you want to help. Donate to OVC. They are struggling right now not because they can't write code, but because they have to win acceptance at the state level before any company is going to start marketing the system.

          OVC has a very clever bussiness model in which the software is free and open, but companies support it's development through fees paid to certify their OEM component based systems as compliant with the OVC standards.

          • Open voting consortium [openvotingconsortium.org]

          • by he-sk (103163)

            While Germany has fewer elected officials a ballot can still be non-trivial with Bundestag, state and community elections all on the same day. Popular initiatives are on the rise in recent years and several states have complicated their ballot (IRV and a process we call Kumulieren/Panaschieren), so the ballot will get larger with time.

            The argument that one needs voting machines, because of the many elections is a total non sequitur to the complaint that people don't trust machines to count their vote. And

          • by houghi (78078)

            If you have 1) you do not need 2)

        • by fugue (4373)
          If the federal elections are both close and acrimonious, then the problem is with society and the candidates, or with the system of government. If half your citizens are furious, an accurate count is useless. Boot out the morons who disagree with you and let them start their own country. Oh, wait--that's what the Constitution says: the state governments have most of the power, the federal government's role is tightly circumscribed.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by zippthorne (748122)

          Still with close elections...

          Well.. that's the real problem. The elections wouldn't be so close if politicians didn't race to co-opt each other. I mean.. the difference between Obama and McCain appears to be a few trivial details in their massive wealth redistribution plans.

          If they'd.. y'know... stand for something...different, then people would have an actual reason to decide something. There might be mandates even.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by molarmass192 (608071)
        I'd say a hybrid might offer more redundancy. Machine A is a touch screen which prints a completed ballot. Voter visually confirms the completed ballot. Completed ballot is taken to machine B to be optically scanned. Paper ballot is saved to a vault and the voter gets a printed receipt with choices printed on it. Ideally, the receipt provided to the voter would be imprinted with an anonymous unique number to verify their vote online, a bit like lottery tickets are verified. The unique ID might even be a che
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Plunky (929104)

          Ideally, the receipt provided to the voter would be imprinted with an anonymous unique number to verify their vote online

          On the surface, this seems a good idea and really, its the only way that an electronic system can be trusted

          In reality though, it opens the possibility of vote buying and intimidation

          This is why people keep saying that paper ballots with manual counts and human supervision are the only way to proceed

      • by Ritchie70 (860516) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @08:12AM (#25509013) Journal

        Where I vote, we do use optical scan ballots. They hand you a piece of paper and a magic marker, and you go connect the two parts of an arrow.

        Once you're done voting, it goes right into the scanner, which will complain if there's a mis-vote (too many votes in a race, race missed, etc.) If you intentionally skipped a race, you can tell the old man by the machine that you under-voted on purpose when it complains.

        I assume that the machine is not also a shredder, so the ballots could be recounted, either fairly quickly by scanner or, if different results are obtained from multiple runs through the scanner, by hand.

        I think the statistical sampling is still a good idea though. It wouldn't catch minor fraud or error, but it would at least give you an indication that the result is probably about right.

        Everything needs a sanity check. If you use your calculator to multiply 53 x 58 you know that should be somewhere around 50 x 60 so if you wind up with 13,592 you're going to try again. We should apply the same level of sense to determining who is going to run our country.

        • by dangitman (862676)

          Once you're done voting, it goes right into the scanner, which will complain if there's a mis-vote (too many votes in a race, race missed, etc.)

          Sigh. Why is it always about race?

      • by slash.duncan (1103465) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @08:52AM (#25509183) Homepage

        Almost every place I've ever voted has had optical scans, generally of the connect the arrow type. They mail out sample ballots (marked sample and on different paper, no funny business there) several weeks ahead of time. You walk in with your voting card and/or proof of ID (the laws are getting stricter and require both in many places, now), the volunteers (almost always old people, setup so representatives of both major parties are present) mark your name off as voting and hand you an official ballot. This ballot should match the sample you got in the mail, or there'd be PR hell to pay.

        You walk over to the booth, generally a portable table with a cardboard privacy screen fitted around the top. There's a pen of the proper type in the booth -- you can ask to have it replaced if necessary. For each race or proposition, it tells you how many you can mark -- for some state races you can select multiple candidates and the top X number are picked -- and you mark what you wish. For most candidate races (in most states) there's also a blank entry you can mark, and write-in your choice.

        You don't have to vote for all races or propositions. If you screw up, you take the screwed up ballot back (using the privacy procedures below) and they give you another. (I've never actually screwed up, but this is what the prominently posted instructions say to do.)

        When you are done, there's either a privacy cover (if the cards are printed on both sides) or instructions tell you to turn the marked sides in. You leave the booth and return to the sign-in area, where another volunteer takes the ballot and feeds it into an optical-scan machine right there -- you watch them do it and hear it beep and increment the ballot count. Again at this point, if it fails to read (tho I've never had that happen), you can get a new ballot and try again. The ballot itself is deposited in a lock-box for recounts, if necessary.

        Many states have a no-reason-necessary early voting allowed policy. You can either request an absentee ballot and either mail it in or take it to an authorized polling place up to poll closing time on the date of the main vote, or go in and early-vote at the county recorder's office. A few elections ago I did just that, requesting and getting an absentee ballot in the mail, which I filled out, sealed in the provided envelope, and dropped by my normal polling place on the day of the vote. They had a lock-box for them. It was much more convenient than voting as normal, but I missed the voting ritual and it felt kind of weird watching the results come in that nite having not actually voted that day.

        States differ in how they check the ballots, but Arizona (where I am now) at least, requires an audit of several (IIRC two) percent of the precincts, randomly chosen (the "random" process of choosing them is encoded in the law, with at minimum witnesses from both parties, both to the choice and to the verifications, the audited precincts are not known previous to the vote so can't be avoided that way). These audits hand verify the count of the optical scan machines.

        This system seems pretty reliable to me. I still can't understand why the entire nation doesn't just go opti-scan, as the machines can be used to count and get quick results as necessary, while the paper trail is there for anyone wishing to verify things.

        The biggest problem I've heard about, doing it this way, is the lock-boxes disappearing a couple of times. Each one holds a few hundred votes. Of course, there's an accountability trail, but as they say, **** happens. Unfortunately, that's a problem for pretty much any after-the-fact verifiable system. But those cases are few and far between, it seems, and I've not heard of any of them actually affecting an outcome. There have been a few cases of other oddities as well, but nothing even close to the unverified touch-screen issues that seem to come up every year.

        BTW, I've worked with touch screens, and whoever came up with the idea of having the untrained public v

      • by Falstius (963333)

        There are some advantages of optical scan over touch screen.

        1. If the touch screens break, you're SOL. If the optical scan breaks people can still fill out ballots while a new machine is delivered (many places that use touch screens keep paper ballots on hand as a backup, why not just start with the paper ballots?).
        2. With an optical scan system, you only need one or two machines per precinct. This is much cheaper. A limited number of touch screens has repeatedly led to long lines and disenfranchised v

      • Statistical checking isn't good enough. That's what the policy was in Ohio in the 2004 presidential election, and they managed to screw it up by ignoring the meaning of "random". An arbitrary voter *must* be able to personally understand that the voting process was executed correctly (to produce a correct result) - and they must be able to understand fraud claims (so they can tell that they're serious).

        I've got a pretty solid college-level mathematics background, and it would take me a couple hours with a

    • by TapeCutter (624760) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @07:56AM (#25508933) Journal
      "The _only_ practicable and moderately secure way to do an election is by pen and paper and manual counting. It's done all over the world and it works near flawlessly. Everybody, not just programmers, can watch the process and see what's happening. There's no "black magic" involved and it's completely transparent."

      May I just add that those who don't understand this are doomed to screw things up until they do.
      • by sTeF (8952)
        I know that the only accepted way is by pen and paper. Can anyone please tell me why Secure Multi-party Computations [wikipedia.org] - which also bears some of RSAs Adi Shamirs work - cannot satisfy basic requirements?
        • I can tell you why I don't like it at first sniff, I'm a coumputer scientist with a fair amount of years and math under my belt and from the link you gave I barely understand what it's supposed to be and have no idea how you would implement such a thing to improve over pen and paper (which by my reckoning has already proven itself to be a secure MPC).
        • The number one requirement is that the voters be able to understand the process. Anything that requires non-trivial math (beyond counting and maybe adding) fails that requirement.

    • I think the idea here is that by using as much non-custom software as possible, and since packages from any reputable source will be digitally signed (debian packages, windows packages, etc...) and that the signatures are part of the voting machine verification process to which all are privy.

      The installation will rely on software which is widely used and tested in other applications, and code to which access is controlled by the gatekeepers of those applications (as enforced by digital signatures)

      The proble

    • by karstux (681641) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @08:42AM (#25509133) Homepage

      The _only_ practicable and moderately secure way to do an election is by pen and paper and manual counting. It's done all over the world and it works near flawlessly.

      I'd like to add that the counting must not only be manual, but also public. Everyone with an interest in the election, including the voters, must be able to verify the process. That can never happen with voting machines.

      I don't get it. Nearly everyone with professional knowledge of computer science and/or hardware, including technology enthusiasts who'd otherwise embrace any new technology, advise against voting machines, because they know that the necessary level of trust and security is impossible to reach. Why don't the politicians for once listen to those who genuinely know better?

      It's not like voting machines have any significant inherent advantages over pen-and-paper voting. I guess they are a bit faster in counting. But sacrifice the trust in democracy (and a couple of billions of dollars) for that little convenience? Absurd!

      • by moxley (895517) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @09:00AM (#25509219)

        "I don't get it. Nearly everyone with professional knowledge of computer science and/or hardware, including technology enthusiasts who'd otherwise embrace any new technology, advise against voting machines, because they know that the necessary level of trust and security is impossible to reach. Why don't the politicians for once listen to those who genuinely know better?"

        I think that the answer to that is pretty self-evident:

        It is because their primary concerns are not accuracy and "what the people want," I mean, it's not like the government and these people running for president don't have access to smart people and good technology (not necessarily electronic). It's not like they don't know what makes elections fair and verifiable and what systems are prone to manipulation.

        Their primary concerns are control, keeping the status quo and pleasing their corporate/govt benefactors,(who are not "the people.")

        So the real question then becomes: why is this tolerated?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Why don't the politicians for once listen to those who genuinely know better?

        Because you haven't proved that you genuinely know better?

    • What you're talking about is often erroneously referred to as a "paper trail". That term is harmful because it is too vague. Diebold sells a DRE (direct recording equipment; the computer records and tabulates the votes it collects) which produces a "paper trail": a long receipt-like strip of paper which ostensibly lists all the voters who used that machine since the last session. The problem with this is it is not voter-verified. Only the election judges get to see it and therefore it is entirely useles

    • The _only_ practicable and moderately secure way to do an election is by pen and paper and manual counting. It's done all over the world and it works near flawlessly

      Ah, that explains it. I'd always wondered why rigged elections and vote fraud never happened before the advent of modern voting machines.

    • The problem with simple manual counting is actually that a significant number of ballots will be spoiled as cast. That is, there will be lots of ballots marked in such a way that the counters will disagree over what the voter intended. And, furthermore, there will be cases were the ballot design, intentionally or otherwise, will lead more voters who want to cast one particular vote to spoil their ballots than some other particular vote, meaning that discarding the spoiled ballots will favor one option over

  • Everything in Oregon is weird. We can't pump our own gas, we don't pay sales tax, and we do all of our voting by mail. It makes no sense, and it's ripe for corruption (though nobody has called the "C" word so far. At least not lately)

    But it's kind of nice. No computers, no machines, just fill out your ballot and mail it in. I got my ballot in the mail yesterday. I've plenty of time to research the state and local ballot, so I can make an informed decision.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Yvanhoe (564877)
      What is the use of being informed if your vote is not counted ?
    • by houghi (78078)

      I've plenty of time to research the state and local ballot, so I can make an informed decision.

      I will sit next to you so verify wether you are informed in the right way to make the right vote or not. That or you can sell your vote.

  • Python, eh? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheRaven64 (641858) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @08:02AM (#25508959) Journal
    That's good. It means that the trusted computing base is only a POSIX kernel, a C standard library and a Python runtime. Only about 100MB of source code to audit to ensure that this 500-line program runs correctly.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      all of which is used for many other purposes, folks are looking at and using that code routinely, and so holes in there are very likely to be discovered. The packages used would be the ones shipped by distros, and all packaging systems routinely digitally sign them.

      someone has to either corrupt the standard package (by infiltrating pygame or some such) or come up with a very good reason why the library from the normal sources cannot be used.

      You don't need to audit all the libraries etc... that you depend o

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by AMK (3114)

      The pvote.org site notes that "the Diebold AccuVote TSX software contains over 64000 lines of C++; the Sequoia Edge software contains over 124000 lines of C." Those systems run on top of Windows or Windows CE, and in general regulations don't require verifying commercial off-the-shelf components.

  • Simple answer: NO!

    There is just to damn much failures and corruption in the voting system and the politicians.

    Instead what really needs to happen is that the American public need to tell the government how and on what to spend their tax money on, in this "for the people, by teh people" country.

    Because when it gets right down to it, that's really what the elected official has to work with, the peoples tax money. And if the people are defining how the money is to be used, then that will eliminate the majority

  • Security-ly speaking, when it comes to voting machines, the software itself is a "hard point", meaning that it is actually quite difficult to leverage in such a way as to alter voting results *without suspicion of foul play*--even if it isn't open source.

    Strangely in this case, the hardware itself is a soft point. (meaning everything from NVRAM to the touch display) It's trivial to misalign a touch screen on purpose, for example, and it can always be passed off as an error without drawing any meaningful sus
  • by Supernoma (794214) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @08:43AM (#25509137)

    Why can't the US do what we do in Canada? You don't have to make this complicated.

    In Canada, we show up to our polling station with our voter card, show the card and receive a ballot. We take the ballot, which has the names of the candidates and their party in large font very clearly, and put an X in the big circle beside the candidate we're voting for.

    Thats it! No fancy machines, no complicated forms, and no computers to go wrong or be hacked.

    See this image:
    http://www.elections.ca/yth/images/sample_ballot.gif [elections.ca]

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Dhalka226 (559740)

      Why can't the US do what we do in Canada?

      No disrespect, but I'm beginning to get annoyed every time I see a question like that.

      We can't do what you do in Canada and what others do elsewhere because our process is different. Your process works fantastically when a person is choosing one of a small handful of options. Big name, big circle, big X. Simple. Easy as hell to count.

      The last time I voted here in the US (Cook County, Illinois, if you wish to know) I probably cast nearly 100 votes, many in dif

    • Why can't the US do what we do in Canada? You don't have to make this complicated.

      You do when your candidate/side is loosing and you just can't have it that way. This all started because that 'X' you speak of was marked up really fast and slid over into the neighboring big circle - those that didn't like the outcome threatened to sue and hold the entire thing up until the courts decided what is up.

      To relieve any kind of issues like this in the future - the current fiasco was born...

    • by MtViewGuy (197597)

      That would be great except for one thing: ballot MUST be filled out using a permanent ink pen or marker. There's good reason for this: pencil marks can be erased or smudged, and we'll be back at the "hanging chad" fiasco from 2000 all over again.

  • Amazing (Score:2, Interesting)

    by nauseum_dot (1291664)

    I hope that I am not the only one who is amazed that 500 lines of Python code and a 200 page thesis paper that explains my methodology gets me a PhD at Berkley.

    I hope he did something else, that I don't know about, like recompile and harden a Unix kernel/ develop his own minimum OS for it to run on and dig through the bugs to determine the security flaws that would exist if he was to use Python.

    For the first time in my life, I am glad that I am not pursuing a graduate degree in computer science. If that is

    • by Davemania (580154)
      Its unfair to judge someones work simply by throwing out some numeric values you know nothing about, 500 lines of code and 200 pages says nothing about the content of the work considering there is experiment, theory, methodology that has to be done. From my experience, a good concise thesis that explains and defends its work and theory can be done in a lot less than 200 pages.
    • Umm. A PhD isn't a prize they give you for stamina, it is a degree awarded for a course of advanced study and a piece of original research of suitable quality. Now, I don't know enough about the area to either attack or defend this particular thesis; but length is an irrelevant criterion. In fact, for a degree designed to demonstrate capacity for novel work in a given field, a thesis containing large amounts of superfluous, non-novel, material might well raise a red flag. Building minimal OSes and hardening
  • by Vidar Leathershod (41663) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @08:53AM (#25509187)

    And considering they worked well for 100 years, there is no reason to switch. Of course, money changes people's minds, which is why we see that next year New York has scheduled to completely remove them and replace them with unreliable crap.

    • I agree with your general point, that we are rushing to replace fairly simple, robust, known systems with expensive known-bad crap; but mechanical systems are not completely immune:

      "Listening for the sounds the machine makes was the basis for a known attack on voter privacy in the days of lever machines. The lever machines used by New York State in the 20th century permitted voting a straight party ticket by pulling a single lever, and this was easy to distinguish (from voting a split ticket) by listening
      • I agree that no system is infallible. However, if someone has a concern over the sound, they can pull the levers individually (which, though I often vote a straight ticket, I do anyway, because it is just so fun.)

    • by MtViewGuy (197597)

      I don't want the old mechanical voting machines because they too can be rigged and trying to maintain those things is almost akin to a Rube Goldberg nightmare.

      The mark-sense paper ballot filled out in permanent ink pen or marker is probably the best way to go--such a ballot is easily machine-read and also relatively easy to do hand counts if necessary.

      • Well, anything can be rigged. How often have the lever machines been rigged? How often do they need to be repaired?

        In NY, we have had the same machines for something close to 50 years if I read correctly. And they don't break often. They also require no power to operate.

  • Apart from transparency, the other possible advantage of open-source is community involvement. With the success or participation seen in the Linux and Mozilla community, you would think that with something as import as voting. There would be an non-profit organization setup to create systems to achieve these goals.
  • Give it up! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by zogger (617870) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @10:01AM (#25509519) Homepage Journal

    Voting isn't a (*(&^ing nail, stop trying to throw your coding hammer at it! This has gotten to be an example of obsessive compulsive disorder with these schemes. This is crazy. Open source or not, unless there is an independent deep forensics investigation of every single computerized voting kiosk at the end of the vote period, including disassembling the chips on the machine and all that stuff, it can *not* be verified in a timely, cheap and thorough manner. Oh, a "paper trail"? Why yes, let's look at that "new idea" to "insure" and "verify" the computerized vote! A plain empty box CAN be verified at the start of the voting day by many people looking inside and going "yep, empty!" And a paper trail is exactly what you get start to finish with plain paper ballots, no stupid computer and expense needed. Yes, examples in the past of ballot box stuffing, still way easier to keep tabs on it then running everything through obfuscated layers of chips and code. Paper ballots and empty boxes are WAY MORE the lesser of (in)security evils when it comes to voting, let alone being loads cheaper when it comes to co$t$. Empty box per precinct=ten bucks max, what do these computerized schemes cost, and how much has been wasted on them so far and how much "irregularities" do we get to read about and enjoy before this sinks in as just a bad idea overall?

    • by fluch (126140)

      Full AKA! Sometimes I wonder why people get so insane thoghtless when it comes to electronic voting? The keypoint of a democrazy is public auditable voting. Electronic voting is always a black box voting, you have to trust that the software in the blackbox is really the software which should be there. An impossible task and it is naive to think that nobody has an interest in changing the election result. Sure, it takes a bit more time to count the voting but that is just what democrazy is about!

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by abigsmurf (919188)
        and with the paper voting, you have to trust the counting and handling the ballot boxes. The only difference is that you're changing the group of people you trust.
        • people.... (Score:2, Insightful)

          by zogger (617870)

          ..and trust. Computerized voting verification is PhD level software AND hardware guys with electronic microscopes per every single machine per every single precinct and district and so on, to even start to verify. Paper ballots start to finish, anyone who can read and do simple arithmetic, ie, most of the voting public, and it can be verified. One group is pretty small and couldn't be done realistically, the other group is how we did it for hundreds of years and could still work just fine as long as there i

          • by abigsmurf (919188)
            No, the encryption and transmission comes down to PhD level programming. The logs themselves could be presented as a simple paper chart saying "a vote for X was cast on machine Y at voting station Z at time T". You could then easily spot voting discrepancies: "I voted for N, not Y when I voted!". It would be anonymous(ish) but verifiable , especially if you displayed a clock showing the server time at the voting and there are steps you could take to further anonomise it (assign a random letter to the machin
        • by he-sk (103163)

          The difference is that you can monitor the counting process to watch out for any shenanigans. In Germany you can even volunteer to do the counting. At the end you write down the total and compare it the next day with the results for your precinct that are published in the paper. The more people do that, the higher the public confidence.

          The simple truth is, that with paper-and-pencil ballots the public has the ability to monitor EVERY SINGLE STEP of the voting process, except of course the casting of the

    • Re:Give it up! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by he-sk (103163) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @12:54PM (#25510481)

      I agree completely. What people forget is that the PUBLIC counting of the secret ballot is what gives confidence to paper-and-pencil ballots. You simply can't do that with computers.

      I understand that lazy bureaucrats think that voting machines are the best thing since sliced bread, because in their mind sacrifycing an evening every four years to ensure the integrity of the vote is simply too much to ask for.

      But every computer scientist who thinks that voting machines are a good idea should read Ken Thompson's paper on trusting computers (the C compiler with a backdoor without it being present in the source for the compiler).

    • by gnud (934243)
      Also, there exists a lot of experience in making sure that small pieces of paper don't dissapear or get added. Ask some casino workers to organize ballot countings =)
    • We all know that the paper ballot is and always will be the most secure, although I really don't think anyone expects the entire process to 100% secure - take that back, the majority of people.

      I think that the big stink per say, is that this stuff is no where near even being acceptable. I could live with a system that was vulnerable in with the flash ROM's, BIOS, internal microscopic workings that need a soldering iron and crowbar to modify.

      What I can't live with is a system where the wrong button is pushed

  • The voting process is way too important and way too tempting to those who would corrupt it to abandon a simple, verifiable paper ballot for an all-too-easily-hacked computerized system. Reliability should not be abandoned for convenience in an area so vital to a functioning democracy.
  • I love the way people ignore the flaws with paper voting and highlight any slight flaw with electronic voting.

    If someone wants to tamper with paper ballots there are countless ways of doing it, especially for counters. You can stuff the ballot box, you can spoil ballots, you can replace paper votes.

    Those are just as likely as someone getting through a tamper proof seal, opening up the voting machine, connecting up your own software and then replacing the information with your own that hopefully matche
  • Here in Chicago... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by shoes58 (1203522)
    I voted yesterday. This is the first time I've voted early. I, too, had concerns about the veracity of the process. I spoke to one of the poll workers, and he explained there is a paper trail. I saw that in action. After running through the touch-screen process, my ballot was printed on a paper roll, and I had time to examine every choice made. I also had the option of changing my vote prior to finalizing it, even though the printing process had begun. The machine printed a barcode at the bottom of my print
  • by fartrader (323244) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @02:37PM (#25511287)

    One points out a related story at NPR about a voting program called PVOTE, written in Python and only 500 lines long.

    from __future__ import obama

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