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California Sec. of State Wants Open Source E-Voting Systems 112

Lucas123 writes "California's Secretary of State, Debra Bowen, was among a group of e-voting experts at MIT yesterday who said the nation's electronic voting systems are still not secure and many run on faulty software. Among the suggestions offered to fix the problem: use open source software, stop delivering e-voting machines to polling places weeks in advance of an election, and keep a paper trail for auditing purposes. Bowen also believes that a ubiquitous Internet voting system could not work without the use of a national ID card system."
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California Sec. of State Wants Open Source E-Voting Systems

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  • by compumike ( 454538 ) on Saturday September 27, 2008 @09:21AM (#25176849) Homepage

    Lots of the problems described occur because a voter must actually punch a bunch of buttons in just a few minutes -- matching a (hopefully predetermined) set of things they wanted to vote for. It seems like there's lots of room for error because of the time crunch that everyone feels in this situation.

    What if you could actually do the ballot on your computer at home, carefully making sure that the buttons you push are what you intended, and then bring a printout with something like a barcode or other digital encoding of your selections? (This wouldn't have to be tied to your name -- that can still happen in the booth.) Then you bring that barcode to the booth, and it scans it after you walk in, and that "preloads" your selections. Then, you're just down to a verify step, under less pressure.

    Seems to even open a new market for various parties to distribute the barcodes of their respective positions... :-/ don't want to make things *that* easy.

    Just a thought...

    Learn electronics! Microcontroller kits for the digital generation. []

  • by mfh ( 56 ) on Saturday September 27, 2008 @09:38AM (#25176963) Homepage Journal

    If swift-boat politics were actually fueled by problem solving -- you would be on to something here! Sadly, it's about disaster capitalism... and therefore it's better when the voting machines have wide open security holes. But nice try!

  • by PolygamousRanchKid ( 1290638 ) on Saturday September 27, 2008 @09:45AM (#25176995)

    No, don't follow them. Electronic Voting is an inherently flawed idea, let's just stick to pen&paper voting.

    ... everyone just go outside when the GoogleSat satellite goes over your region on election day.

    Raise your hand: right hand, McCain; left hand, Obama

    Google 's brilliant programmers have a flawless (albeit, beta) system that can correctly tally the votes.


  • by FlyingGuy ( 989135 ) <flyingguy AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday September 27, 2008 @10:33AM (#25177281)

    This is not that hard, and it sure isn't rocket science.

    Strip down a distro to the kernel then ad the following:

    • Driver for a touch screen display
    • Driver for audio output to drive headphones for the visually impaired
    • Driver for a brail input device as well
    • Driver for an thumb drive to boot from
    • Driver for a tape style printer (not thermal)

    Please a driver for something I missed....

    The device has only enough ROM to POST and is hard coded to boot from the thumb drive which contains the OS & drivers and voting software with a modified USB connector that is a different shape then standard. This is a mild security feature.

    An additional thumb drive will hold the data, again with a different shape so that the two cannot be confused, and both are encrypted using a two key scheme of some sort, suggestions?

    Insert the drive one, power up the machine, it will then POST itself and ask for the data key and will go no farther until it validates the Data Drive. Voting commences and when voting is complete, the machine is shut down, drives are pulled and returned to the registrar for counting.

  • Use a bank account. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by v(*_*)vvvv ( 233078 ) on Saturday September 27, 2008 @10:47AM (#25177357)

    Create an account for each item on the ballot.
    Have voters register their bank accounts when registering to vote.
    Only votes from registered bank accounts are accepted.
    Only deposits of 1 cent are accepted.
    People can vote at ATMs, online banking, or at a teller.
    Check the balance at the end of the day.
    Everyone has a paper trail.

    *Just an example of using a solution for a solved problem for an unsolved problem.
    **The system can be implemented without the banks cooperation, but why not have them cooperate - they're nationalized now anyway.

  • Why is it so hard? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by HairyCanary ( 688865 ) on Saturday September 27, 2008 @11:02AM (#25177433)

    1. Take vote electronically.
    2. Assign a randomly generated UUID.
    3. Print UUID+vote on internal paper tape for backup.
    4. Print UUID+vote on paper receipt for voter to keep.
    5. Post UUID+vote on a public web site anyone can view.

    Now, anybody can see the tally, do the math themselves, etc. And everyone who cares can look at their own UUID and see if the public tally is accurate.

  • by RAMMS+EIN ( 578166 ) on Saturday September 27, 2008 @11:35AM (#25177619) Homepage Journal

    You have some good ideas, but I feel obliged to point out that your solution does not obviously ensure that

    1. Your vote gets counted correctly
    2. Your vote is not traceable back to you
    3. You cannot vote more than once

    I still have more faith in casting votes on paper and counting them by hand than I have in your solution. Actually recording your vote on the paper ballot can be done by machine, of course, as long as you get to inspect the ballot to check that the machine did what you wanted it to.

  • by RAMMS+EIN ( 578166 ) on Saturday September 27, 2008 @11:39AM (#25177641) Homepage Journal

    ``Honestly, how hard is it to write voting software?''

    Not incredibly hard, but that's not the issue. The issue is how easy it is to convince the right people that your voting system does what they want it to do.

    I think the problem is either that's it's too easy to convince the right people that a voting system works, or that the right people aren't the people we want it to be.

  • by markdavis ( 642305 ) on Saturday September 27, 2008 @12:08PM (#25177799)

    "Bowen also believes that a ubiquitous Internet voting system could not work without the use of a national ID card system."

    For someone who seems to have a clue, she lost a lot of credibility with that statement. There is absolutely no need for a "national ID card system" to have secure and accurate voting. Voting is handled by the States, not the Federal Government.

  • by tucuxi ( 1146347 ) on Saturday September 27, 2008 @01:11PM (#25178185)

    I've got a better one. Don't trust the machine, trust the paper ballot - and let people bring in their own ballot-checking machines.

    So, yes - build your linux-powered machine (no need for special USB connectors; just make sure there's good physical security). Don't use any electronic recording mechanism - just print a piece of paper with the vote on it. Optically and humanly readable.

    And let there be as many machines as possible, from several providers (or even bring-your-own) that can read, display and issue paper ballots. So if the dems don't trust the republican's machine, just have them bring their own and recount the votes. All machines must conform to stringent standards regarding printed ballots and interface.

    To vote: go to the voting place, print as many ballots as you want, with any machine you want, check them with other machines if you're paranoid enough (or you want to know the print-out is really readable), and then show your ID and have the election officials deposit your ballot into the transparent box. At the end of the day, all those ballots get scanned and tallied (using more than one machine to make sure everything adds up). Voila! No need to trust just one piece of code+hardware!

    This system would require good, public standards for the paper ballot and for the race format (so that machines could read it and display it) - but precious little else.

  • by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Saturday September 27, 2008 @01:22PM (#25178253) Homepage

    How hard can it be to vote electronically?

    A machine can show voters a screen with photos/names/square boxes on it. At the side of the screen are physical buttons which correspond to the choices. When you press a button it goes beep and starts to flash. A flashing red 'X' also appears in the square box on screen. Your aim was off? Press a different button and the 'X' will go there.

    Next to the screen there's a printer which really really looks like a printer instead of something designed by Apple. On the front of it there's a large button labeled "print".

    Next to the printer there's a slot with a big arrow on it saying "vote here".

    In the mat in front of the machine there's a sensor which detects voters and which speaks clearly-worded instructions to them when they stand on it. If you don't touch the screen in twenty seconds the message will repeat.

    When you press the print button the voice tells you not to fold the card, to just check it and place it in the slot when you're happy. If you're not happy, place the card in the shredder instead and start over (both voting slot and shredder will read the barcode to verify you put the right piece of paper in them).

    In case of trouble there's a "practice" machine outside with helpful assistant. The candidates on the practice machine will be stupid cartoon dogs called "Spot" and "Rover" just to make it obvious that it's not the real thing.

    If you can screw that up you'll probably screw up a pencil/paper system anyway.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 27, 2008 @02:23PM (#25178565)

    Just stick to paper. It works.

    Just curious, but why do you Americans vote for so many things all at once? It's like you have federal, state, county, and municipal elections all at the same time. Plus you vote on things like sheriffs, prosecutors, and a gazillion different propositions.

    And what's with all of these "propositions"? In Canada, if we have a question put to the general population (we call it a "referendum") then it's pretty big change. They generally only happen once a decade or so.

    No wonder things are so complicated: people have to figure out what a dozen different things mean.

    Why is that?

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