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The Cost of Electronic Voting 158

Wired's Threat Level blog is reporting on an analysis of the cost of electronic voting compared to traditional methods of vote tallying. A group named SaveOurVotes examined Maryland's budget allocations for elections during their switch from optical scanners to touch screens, and found that contrary to official claims, the cost was higher for e-voting (PDF) — much higher. "Prior to purchasing the touch-screen machines, about 19 of Maryland's 24 voting districts used optical-scan machines. SaveOurVotes examined those counties and compared the cost of the optical-scan equipment they previously used to the touch-screen machines they were forced to buy. The cost for most counties in this category increased 179 percent per voter on average. In at least one county, the cost increased 866 percent per voter — from a total cost of about $22,000 in 2001 to $266,000 in 2007."
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The Cost of Electronic Voting

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  • by iamhigh ( 1252742 ) * on Sunday April 06, 2008 @12:17PM (#22980450)
    The article claims that you need 10 touch screen machines to replace a single optical reader device. I have a few questions about that...

    1. Why do we need touch screen - what is wrong with a mouse. Even the most retarded computerphobic morons can figure out how to use a mouse in 60 secs.
    2. Use some sort of remote desktop/web service to accomplish this. Buy the cheapest thin clients possible to connect to a "server" that could be run by a P4 2ghz computer at each site.
    3. Even better than #2, create a web service for each county - again reducing the amount of equipment.
    4. Extrapolate #3 even further. Hire cheap techs for each county to ensure they have internet connectivity - State runs the servers.

    It isn't the electronic voting... it is how they implemented it. It doesn't take a genius to realize that $3000 computers to perform basic calculations is overspending. I wonder how much the servers cost?
  • by jo7hs2 ( 884069 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @01:09PM (#22980782) Homepage
    I lived in Carroll County, Maryland when the change to electronic voting occurred, and after years of optical scan voting, many people I knew were confused by the move to e-voting. Our system had always worked fine, was simple and easy to understand, and had a paper trail. All you needed was a marker, a sheet of paper with spaces to fill in, and bam, you voted. I'm shocked to see that the state's push for e-voting inflated the cost of voting in Carroll County from $22k to over $200k! That is simply unacceptable.
  • by gnutoo ( 1154137 ) * on Sunday April 06, 2008 @01:16PM (#22980822) Journal

    There's no good reason for evoting machines to cost between $15,000 and $30,000 per precinctper precinct because the "booths" cost $3,000 each. The equipment costs are now one tenth that and the difference represents the tremendous overhead cost of doing things the non free way. For all of that, I've read that Dibold never made much money of these things and wants out of the business.

    Who's going to pay your buck-o-five? You are, multiple times.The larger costs are security and reliability problems that's gotten these overpriced machines banned despite sunken costs. Voters were willing to pay the price when they were lied to and they are willing to lick their wounds and get rid of the things now. It would be nice if the same machines could be fixed with free software.

  • by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @01:26PM (#22980898) Homepage
    If you have 10 times the population, you should have 10 times the number of people to count, and 10 times the number of polling stations. The problem of counting votes is easily parallelizable.
  • by williegeorgie ( 710224 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @01:34PM (#22980954)
    Has anyone from the open source community tried to write secure software for this? I suspect that it may not be possible(thus no one is trying) but has there ever been a real, open, reviewable effort to try? Maybe the real answer is that the problem is insolvable thus the only "solutions" are ones that cannot be verified (closed source, proprietary etc). Personally the whole idea gives me the creeps. Everything I have read shows that this whole idea is bad. What I find amazing is that very smart people whose whole careers rely on putting computers to good use are the ones who most strongly recommend that computer systems in this arena are bad. In any case I just wonder if there ever has been an open effort to provide software/hardware combination that those security experts would agree upon. I have seen requirements for voter verified paper trail etc, but are there any open systems out there that meet these requirements?
  • by rbrander ( 73222 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @02:34PM (#22981360) Homepage
    Perhaps an American /. reader can explain to the rest of us why you use machines at all? I don't mean just electronic voting, I mean all its predecessors - pulling levers, "butterfly ballots", punch cards and their infamous hanging chads.

    In the middle of that 35-day recount thing in 2000, the Canadian electorate finished their (six week, from declaration of the election to the vote) national election with a vote that was over in 24 hours, from first poll open to last vote counted. The mechanism: pencil and paper.

    I once volunteered for a local political party in a provincial election to "scrutineer" the ballots. It looked awfully foolproof to me, as all the scrutineers from all the parties watched each vote being counted in each box, some of us keeping our own tallies as they were added up. We were done in an hour or less.

    Needless to say, the ratio of ballots to humans in the room was in the hundreds, not hundreds of thousands. We just employ a lot of humans in our elections, paid and volunteer. Few of our neighbourhood polling stations record more than 1000 ballots, and they have 3-4 employees, plus "N" volunteer scrutineers, depending on the number of parties running.

    So why doesn't America just do that, is it the money? Somebody gave me the opinion that it's because Americans vote for so many offices - judges, DA's, sheriffs, local officials at the same time as federal. That this all came from previous centuries, farmers having to walk 10 miles to vote, so they only wanted to do it once every four years, and then register 25 votes at that time, making it hard to do on paper.

    That didn't fly with me. Farmers have to come to town every week or three for supplies and so forth anyway. And if you want to vote for 25 offices instead of trusting one elected party to appoint them all, what's wrong with realizing that has COSTS and paying for more people to count them by hand with scrutineers from the campaigns watching every piece of paper go by? To turn around the old phrase, you can't take your choice without paying your money.

    The paid human time (the N scrutineers are volunteers) to count one vote on paper is a second or so. One penny at $36.00 per hour, even, and most elections temporary staff are retirees making half that, giving you two seconds to the penny. Isn't counting one vote worth one penny to you? (Needless to say, the piece of paper is way under a penny, and the cost of the metal boxes is amortized over 20 elections; the high school gyms are free to use.)

    I'm not saying the total cost of our elections is a penny per vote, that's the incremental cost of the counting process. We probably spend a buck per vote or more on the whole thing, organizing the operation, paying the permanent staff at Elections Canada to hire the retirees, print the ballots, etc. But the difference between having everybody pull a lever on some complicated counting machine or just putting an X on paper and putting it in a box, after all the setup is done, can't be over a penny per vote as far as I can see.

  • Uh, no. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Mactrope ( 1256892 ) * on Sunday April 06, 2008 @04:29PM (#22982150) Homepage Journal

    I got to sit in on a lecture by a high ranking official from the US DOE. His opinion was that paper production was the fifth largest consumer of electricity in the United States. One of his pet projects could turn it around into a net producer of electricity but the mills were not interested and considered the equipment dangerous. Here's a reputable source of information that pegs paper production at 12% of US electricity consumption [].

Love may laugh at locksmiths, but he has a profound respect for money bags. -- Sidney Paternoster, "The Folly of the Wise"