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Touch Screen Voting Trouble in Florida 574

usn2fsu03 writes "Here we go again with another election controversy in South Florida. Touch screen voting was used in a State House election that was won by twelve votes. Unfortunately, there were 134 people who went through the process of checking in to vote, but either did not vote or cast a vote that was not counted. Without a paper trail it is anyone's guess as to what those voters' intentions were. Obviously, there is work to be done in the Election Supervisor's office before November comes around."
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Touch Screen Voting Trouble in Florida

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  • by Tirel ( 692085 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:02PM (#7929362)
    And we all know what happens when electronic voting goes bad [slashdot.org].

    I mean seriously, what will it take for these people to realize some things are just better done the old way, one of them being voting.

    I can see it now, in the future major media conglomerates will consolidate and choose the president based on which is the most popular in *their* opinion. I guess that could be called a 'representative democracy' too

    Representation of corporations *shudder*

    I think each slashbot should think carefully about this and write to his congressman.
  • by kevin_conaway ( 585204 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:04PM (#7929401) Homepage
    -Voter walks into booth
    -Voter touches appropriate button on screen
    -Voting machine records the vote electronically and also prints the vote on paper (maybe in like a scantron type format so it can be easily recounted)
  • by redtape ( 37014 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:04PM (#7929404)
    If you don't press vote, you didn't vote. You have to live with this. The instructions are available, so if you don't complete the transaction, you really can't complain. (and I'm sure your local poll worker will help if you have trouble reading the instructions.)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:05PM (#7929412)
    There will never be a technology that will prevent idiots from making mistakes. Now we have a system that is more expensive, no better than hanging chads at determining voter intention, and HAS NO AUDIT trail. We are worse off then before. Yet another example that technology will never turn an imperfect collection of humans into a utopia.
  • Do it again ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by henrygb ( 668225 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:05PM (#7929424)
    In the UK, the loser would have the right to go to court and ask for (and probably get) a new election. It happend in Winchester [wikipedia.org] in 1997.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:07PM (#7929447)
    If they couldn't punch a voting card they also shouldn't be voting. My 4 year old could correctly punch a ballot.
  • Has to be said. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Hiro Antagonist ( 310179 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:08PM (#7929465) Journal
    Right. Uh-huh. We never saw *this* coming. No sireeee. Electronic voting is *reliable*, *safe*, and *fun for the whole family*, and anything else is against the word of the Fuehre...er, I mean, is Anti-American.
  • Voters' "Intent"?? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by goldspider ( 445116 ) <ardrake79@NoSPam.gmail.com> on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:08PM (#7929471) Homepage
    "Without a paper trail it is anyone's guess as to what those voters' intentions were."

    I'm sorry, but since when was any vote-counting system designed to interpret what a voter's intent was, beyond correctly-cast votes?

    If people don't/can't vote correctly using even the simplest methods, then perhaps even they did not know what their intent was.

  • by lightspawn ( 155347 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:11PM (#7929505) Homepage
    I know it's scary that we can tell there's something wrong but there's no way to know the right result -

    But the worse scenario is one where there's no way to tell anything's wrong. No reason to request a manual count, no reason for trusting fools to question the results.

    Most people, it seems, have an "I haven't verified this system, therefore it must be secure" mindset. But don't worry; this particular problem will be fixed and people can go back to assuming everything works until the next time something is obvious wrong.

    Remember - it can't be a problem if nobody knows about it.
  • I guess this is (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Smid ( 446509 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:11PM (#7929506)
    Democracy in inaction...

    Still, USA is not a democracy. Its a republic. People seem to forget that...
  • Very good thing (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Frobnicator ( 565869 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:11PM (#7929507) Journal
    This is wonderful.

    All the groups calling for voting reform can point there and say "Electronic voting without proper auditing tools is worse than hanging chads."

    The Canadians will just keep laughing, as more people ask why their pencil and paper system works more smoothly, and in many cases faster, than ours.

    I don't care if we have a fancy electronic system with proper audit trails, or if we go to a pencil & paper system with proper audit trails. I just care that we get there quickly.


  • Hmm? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tuxette ( 731067 ) * <tuxette@gmail . c om> on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:12PM (#7929531) Homepage Journal
    Have they actually proved that the voter didn't hit the vote button, or is the claim a mere speculation?

    I kind of get this kooky conspiracy theory feeling where say every 3 votes for the "wrong" candidate is excluded and it's a part of the closed program code. You kind of get that feeling when you see stuff like this: Bogdanoff had a ready explanation for the mystery. She theorized that some of the people who cast nonvotes were among the county's true-blue Democrats who were appalled to find a ballot with only Republicans. Did this really happen?

    I'm otherwise (still) surprised that paper receipts were never given in the beginning, but it's a very good idea for the future. If anything, it should be a requirement.

  • Voter intent? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MoneyT ( 548795 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:13PM (#7929558) Journal
    Can someone please explain to me when this became a land where we had to determine what a voter intended and not what he actualy voted for (or in this case didn't vote for). Ballots are fairly simple things, and most of us learned about them in 4th grade. If you are unable to comprehend how to work a ballot, by law, polling places are supposed to have someone there to explain and assist you. If you don't take advantage of it, that was your choice. Vote right, or don't vote at all, but don't be bitching when your incorrect ballot isn't counted.
  • by dachshund ( 300733 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:14PM (#7929570)
    Voting machine records the vote electronically and also prints the vote on paper (maybe in like a scantron type format so it can be easily recounted) Done?

    Not done. You still have no idea whether the version recorded on some internal paper spool is actually what you voted for on the screen. If there's a bug, or a malicious hack that can screw up the all-electronic process, then it's equally likely that there's a bug that'll also mess with what goes on the paper.

    Ultimately, you need a machine that prints out a paper ballot that can then be verified by the voter and deposited in a ballot box. This box needs to be at least partially recounted (2%, perhaps) before any result can be certified. If the outcome of the electronic vote is very close, the entire set of paper ballots needs to be recounted.

  • You're missing the point.

    It's not whether those individuals voted or not.. it's that there's no way to go back and check whether they did or not. There's no way for people doing a recount to go and look for the equivalent of "hanging chads" and such.

    The article even addresses that, it's fine if someone doesn't want to vote. It is NOT fine that there is no way to go back and identify the voter's intent.
  • by Performer Guy ( 69820 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:18PM (#7929625)
    Without any audit it is impossible to tell if the problem was their stupidity. I have no problem expecting people to be smart enough to do this, but for all we know those votes could have been lost through any number of technical errors, there's absolutely no means to check this with no audit trail and secretive software practices. The only available audit, tallying people showing up vs casting votes shows a significant discrepancy. That is cause for concern, and indicates the need for a better audit trail. Something that is simply being ignored and denied at every request.
  • by FearUncertaintyDoubt ( 578295 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:19PM (#7929639)
    That reminds me of the little windows app that made the e-mail rounds a few years back. It was a dialog box that asked "Are you gay?" with a Yes and No. If you tried to move the mouse over the No button, the box moved away from the pointer.

    Another thing that it reminds me of is an news investigation into supermarkets scanning incorrect prices at the checkout. It turns out that almost all mis-scans are in the store's favor (i.e., scans a higher price than the actual item).

    I think my point is that with the machines, how do you know you completed the transaction? There's no receipt or verification. Maybe I pressed vote, but it didn't register. Maybe there's a bug in the code that says:
    if vote != Republican rollback else commit

    And how do you know the system isn't rigged or at least tilted a little? Your post, while correct, assumes that nothing ever goes wrong. See Common Sense vs. H. Chad, 2000. Things always go wrong. These systems have no way to deal with that.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:19PM (#7929642)
    How can you be sure that votes were not correctly cast??? What about bugs in sowtware?
  • by dachshund ( 300733 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:20PM (#7929669)
    What people often fail to understand is that voting systems have two purposes. One, to determine the winner of the election. Two, to convince the losing side that they really did lose fair and square.

    If you acheive the first goal, but fail to address the second, you create an increasingly angry and restless population, and that's unhealthy for any democracy. A lesson many politicians seem to have taken from the Florida debacle is that most people will "get over it", and go back to driving their SUVs and watching TV. So far they've been right about this. Unfortunately, that only works if we're talking about an isolated incident; if people begin to develop even the impression that they're being repeatedly screwed, our society will suffer.

  • This is good (Score:2, Insightful)

    by greendoggg ( 667256 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:22PM (#7929690)
    Because hopefully it will bring attention to how important a voter audited paper trail is. Hopefully this will gain widespread attention, so that before a more important election (say a national congress seat or presidential election) the people who administer elections will get it right.
  • by Ephemeriis ( 315124 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:23PM (#7929708)
    I don't really think its a matter of intent... The problem is that we don't know if it was the machine malfunctioning or not. There is no record. These people signed in and whatnot, but there are no votes recorded for them. Did the system lose the votes, or did the voters just not use the system right? We don't know. We also don't know if anyone manually edited the vote counts. There is no record of what did or didn't happen with those voters. At leas with a traditional paper ballot you can look at the piece of paper and see that yes a vote was made, no we can't tell what it is, someone screwed up.

  • by pangian ( 703684 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:25PM (#7929731)
    This has been said before on /. and elsewhere but is worth repeating:

    Paper receipts that stay at the polling place = good. Allows parellel count of small sample to check machine accuracy; allows recount in the event of a problem.

    Paper receipts that go home with you = bad. Potential for intimidation and vote buying.
  • by Jhon ( 241832 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:26PM (#7929759) Homepage Journal
    I think we need to face some facts.

    Some people just will NOT vote correctly. They will NOT follow instructions. They just won't.

    While a paper trail is absolutely necessary to see WHERE the problem lies, it certainly doesn't address that some people are either careless, lazy or just plain dumb.
  • by rufey ( 683902 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:27PM (#7929771)
    Apparently there is a state mandated recount that has to happen. According to the article (towards the bottom):

    Lieberman has asked ES&S, which also manufactured Miami-Dade County's voting machines, to provide some answers on the nonvotes by 1:30 p.m. today, when the canvassing board meets for a state-mandated recount.

    Hows the recount going to be fair if they can't recount the individual votes? About all they can do is tabulate the total from each voting machine again.

    As many people have already stated, this is exactly an audit trail is necessary with electronic voting.

  • by Black Rabbit ( 236299 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:32PM (#7929844)
    ...and my three-year-old can mark an X in a box!

    I do not understand why you Americans go for these Rube Goldberg methods of casting a vote come election time. I can understand the need to be able to count the ballots quickly, so go for cumputerized voting if you must, but why not use the KISS approach for what should be a required paper trail? Seems to work just fine in the rest of the voting world, and there's no silly assed questions concerning "hanging chads".
  • by rworne ( 538610 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:36PM (#7929896) Homepage
    Make the voting booths a bit more substantial, like the "man-traps" that are in some banks now.

    Voter enters the booth, booth closes and locks. The booth will not re-open until the person has voted properly or if they page a pollworker to let them out. If the latter occurs, the pollworker can give them additional instructions or let them out and note the incident for any subsequent legal challenges to the election.

    Of course, in all fairness a "none of the above" entry should be made for any one-party election.

    I vote in all local and national elections and my local incumbent "representative" is not of my political party. My party (or any other party for that matter) does not even have a candidate on the ballot! In those cases, I leave the entry blank if I cannot vote "NO" to abstain. Since in the Florida election all the candidate choices were Republicans, I would think that some voters seeing their party was not represented at all on the ballot would abstain in a similar fashion.

    So there's nothing to see here.
  • by travdaddy ( 527149 ) <travo@linuxm a i l . o rg> on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:38PM (#7929934)
    If they can't figure out to push the VOTE button to count their selection, maybe they shouldn't be voting anyway...

    True, but out of all the voting systems, computer systems could be more idiot-proof than any of them. I quickly thought of several simple ways for the system to prevent a luser (I mean voter) from leaving the booth before they actually voted. This same non-voting problem may have happened with the chad-machines. And even pen and paper isn't immune from UI problems.
  • by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:38PM (#7929935)
    Keep more of my own income but increase my own personal responsibility

    It's not keeping more of your own income; it's continuing to accept the services you formerly paid for with taxes (in fact taking more services), but now paying for them with a cash advance from a multitrillion dollar credit card. You're still going to pay it all back one day with money from your income, but with interest.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:49PM (#7930085)
    Agreed, but the point is people haven't gotten over it. Or at least certain elements of the Democratic party haven't gotten over it.

    Quite frankly, that's no surprise. What is surprising is that so many people have, and so little has actually been done to improve the situation. I think this general lack of outrage over the screwup in Florida has put a lot of unfortunate ideas in politicians' heads-- many of which have led us to the existence of these machines. Certain politicians have gotten the notion that they can roll out even more questionable voting systems and nobody will much care or notice. This concerns me, and I imagine it concerns you, as well.

    Though I think these electronic voting machines are a non-partisan issue that voters of all stripes should be outraged about, I wish the Democrats/Libertarians/Greens/Militiamen (someone!) would begin with some partisan sniping about it. At least then people might pay some attention.

  • by EvilTwinSkippy ( 112490 ) <yodaNO@SPAMetoyoc.com> on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:51PM (#7930108) Homepage Journal
    In Pennsyvania we did one better.

    The new elecronic voting machines work just like the old mechanical ones. The ballot is a giant 3x3' printout spread over a pushbutton and LED panel. You press next to a candidate (or ballot question) where you used to flip a switch, and an LED glows telling you it understood your selection.

    There are 2 big buttons at the bottom of the device. A red "CANCEL" button, and a green "VOTE" button, right where you used to pull the handle.

    Votes are tallied using the same procedures as the old voting machines. There is an electronic odometer for every putton on the device, that is recorded at the start of the election, and the end of the election, and periodically during the course of an election.

    They election officials record (seperately) how many people cast votes on each machine. At the end of the day, you know if all of your numbers match up.

    Sure these devices cost money to build, but I am willing to wager they are still a hell of a lot cheaper than the touch-screens.

  • by VivianC ( 206472 ) <{internet_update} {at} {yahoo.com}> on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:52PM (#7930126) Homepage Journal
    In the black areas the exact same voting machines were programmed to silently eat up the ballot and ignore the vote.

    Can you please explain why the Democratic election officials in Democratic wards would do something that would impact their core voters? This question should be posed to the County election boards in the recount counties which, by the way, were majority democrat.
  • by nuggz ( 69912 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:53PM (#7930144) Homepage
    I disagree
    Voting should be so easy and so simple to do that it is hard to screw up.

    A key part of a fair election is that if someone makes the effort to cast a vote, the system should record that vote.
    Making it unnecessarily difficult risks making it an unfair election.
  • by Pionar ( 620916 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @02:08PM (#7930343)
    According to your logic, you wouldn't need an amendment. If the person is that dumb, then they are UNABLE to cast a vote in the first place.

    Also, who determines the definition of "basic intelligence"? It sounds to me like you want to go back to the days where people had to take a test in order to be able to vote.

    I have a pol. sci. professor who's smart, and sat on some committees to decide voting machine laws here in Indiana. She admitted that she didn't understand some of the machines that were put before her - not because of her lack of intelligence - but instead because of poor UI design.

    How does a voting machine proceed to the next voter if the previous one didn't push the "vote" button? That's what I don't understand. The company that made the machines in the Broward County case - I don't remember the name right now - said that a possibility is that the voters didn't push "vote" on the review screen. I did this recently, too, when I registered for my spring classes. I didn't confirm becasue I thought the review page was a confirmation page, so the classes didn't get recorded. It's a good thing I could go back and change it because I had a paper printout. I'm not the smartest guy in the world, but I'm not a moron as your theory would suggest.
  • Re:Voter intent? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Tom ( 822 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @02:08PM (#7930345) Homepage Journal
    Well, MoneyT, the outcry here is that we don't know. Namely, we don't know if their ballots were incorrect. We can't prove one way or the other. We can't find out if the voters were stupid, or the system is faulty.

    And that's the point. We ought to know.
  • by dokebi ( 624663 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @02:11PM (#7930378)
    ...by attaching a *printer* to the voting machine.
    So, how is this better than a paper ballot with a stub you detach as proof of voting?
    It gives the machine makers millions that should have gone to public schools.
    Hooray for demcracy.
  • by letxa2000 ( 215841 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @02:13PM (#7930417)
    Not done. You still have no idea whether the version recorded on some internal paper spool is actually what you voted for on the screen.

    At some point you must trust the election mechanism to work. If you're concerned about the version recorded on some internal spool to differ from what you voted for on the screen then you might as well be concerned with the votes actually being counted properly at the end of the day when all the voters have left the building.

    Yes, election fraud can exist. But I don't think it's going to happen at the machine level--it's going to happen at the human level.

    These election machines that are having so many problems (or at least reported problems) should be validated, of course. They should be certified by both parties and then not changed. The source really ought to be open which would make certifying the machines that much easier (both sides review the same source code, both compile the program, and both better produce the exact same executable).

    But some people that seem to think that the manufacturer of voting machines is going to intentionally write code to conduct election fraud are insane. At least when election fraud normally happens, it is done quietly in dark corners with no evidence. In the case of a voting machine that does the fraud for them, that's like putting the evidence right out there in public. Someday, someone's going to check that machine, take it into evidence, reverse engineer the executable, and you're going to be sitting in jail and your company bankrupt. I don't think they're going to risk it.

  • Re:Voting Helpers (Score:3, Insightful)

    by k12linux ( 627320 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @02:13PM (#7930418)
    Yeah, that's what we need... "voter helpers" who make sure the "right candidate" gets elected.

    "No.. no.. you don't want to pick *him* he's the wrong candidate." ;-)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 09, 2004 @02:44PM (#7930776)
    There is no reason to believe that votes were lost through any technical error. The machines simply claim that about 1.5% of voters chose no candidate. This is a valid option, and MUST be allowed.

    It is a little surprising that so many people chose no candidate, given that this was a special election with only one question on the ballot. (Why bother voting if you're not going to vote for anyone?) But on the other hand, voter stupidity and the fact that the only candidates were Republicans would tend to increase the number of nonvoters.

    I think that we need to get a verifiable hardcopy system where the voter gets a chance to verify the hardcopy token before it disappears into a secure receptacle. This will not only make recounts better, and it will also help technology-challenged voters to vote the way they intend.

    The one issue here is that the token cannot display more than just a small amount of information. Otherwise very few voters will bother to check it for accuracy. And in a regular election, the level of State House Representative is surely below the cut that should be made. Otherwise (in most states) you will have at least six different names that the voter has to check: President, US Senator, US Representative, Governor, State Senator, State Representative. If you think that more than a few percent of voters are going to pay attention to a long list of names after they are already done voting, you are crazy.
  • "Fled Voters" (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 09, 2004 @03:08PM (#7931036)
    Some, if not all of these 134 people are what are referred to as "fled voters". I work on my local election board. I'm one of those knuckleheads who spends 13 hours twice a year explaining to the exact same people how to use the exact same voting machine that they've used for 10 years. Every three or four elections we end up with more people signed in then actually voted. It's pretty simple actually... someone comes in, waits in line for a bit, then decides that it's too much of a pain in the ass to wait any more and simply leaves. Since I started on my local board I've done maybe 10 or 12 elections and we've had at least 4 or 5 fled voters. Multiply our average of a third of a fled voter per election over the several hundred polling places in this election (I have no idea of the actual number) and 134 fled voters is not out of the realm of possibility.

    What would REALLY worry me is if there were more votes than voters signed in. Now THAT is definitely voter fraud.
  • by dachshund ( 300733 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @03:10PM (#7931054)
    An angry and restless population is totally healthy for democracy because at least they're paying attention and attempting to have some influence on the government. It's an indifferent and estranged population that's unhealthy for democracy.

    On the contrary. An angry and restless population is not a good thing when that population believes they have no way to influence the government democratically. Then you either get people acting out violently, or giving up on government altogether and becoming apathetic and angry. It's not like either of these things are unheard of in our country.

  • NOTA (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Aumaden ( 598628 ) <Devon.C.Miller@gma i l . c om> on Friday January 09, 2004 @03:14PM (#7931108) Journal
    That's why we need NOTA [nota.org] aka Voter Consent laws. NOTA - None Of The Above - adds either a "None of the Above; For New Election" or "Prefer None of the Above" choice to ballots. The first form is called a "Binding NOTA", the second is a "non-binding NOTA".

    NOTA gives voters the opportunity to actively state that they don't like any of the candidates. With a binding NOTA, if the majority of votes go to NOTA, no one is elected and the process begins again. In a non-binding NOTA, the populace get to express their opinion, but the candidate with the most votes still wins.

    Nevada has had non-binding NOTA on the books since 1976. This past summer, Massachusetts passed the first binding NOTA. It goes into effect in 2005.

  • by workindev ( 607574 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @03:29PM (#7931333) Homepage
    You are guilty of common problem amongst computer types - blame the user when the machine is at fault.

    You are guilty of a common problem amongts Democrat types - blame the Republicans for everything no matter what.

    If the ballot machines in Black, Democratic voting areas were programmed to silently ead up the ballot and ignore the vote, the blame rests soley on the elected officials in the Black, Democratic voting areas (which usually happen to be Black, and are most likely Democrats). Blaming the republicans in the white, Republican areas for apparently configuring their machines correctly makes absolutely no sense, especially considering that they had no control over the other areas voting setup.
  • by cayenne8 ( 626475 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @03:40PM (#7931465) Homepage Journal
    Lord, it seems so simple. The touch screen prints out a paper ballot, similar to those fill in the dot scan tron sheets. The voter can verify their votes..and put the paper ballot in a box there for recounts in case of computer malfunction. You get paper trail this way...still anonymous, and quick vote tabulation.
  • by inazuma77 ( 727245 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @04:27PM (#7932148)
    Jeez. Maybe we should stop trying to sell "Democracy" to other nations until WE can get it right. This is getting just a bit absurd...
  • by lynx_user_abroad ( 323975 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @04:29PM (#7932177) Homepage Journal
    Because hand-counting produces even more errors than electronic counting.

    I won't ask you to prove your assertion. We're not necessarily after an accurate count, but we must have a count we can agree on. That's not a joke: read on...

    If a group of people sit down and all agree that candidate A got so many votes and candidate B got so many, that becomes the result regardless of whether we're talking about X's in boxes, holes in punch cards, or readouts from some MS database. And even if we make a 2+2=5 mistake, it doesn't matter so long as you (or the delegate representing your interests in the vote counting process) fails to catch the error along with everyone else.

    The appropriate Sneakers quote is: "The world is not governed by reality, but by the perception of reality."

    If one of the group disagrees with the result, the "paper trail ballot" type systems allow us to narrow the scope of the disagreement from the "I don't trust the vote count from that State, let's recount..." down through the "I don't trust the vote count from that precinct, let's recount..." all the way to "I don't think this particular punch card was read properly, let's re-examine it". Through a process of "do we all agree that this ballot represents a vote for candidate A? [Yes] or [Disputed]" questioning, we can get the number of disputed ballots down to a number less than the margin of difference. Of if we can't, the whole election get's thrown out.

    To wit, the clear problem with electronic voting machines is that they allow reasonable people to disagree with the result in a way that cannot be discounted. Think about it: if you, as a reasonably well educated Slashdotter, show up for the vote count and assert that the electronic voting machine changed your vote, how can the election officials prove, to the reasonable man standard that you're wrong?

    If I were in charge of selecting a voting system, I would be running scared away from any system which doesn't provide me with a way to prove Joe Slashdotter voted the way Joe Slashdotter perceives himself to have voted. As noted in the article, vote counters don't like close races, because it raises the percentage of votes where an undisputed result must be agreed upon before they get any peace. Electronic voting systems allow people to get machines, precincts, and even entire state-wide mandated voting systems thrown out. We could be headed for this first ever Presidential Election in 2004 that gets thrown out because of the number of disputed votes, no matter who is the apparent winner.

    A voting system without a paper trail changes the equation from one of "we need to agree what the intent of the voter was for this (blank checkbox, hanging chad, or otherwise disputed) ballot into "we need to agree what the intent of the voter was for these (electronic only, no paper trail, disputed) thirty thousand some odd ballots...

    If you live in a district where there isn't a paper trail, just call your local election board, tell them you want to witness the vote counting for your next election, then after they've approved, tell them you will disagree with any electronic-only result. I'll bet they add a paper trail just to avoid the headaches.

  • by gessel ( 310103 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @06:32PM (#7933744) Homepage
    That's not entirely true - otherwise we wouldn't have any use for ECC [corsairdirect.com] or parity. Computers can make "mistakes" in as much as data can be corrupted by physical processes that having nothing to do with the intended or programmed operation.

    Technicalities aside, none of the election problems are about counting accuracy, neither human, nor mechanical, nor electronic. That's not the point. All measurements have an associated accuracy. It's how we deal with it that counts. If the margin of the election is of a size that given the error rate of the system there's a "reasonable" probability that the outcome is in error (1 sigma, 13% probability of error, say, given the error rate of the technology used [ncsl.org]) then a run-off election should be automatic, even if there's only two candidates in both elections. No matter what the voting technology. A 5% threashold would be statistically supportable.

    All sampling systems have a margin of error. [learner.org] It's a 9th grade science mistake to get an F for submitting a graph of plant growth or whatever without any error bars. We seem to suffer from cognitive dissonance [ithaca.edu] in refusing to admit there's an inescapable margin of error, and thereby not accommodating for it.

    In 2000, FL and several other states should have held run-off elections between W and G after the first election found them at a "statistical tie" [fec.gov]. It's not clear which way it would have gone after that, but whoever thereby won would actually have been a democratically elected president, rather than one technically appointed by a divisive judicial coup [google.com].

    Anyway, the critical failure regarding DREs is the lack of recognition that they are fallible. How do we deal with critical systems that might fail? We create an audit trail so if something goes wrong, we have a chance of undoing the error, or at least figuring out what failed and fixing it, and at the very least knowing that something did in fact go wrong so we can try again.

    The systems shipped by Diebold and ESS etc are both intrinsically fallible and intrinsically inauditable, which is intolerable. Further, if a voter has reason to doubt the impartiality of a company that has, for example, pledged to deliver it's electoral votes [ohio.com] to the republican in the next election to be run on it's own vote counting equipment, they might have some reason to doubt the veracity of the black-box [blackboxvoting.org] tallying process and that undermines the authority of democracy. It is important, therefore, even if it were proven technically unnecessary, to provide voters with the familiar indicator of fairness provided by a human-readable, authoritative, tangible ballot.

    We've gone through a lot of effort convincing ourselves, and by force much of the world, that having a brainwashed electorate [truthout.org] choose one or the other corporate [informatio...house.info] flack [corpwatch.org] as titular head of the country is the best and fairest form of government on the planet (and it may well be, alas); at the very least we can apply basic 9th grade science to finding out whether tweedle dee or tweedle dum [highroad.org] won the popularity contest [cnn.com].

Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing. -- Wernher von Braun