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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 @08:37AM (#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.

  • by Casandro (751346) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @08:37AM (#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.

  • by sveard (1076275) * on Saturday October 25, 2008 @08:47AM (#25508907) Homepage

    By doing a COUNT() on some database field? :|

  • by TapeCutter (624760) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @08:56AM (#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 Yvanhoe (564877) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @09:09AM (#25509001) Journal
    What is the use of being informed if your vote is not counted ?
  • by Ritchie70 (860516) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @09:12AM (#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 Bender0x7D1 (536254) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @09:19AM (#25509041)

    Why not simply make voting a public action? I'm voting for Obama. There. Done.

    Because that opens it up to vote buying and voter intimidation.

    If Bill Gates promised everyone $1000 to vote for him, he could buy 56,000,000 votes which would put him in the White House.

    For intimidation, you don't have to intimidate everyone - just a small percentage in a few key states. Imagine if the CEO of WalMart told their employees, "If you work in Ohio, and don't vote the Right Way, you'll be fired." Even if it isn't an official, enforceable policy, it will still have a large percentage of employees worried for their jobs come their next performance review - and they will vote accordingly. With over 2 million employees, even 10% of WalMart employees changing their vote could affect the outcome of the election.

    That's assuming that people with baseball bats don't just show up at your house and tell you How You Will Vote - Or Else.

  • by karstux (681641) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @09:42AM (#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 foobsr (693224) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @09:49AM (#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.
  • by Vidar Leathershod (41663) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @09:53AM (#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.

  • by moxley (895517) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @10:00AM (#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?

  • by Plunky (929104) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @10:20AM (#25509317)

    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

  • Re:Martial law? (Score:-1, Insightful)

    by Sam36 (1065410) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @10:43AM (#25509421)
    you are an idiot. The fact that you attack bush shows that you know nothing about the USA government.
  • Give it up! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by zogger (617870) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @11:01AM (#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 anon mouse-cow-aard (443646) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @11:02AM (#25509525) Journal

    Why not simply make voting a public auction? I'm voting for Obama. There. Done.

    there, fixed that for you...

  • by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @11:20AM (#25509613)

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

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

  • Re:Give it up! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by abigsmurf (919188) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @12:02PM (#25509829)
    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) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @12:54PM (#25510081) Homepage Journal

    ..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 is a minimum interest in the results.

        Any voter can be present at the end of the day to be a witness to the count with paper ballots, and you can volunteer to be an official as well, which means the group of people you need to trust is only one person, which is YOU, and the guy standing next to you only has to trust one person, himself, if he is a witness as well at the end of the day. Versus how many people could look at machine code or C code or any other obscure "language" and then how do you verify all the chips on the computer? Who guards those computers during the non voting period so they aren't tampered with, versus staring at an empty box? No guards needed on empty boxes, because it is unlocked and opened at the beginning of the day and anyone there in line can look at it, and typically the first person in line signs off on it, I have done that myself "yo, empty!".

        NO ONE can just stare at a computer voting terminal and "verify" it without deep forensics, it can't be done, if anyone can do it they can apply to Randi for his million buck prize because you'd have to be 100% psychic to do that. And if you want to insure some vote using something similar to how we conduct electronic transactions with money, it throws the entire concept of anonymity out the window, because you must tie a vote to a single individual, then you still wind up with the machine count having to be verified and back to the forensics, it just adds a further level of complexity and possible points of compromise. Nuts.

    KISS works for a lot of things, no need to rube goldberg it up just because it is possible. Voting is too important to trust it to being just a videogame. If people got spare time and want to code and can't come up with a project on their own, no problem! They can go check out sourceforge and find something else to work on.

  • by zippthorne (748122) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @01:33PM (#25510317) Journal

    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.

  • by Original Replica (908688) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @01:36PM (#25510335) Journal
    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:Give it up! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by he-sk (103163) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @01:54PM (#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).

  • Re:Martial law? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Macthorpe (960048) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @02:17PM (#25510687) Journal

    The fact that you think Bush should be free from attack shows that you know nothing about political debate in it's entirity.

  • by kalirion (728907) on Sunday October 26, 2008 @12:05AM (#25514643)

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

The only difference between a car salesman and a computer salesman is that the car salesman knows he's lying.

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