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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 bigtallmofo ( 695287 ) * on Saturday September 27, 2008 @09:15AM (#25176819)
    No need to open source anything or make any other changes... Just slap a sticker with one of those disclaimers on each of the current voting machines that reads "This is not a scientific poll and is completely inaccurate."

    Problem solved.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Manulani ( 1373445 )
      Why would you use a high level operating system in a voting machine.... the code should be written in assembler.... with a printed record which is readable by humans and machines.
    • by iiiears ( 987462 )
      This Software Is Provises By Lawmakers And Their Contributers "As Is" And Any Express Or Implied Warranties, Including, But Nor Limited To, The Implied Warranties Of Merchantability And fitness For A Particular Purpose Are Disclaimed. In No Event Shall... Cancel Accept
  • by Vinegar Joe ( 998110 ) on Saturday September 27, 2008 @09:17AM (#25176827)
    KDE or Gnome? But since it's California, it'll probably be Enlightenment.
    • If you are making a voting machine, I hope it neither runs GNOME nor KDE, nor Enlightenment! It should run as minimal as possible, not only to save hardware costs, but to cut down on local vulnerabilities (the thing shouldn't be networked, so remote ones shouldn't matter).
      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Shot_Noise ( 1354159 )

        It should run as minimal as possible

        Personally, I would take one step further. Electronic voting machines should be based on either a microcontroller or FPGA. The source code for whichever one would be available for public review. It would be carefully written and validated to ensure that the ports to which the user (voter, election worker, etc) has access cannot be used to reprogram it. It would be enclosed in a truly tamper-resistant, tamper-evident box. Of course, it still needs to have a voter-verified hard copy.

        I think too often we

      • Qtopia comes to mind actually.
        It would do the job extremely well.

        • None of them. I suspect that a single full-screen application that runs as the window manager by itself would be more secure and less error prone.
    • by oodaloop ( 1229816 ) on Saturday September 27, 2008 @09:50AM (#25177025)
      Finally, the year of the Linux voting machine has arrived!
  • 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 cervo ( 626632 )
      Then how do you buy an election from diebold? All these papers with the bar code and print outs would be countable. When the machine vote and the ballots don't match, uh oh the jig is up.

      Although seriously you could probably stuff the ballot just like in the old days.....
    • The problem with that is a lot of people don't have/don't use printers. Take that times the high price of ink, and the fact that the barcode could be smeared or otherwise damaged, it wouldn't really work.
      • Uhhh works great for planes here in Australia.

        Used the system for the first time a few weeks ago.
        Go online, choose what seat you want, hit print.
        You get a page with all your info along with a couple of 2d barcodes.
        Works fine even with crinkles in the page.

        It replaces the boarding pass. You just walk right on to the plane.

      • The problem with that is a lot of people don't have/don't use printers.

        Spoken like a true geek who uses hard copy printouts as little as possible; and does not support people who can only think with a piece of paper in their hands. Paper printouts are the predominant technology; and more people understand paper technology. Non-technology people will spend more time and effort ensuring the paper printout is perfect than maintaining the system which creates the paper printout. And they will expend lots of eff

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by MiKM ( 752717 )

        What about public libraries? Libraries generally charge around ten cents to print a page, which isn't very much. Even so, I'm sure that libraries would be willing to make printing out ballots free-of-charge.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by mfh ( 56 )

      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 arth1 ( 260657 ) on Saturday September 27, 2008 @10:05AM (#25177107) Homepage Journal

      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.

      Bad idea, for many reasons:

      1. Not everyone has access to computers.
      2. It opens for coercion fraud and buying of votes. The coercer (whether it's a husband or someone who bought your vote) makes sure that you have only one printout, and that you don't spend long enough in the voting booth to fill out another.
      3. Dimpled chads will be replaced with blotting ink cartridges. Expect the printer manufacturers to get sued if a vote allegedly registers incorrectly.

      The possibility for buying votes and coercing the voter is also why Internet voting must not be allowed to take place unless and until we can open a connection between our mind and the Internet. The voting booth is there to ensure privacy. Please do not take that privacy away in the name of security. I think Ben Franklin had something to say about that trade-off.

      • Actually, Internet voting must not be allowed unless you can make a connection that can't be eavesdropped between your mind and the voting machine. If third parties can listen in (even if they need your consent to do so) - vote buying will again be possible.

        Imagine you manage to get this part right. Now you would only have to trust the voting machine to accurately store your vote, without the benefit of a voter-verifiable paper trail or anything you can possibly show to third parties to demonstrate that yo

    • I'm for the entire process being online, but one would have to guard the system against things like man-in-the-middle and phishing attacks.

    • by Tor ( 2685 )

      The issue of fairness comes up right away. Not everyone has a computer at home. Those that do are not necessarily a true representation of the general electorate.

      One fundamental tenet of any fair voting system is that it must be equally easy or hard for every voter. Sure - the US fails on that score today - but introducing a system that benefits people who can afford a computer is not the way to solve this issue.

  • Nice step forward (Score:5, Insightful)

    by daemonburrito ( 1026186 ) on Saturday September 27, 2008 @09:30AM (#25176919) Journal

    Next step would be firing the so-called "technology experts" in the popular media, who apparently lack the the tech saavy to google for what "open-source" means.

    Coverage of the G1 launch was a beautiful example of their ignorance. Many times I heard the fakers pontificate about the "security concerns" in using open-source software, while not even knowing meaning of the term.

    • Next step would be to fire the people who think that E-voting systems should have anti-virus on them.
    • by Tor ( 2685 )

      I don't think I came across anyone discussing security concerns w.r.t the G1 being "open source" - but rather, that you'll be able to install anyone's application on the phone. (For "analysts" that are under the influence of Steve Jobs' Reality Distortion Field, this sounds very scary).

      • By popular media, I meant non-web sources like cable news and radio.

        These faux nerds would not even be able to understand the distinction you just made; i.e., they used the term "open source" inappropriately when talking about other issues, of which they were also ignorant.

        It's not just Jobs' Reality Distortion Field, not by a long shot. The seemingly-purposeful ignorance of analysts makes me suspicious, too, but Jobs wasn't the first name to come to mind. Apple has only the most recent of the walled garden

  • This was not mentioned in the article. Voters should be issued a voter number and should be able to go online and verify the accuracy of their vote. The election judges should be able to do a printout and be able to go online and verify the paper matches the online data, with the help of a ballot watcher maybe. In cases of more than a 100 percent voter turnout, elections must done again.
  • At Pycon 2007 in Dallas [] I saw a lightning talk demonstrating how electronic voting could be secure in just 293 lines of code [].

    However the bottom line is that you shouldn't trust any voting system. What you should have is an auditing system where you can do recounts. The less moving parts or the fewer lines of code you have the easier it will be to audit a system.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by liquidpele ( 663430 )
      Yes, pvote [] is small (current version is 460 lines), but that does not take into account the software under the simple python script.. What about the OS, the Interpreter itself, drivers, how it stores the votes, etc. All that has to be secure... the actual interface to the voters is probably the LEAST of your worries.
  • Honestly, how hard is it to write voting software?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by RAMMS+EIN ( 578166 )

      ``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.

    • It's been done. []

      Now please go and support them.

  • by schnikies79 ( 788746 ) on Saturday September 27, 2008 @10:04AM (#25177103)

    Just stick to paper. It works.

    • by tucuxi ( 1146347 )

      <car analogy>Yes. But the fact that walking 'works' has not stopped us from inventing cars. And mind you, the first ones were not exactly 'secure', and could claim much more than your vote.</car analogy>

      On the serious side, yes, don't substitute paper until you have an alternative that's superior on all counts. But keep in mind that there's a lot of drudgery and automatable effort behind voting, and that many simply can't vote because of physical problems.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      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

  • The main problem with e-voting is that the average citizen can not reasonably check the ballot counting. With paper, even a seven-year-old can check if it is counted correctly. No one can look into the computer, so even if you have paper ballots, they still need to be counted. Nothing won there.

  • Every optical-scan voting system should use scantegrity [].
  • 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.

    • 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 kesuki ( 321456 )

        the easy part is only 1 vote. there are 2 options. 1. a second screen with a 'press to allow vote now' system kinda like the cashier pressing the 'credit' key at walmart. maybe even screen less, just an led... or something.

        not traceable back to you is harder, but not impossible ultimately this suggests that the poll workers don't get access to the voting machines ever, they're handled by someone else entirely etc.

        as for correct counting, that's not impossible either, you just have the machine have 2 copie

        • by kesuki ( 321456 )

          whoops forgot number 2 on the only 1 vote... the second option was to say have unique bar codes scanned in that only work once, and the voting machine won't let you vote without scanning in a new bar code.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Burz ( 138833 )

      Ramms+ein is right: Open source will not solve the problem of computerized voting, which transforms the ballot from a physical object that can be read by any poll worker, into an electromagnetic blip that cannot be verified except through extremely indirect and convoluted means using teams of hard-to-find experts.

      As you may know, the 'normal' transactions we perform on computers every week are coming under increasingly successful attack. And that is WITH the benefit of the transactions carrying the identiti

      • by tucuxi ( 1146347 )

        Yes, FOSS cannot, by itself, make things completely secure. But showing the audience that there's nothing up your sleeve is surely a good sign anyway. I say use voter-verifiable paper trails -- and, for good measure, release the software so that it is harder to monkey with the system.

        A similar point can be made regarding transparent vs. opaque ballot boxes. A transparent box doesn't mean you can't stuff things if you are quick enough - but it does make things harder. Hacking logic gates is harder than writ

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by tucuxi ( 1146347 )

      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 i

    • by iiiears ( 987462 )
      The ROM can be pointed to one place on disk but it can't prove what it is booting is the vote counting program. The Media to install the voting program can contain malware to blind other OS'es to it's presence. Wherever you look in digital voting adding another layer of security introduces another potential point of failure. Binary code is still the best thing there is for voting. Yes or No on paper with ink or a chad.
  • 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.

    • by tucuxi ( 1146347 )
      I say let people deposit as much as they want, and count whatever comes out. If vote-buying is the way forward, we may as well make it a straight-forward, user-friendly competitive bid. On the other hand, I'm a bit worried about the turnout rates.

      [yes, just joking]

    • That doesn't solve the problem of voter fraud by faked identities. Include the requirement of "1 vote per person per issue/office", and you plug the "multiple vote" fraud.

      Of course, the work involved in pulling off voter fraud by forging a bunch of false identities, as well as the risk of being discovered, arrested, etc., probably outweighs the 'benefit' of getting your buddy in office.

      On the other hand, this doesn't rely on a verifiable residence, so this method will be resistant to caging.

      Republicans* wil

    • Thought of another potential flaw: Some banks are really terrible at discarding you when you leave them. So if you change banks and re-register under a different institution, you might be denied because your old bank insists you're still with them.

      Some banks, for whatever reason, make it really painful to try to leave them.

  • At least in my country, the traditional paper method works well, is easy to implement, and what is most important in a democracy: easy to understand and easy to check for everyone.
    No matter if the electronic method is opensource or not, only a very small percentage of voters will actually understand how it works, how it is kept secure and safe from manipulation.
    So what immense advantages would electronic voting have to make up for this fundamental problem, that will never change, no matter what the electron

    • So what immense advantages would electronic voting have to make up for this fundamental problem, that will never change, no matter what the electronic solution will be?

      Well, if you use a computer to print a paper ballot, you get easy to understand, easy to check, with a fallback.

      What advantages does it provide?
      1) Truly secret ballots for the blind
      2) Multi-Lingual ballots
      3) The ability to provide much greater detail about things like voter propositions. In Arizona, the "gives teachers raises" prop really wa

  • 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.

    • 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.

      I implemented this precise system several years ago at ICANN (, to support policy votes and elections to various positions in the organization. It's not perfect, but it works pretty well.

      A later poster notes that it is susceptible to coercion.

      That's true for any system that gives a verifiable record of the vote to the voter. It is very difficult to eliminate coercion entirely -- your evil boss could require you to take a picture of your signed ballot, bribe election workers to report on yo

    • Add to this ... make selection available from the comfort of your home... vote isn't "activated" when you fill in your answers... you print off your guid/uuid to a barcode slip... take this to the polling place... they check your name... walk through the line, have your code scanned, and your vote is then activated... then you aren't filling your answers at the polls, and the process of checking your name, and validating the votes is still separate. This would allow for faster results, and still require
    • by KliX ( 164895 )

      Your system makes vote buying very very easy.

  • 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.

  • The voting system shouldn't need to be open-source. In fact I'd go so far as to say that any electronic voting system that requires the voting machines to be open-source is fundamentally flawed and shouldn't be trusted. The system should be designed so that it doesn't matter whether the machines themselves are recording correctly or not, it's still possible to determine whether the counts are correct (ie. match the intent of the voter) or not and ideally to be able to reconstruct the correct count.

    Yes, it c

  • India had adopted Electronic Voting Machines in 2004 and has successfully used them for all elections since then. What is stopping the US doing the same? Some answers in the article here [] .

    More info on the Indian EVMs here []

  • The solution should start by simplifying the elections itself.

    Its always going to be confusing when you have to vote for dozens of things at the same time. I mean come one, what do I care who is elected to the school district board when we are talking about presidential elections.

    We should have to vote for 3 things max on national elections:

    The president.
    The senate.
    The house.

    Thats it... Then we can go back to old school, simple paper ballots with 1 name on it, And one ballot box for each. Then they are all

  • Congress has no intention of approving electronic voting or putting any effort into finding reasonably secure options. Were they to do something like that their jobs suddenly become meaningless in the long run. We would have no need for elected population representatives if the population was able to vote on virtually every subject themselves. Of course then it would become a partisan issue because we would have to give a computer to every single low-income family (government funded through your tax doll

  • People that think an open-source solution will solve this problem are delusional. You can never have a 100% solution no matter how many keys or security mechanisms you dream up. In fact, the more you try to secure it, the more incentive there is to find a way to break it. Don't you people learn anything from all the stories that are posted about cracking DRM? The only thing that is reasonably secure is create a ballot the voter can verify, have a machine or person tabulate the ballots repeatedly and rel
  • A serious question (Score:3, Informative)

    by bill_kress ( 99356 ) on Saturday September 27, 2008 @03:27PM (#25178975)

    It is supposed to be impossible for me to show someone how I voted. I can't be given a receipt or anything (it would be too easy to buy votes).

    With that as a given, how does a paper trail help? If I as a voter can't be sure that my specific vote is the one on the paper, then it seems like there are still thousands of ways for someone to change it out.

    The machine could print fake info first of all, so it would HAVE to be something I see and validate. Since it has to be a public record, it can't be tied to me by any kind of key though--so after it's printed it out for me to see, there is no saying that it doesn't print a second or third line for another candidate at some other time...

    If the paper trail disagrees with the digital tally, do you just assume that the paper wasn't messed with or substituted?

    I'm guessing people have thought about this more than I have, and I see the mention of "Paper Trail" a lot so I just thought I'd ask.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Consider this: Someone votes in a booth using an electronic machine, which prints out their vote, which the voter themselves put in a sealed envelope and throw into a locked poll. The voter can verify that what he voted for is what the machine printed.
      After the election day ends, the machine announces a sort of temporary result. Then, a representative of the justice system, and representatives of all parties, and a member of the public (with a role similar to jury duty) all verify that the number of votes
    • What about absentee ballots? You can send them in by mail. I think all of Oregon does it this way.
    • by lennier ( 44736 )

      "It is supposed to be impossible for me to show someone how I voted. I can't be given a receipt or anything (it would be too easy to buy votes)."

      It always amazes me that American general elections have anonymity and unprovability of your vote as a hard requirement, and yet to vote in a *primary* election you have to publically register your party affiliation!

      Maybe that's okay if elections are a gentleman's contest between independents, but when you have a bitterly divided, utterly partisan electorate made o

      • I don't really see primaries as part of the legal process--as anything the government should be involved in.

        The whole party system is a crappy add-on to democracy (that happens to break it pretty bad), and should not in any way be required by laws of any sort.

        That said, the people in power (parties) have a vested interest in excluding others, so I can't guarantee it's not legislated somewhere.

  • To provide a more accurate picture to the voting masses, just replace the voting machines with modified slot machines. You have to insert $1 coin and strike 3 Obamas in a row to actually vote for him. All other votes go to McCain. Top part of the machine could display laughing members of Congress, and what are they worth (only the millionaires).
  • use open source software, stop delivering e-voting machines to polling places weeks in advance of an election

    Voting machine hijackers won't need the machines weeks in advance when they have the source months in advance.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Paper trails are bad. What we need are PAPER BALLOTS. The machine can help by helping voters fill out the damn form correctly and printing the ballot in COMPLETELY human readable form. Then an OCR can read it AFTER the voter has had a chance to make sure they are casting the votes they intended. The ballot helper MUST be completely independant of the OCR and the voter is the only link between the two.

    No receipt, no tracking, no paper trail. Just a paper ballot. And of course we keep the ballots just a

  • If there needs to be a truly reliable paper trail to audit, why even bother with e-voting? At that point the only difference I can see is whether you push a pencil through paper or push a button, and one is far less trustworthy. Quicker tabulation can't be worth that much to the lazy voting public, can it?

You know, Callahan's is a peaceable bar, but if you ask that dog what his favorite formatter is, and he says "roff! roff!", well, I'll just have to...