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Touch-Screen Voting Snags Continue 522

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 '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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  • 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.
  • 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 goldspider ( 445116 ) <.ardrake79. .at.> 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.

  • Electronic voting in the US is in horrid shape.

    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. 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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:17PM (#7398954)
    And there is the real problem. Even if Diebold did rig the vote what would actually happen to these guys? I can just see judge CKK on this: "well, you're clearly guilty and completely unrepentant but your company is in my pension fund so we're just going to tell you really sternly not to do it again. Let that be a lesson to you."
  • 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?

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

    by ThisIsFred ( 705426 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:18PM (#7398976) Journal 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?
  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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 [] scared of current E-voting trends [] are just morons, and the election companies have it all under control []. (more [] info [])

    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.)
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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?)

  • 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 Jhon ( 241832 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:29PM (#7399100) Homepage Journal
    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.

  • 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.
  • by pvt_medic ( 715692 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:35PM (#7399173)
    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 of votes make a difference

    Thats my 2 cents worth... now i got to go return my soap box
  • Re:GOP suit (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:41PM (#7399231) Journal
    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-)
  • by Bendebecker ( 633126 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:41PM (#7399236) Journal
    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 that one? Contest a vote until you get a revote, and then contest it again until a revote declares you the winner? That was the scary thing about 2000. We had a presidential election and the results were contested. Fortunately, one backed down. If we keep on contesting elections, the day will come when neither will back down, not even at a court order.
  • by Sylver Dragon ( 445237 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:42PM (#7399241) Journal
    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% of voters actually voting the number of votes to count is not that large. Also, its not that hard to hire enough people to count votes by hand.
    The only other problem with such a system, is in voter fraud. Its very easy to go to several polling locations and cast several ballots (At least here in California, I can go to any polling place as long as I can confirm my identity). The hope is that, with an electronic system they will be able to catch this sort of fraud. Which again is a load, but it sells well. Unless all of the polling places are linked, and once I vote in one, it keeps me from voting in another, and maintains the amnominity of my ballot, then we can talk.

  • by YrWrstNtmr ( 564987 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:52PM (#7399349)
    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.
  • In Britain (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mrsev ( 664367 ) <> 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 temojen ( 678985 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:55PM (#7399394) Journal

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

    Really, why do you need anything else?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @04:01PM (#7399456)
    All this touch screen stuff seems to rule out a write in candidate does it not?

    Or is there an on-screen keyboard for a write in?

    What if you do not want to vote for the "party blessed" candidates?

    What if a majority of the voters wanted to write in someone else?
  • by nahdude812 ( 88157 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @04:05PM (#7399503) Homepage
    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, recounts can be done by scanning the barcodes, and failing that, by the human readable printouts.

    It looks like with out some sort of actual dead tree paper trail, it'd look very similar to the Simpsons Bart vs Martin for class president election. Let's do a recount. Yep, Martin won.
  • by Illbay ( 700081 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @04:25PM (#7399697) Journal
    Funny. It takes a Democrat to keep spouting the lies that "corporate types" are all Republicans!

    Check your assumptions, VERY VERY CAREFULLY!

    You'll find, for example, that Enron gave equally to Republicans and Democrats.

    Now that we have that settled, let's talk about the century-long legacy of Democrat vote fraud--which is what my original post was about.

  • by TonyZahn ( 534930 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @04:35PM (#7399793) Homepage

    "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 []

  • by jbn-o ( 555068 ) <> on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @04:41PM (#7399858) Homepage
    When Al Gore sued over voting irregularities, these same GOP groups were some of the most vocal in opposing it.

    When Greg Palast revealed that 64,000 Floridian voters were denied the ability to vote in the 2000 US Presidential election [], what did the Democrats do to restore their voting rights? What did the Democrats do to verify Palast's story and expose Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris' fraud?

    I hate hypocrites.

    I don't trust the Democratic or Republican national parties. So I won't vote for parties that hurt me, assuming my vote will be counted accurately at all.

  • by Illbay ( 700081 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @07:21PM (#7401730) Journal
    Corporations give to whomever is in "power." When Pubs have the upper hand they give to Pubs. When Dems, they give to Dems.

    This whole pile of **** that "corporations give to Republicans and not to Democrats" is just that: Shit.

    And corporate giving isn't even the problem. The problem is that the citizenry gave up its obligation to remain educated and informed. That is the basis upon which this Republic was founded.

    If we allow shysters like Bill Clinton to pull the wool over our eyes, then we deserve what we get.

    I appreciate George W. Bush--though he is FAR from a Conservative, which I am. He does his job vis a vis protecting this nation, but he is as bad as Clinton ever was about allowing further erosion of our Constitution.

    But I reiterate: My comment was about the sterling legacy of vote stealing that belongs almost entirely to the Democrat party. They have done it for years, and the crocodile tears they shed in 2000 was almost too much for me to bear, particularly when you had stuff like what happened in St. Louis and Milwaukee--that DIDN'T get any media scrutiny.

  • Re:GOP suit (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cluge ( 114877 ) on Thursday November 06, 2003 @09:03AM (#7405994) Homepage
    The refusal to admit a partisan bias isn't nieve. It's just plain dumb!!!!

    In palm beach county, which is using the Diebold machines, the officials that ordered them, and the officials that approved said order are all DEMOCRATS. I guess the democrats have been paid off, and are actually secret Bush supporters. (Ooops damn tongue got stuck in my cheek)

    Side Note: The appearance of inpropriety doesn't make it so. Every citizen should keep a sharp eye on ANY company involved with the election process. This should be thoroghly investigated, BUT the rants of obvioulsy biased commentators hurt the process.

    I've read and seen tremendously outlandish claims all over the internet, most not even backed up by a hint of evidence. If people become numb (and they already are) because there is so much chaff, then everyone looses. With a jaded and sceptical pulic it becomes easier for the big power types to pull the wool over our eyes.

    Claims to be investigated are one thing, vitrol and unfathonable (unless you think I shot kennedy) claims of corruption don't help, they hurt the process.

    A court challenge to the voting machines would probably be the best idea. Followed closely by not useing them (ie get an absentee ballot and bitch at your local eletion officials until they give in)


The intelligence of any discussion diminishes with the square of the number of participants. -- Adam Walinsky