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Early Voting Problems, Open Source Alternative 164

Techdirt makes note of some problems cropping up already for early voters in the presidential election. CNN covers some of the issues, including machines in a West Virginia county which recorded some votes incorrectly because of an alignment error. A lengthy discussion of the problems was also featured on NPR. Reader Rooked_One points out a related story at NPR about a voting program called PVOTE, written in Python and only 500 lines long. "Pvote is not a complete voting system. It is just the software program that interacts with the voter. Other necessary functions, such as voter registration, ballot preparation, and canvassing, are not part of Pvote. It is especially important that the voter interaction be correct because it is the only part of an election that must take place in private, whereas all other parts of an election can and should be subjected to public oversight and verification."
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Early Voting Problems, Open Source Alternative

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  • by Ritchie70 ( 860516 ) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @09:04AM (#25508965) Journal

    Here's some reasons:

    1. Avoid undue pressure. As most everyone knows, the city of Chicago is run by the Democratic machine. If you publicly were to vote Republican, you'd probably not get your garbage picked up or any of the other services the city provides. According to my wife, her grandma used to go vote (in Chicago) when it was busy, and tried not to be noticed, because she wanted to vote Republican but still wanted her garbage collected.

    2. Make it harder to sell your vote. If I give you $500 to vote for McCain, I have to just trust that you did it. If it's a public vote, I can check.

    3. Variations on vote selling that don't involve money. ("I'll break your legs if you vote Republican.")

    4. Family pressures. Despite voting Republican in every presidential election since I could vote, I'm probably going to vote Obama, not because I like him that much on the issues, but because he seems more flexible and smarter than McCain. My mom is a staunch Republican and has kind of figured out I think this way. It's bad enough to get the weekly harangue without the tumult that would result if she knew for sure who I voted for.

  • by Tacticus.v1 ( 1102137 ) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @09:07AM (#25508983)

    Vote this way or get fired, shot, killed, beaten etc.
    That's why we have anon ballots

    simple solution
    machine prints ballot showing who you voted for and preferences and etc. the machine makes no receipt no records only prints one.

    then that Ballot gets folded and put into a box that is in the open such as http://www.nancarrow-webdesk.com/warehouse/storage2/2007-w46/img.75405_t.jpg [nancarrow-webdesk.com]

    then you have an independent group that does the counting
    not bipartisan independent every party and ind can put reps in there to watch you have 2 people watching it at all times

    also consider preferences and multi-candidate seats (and bin the EC)

  • by FalcDot ( 1224920 ) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @09:08AM (#25508993)

    What if your millionaire uncle tells you you're gonna vote for x, or you'll be out of his will?

    What if your employer tells you you'd better vote for y or you'll be fired?

    If your vote is public, all sorts of nasty stuff can happen because of your vote, and just knowing that it might will already influence your vote.

  • by Supernoma ( 794214 ) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @09:43AM (#25509137)

    Why can't the US do what we do in Canada? You don't have to make this complicated.

    In Canada, we show up to our polling station with our voter card, show the card and receive a ballot. We take the ballot, which has the names of the candidates and their party in large font very clearly, and put an X in the big circle beside the candidate we're voting for.

    Thats it! No fancy machines, no complicated forms, and no computers to go wrong or be hacked.

    See this image:
    http://www.elections.ca/yth/images/sample_ballot.gif [elections.ca]

  • Re:Python, eh? (Score:3, Informative)

    by anon mouse-cow-aard ( 443646 ) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @10:49AM (#25509445) Journal

    all of which is used for many other purposes, folks are looking at and using that code routinely, and so holes in there are very likely to be discovered. The packages used would be the ones shipped by distros, and all packaging systems routinely digitally sign them.

    someone has to either corrupt the standard package (by infiltrating pygame or some such) or come up with a very good reason why the library from the normal sources cannot be used.

    You don't need to audit all the libraries etc... that you depend on, because those libraries get audited by others in the course of their normal usage.

    the problem with voting software is that it is 100kloc of custom code, so no-one else is going to audit it. You want to minimize the custom code.

  • by goombah99 ( 560566 ) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @11:17AM (#25509597)

    Open voting consortium [openvotingconsortium.org]

  • Re:Python, eh? (Score:3, Informative)

    by AMK ( 3114 ) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @11:18AM (#25509603) Homepage

    The pvote.org site notes that "the Diebold AccuVote TSX software contains over 64000 lines of C++; the Sequoia Edge software contains over 124000 lines of C." Those systems run on top of Windows or Windows CE, and in general regulations don't require verifying commercial off-the-shelf components.

  • by AdamHaun ( 43173 ) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @11:22AM (#25509633) Journal

    The presidential race probably won't have as many problems. The polls are predicting an Obama shut-out. The question now is not whether the Democrats will win the White House and gain seats in the house and senate, but how big of a landslide it will be.

  • by Sique ( 173459 ) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @11:44AM (#25509753) Homepage

    Lets put it like this: The Black Forest town of Villingen-Schwenningen has something called "unechte Teilortswahl" (literally translated: "not really an election per suburb"). Basicly every suburb has some seats reserved for their local candidates, but there are no party lists for each suburb, every party has a list for the whole of Villingen-Schwenningen. Each party can nominee as much candidates on its list as there are seats in the town council. With up to 20 parties running, this can easily amout to about ~450 candidates. It has happened that the voting ballot for the town council was a square metre!
    Now the voter can either accept the whole list of one party, or he has as much votes as there are seats in the council. Those votes he can distribute freely: all on one candidate ("cumulate") or evenly distributed between candidates of different lists, or some of the votes on a single candidate, and others on other candidates... it's completely up to him. He can even write new candidates on the lists and give them votes.
    During the count one determines which candidate got the most votes in his suburb, he gets a direct seat. If the suburb has a second seat, also the second best candidate gets a second seat etc.pp. But because different parties are running, it can happen, that other lists got many votes on their lists, but are not represented by the suburb. Then they get so called "Ausgleichsmandate" (compensatory mandates). Those are additional seats in the town council. In the end the council thus consists of as many candidates from the different lists as the relative number of votes the lists demands. With all those compensatory mandates the town council can often double or triple the number of seats.

  • by AdamHaun ( 43173 ) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @01:50PM (#25510461) Journal

    I watch the results at Real Clear Politics and the aggregates/projections from Pollster, Princeton, and 538. Advertising budgets for the various candidates and states are also public. Less solid evidence includes leaked internal memos about the parties own projections for success or failure. McCain has surrendered most of the Kerry swing states, and his last hope is to try to take Pennsylvania, which has gone Democratic in the last four elections. Obama, meanwhile, wins by holding Colorado and New Hampshire (likely) or getting at least one of the big swing states (also likely). He's averaging +9% in the (still-rising) national polls, and is competitive in once-secure states like North Dakota and North Carolina. As we can see from early voting results so far, he has a better ground game, and from the beginning has had a better organized campaign. I know the race is expected to tighten, but it would have to tighten a *lot* to make it "very close".

    Right now, all evidence is that the race will not be close, and that it would take a major gaffe from Obama to change that. It could happen -- nobody's saying it's over till it's over -- but as the McCain campaign continues to get bad press over Sarah Palin and Republican supporters form a circular firing squad, this race is looking more like 1992 than 2000.

  • by Dhalka226 ( 559740 ) on Saturday October 25, 2008 @03:19PM (#25511159)

    Why can't the US do what we do in Canada?

    No disrespect, but I'm beginning to get annoyed every time I see a question like that.

    We can't do what you do in Canada and what others do elsewhere because our process is different. Your process works fantastically when a person is choosing one of a small handful of options. Big name, big circle, big X. Simple. Easy as hell to count.

    The last time I voted here in the US (Cook County, Illinois, if you wish to know) I probably cast nearly 100 votes, many in different formats. President was painfully simple; three choices, if I recall correctly. Same with the national seats and even the state seats. Then there were things like county boards where I have to choose X of Y, and a list of 50 or so judges where I have to vote to retain or dismiss. Plus no fewer than two ballot proposals.

    Aside from the logistical problems of trying to present 100 different votes in the way you do, think of how ridiculous this is to count. Most people aren't going to be able to keep 100 different counts going in their heads, and jotting them down into 100 different columns (many more, actually, since I made 100ish votes--meaning there were well more than 100 options) is going to be very time-consuming and error-prone. And then, after you finish going through hundreds or thousands of ballots and making tick marks in a hundred different columns, you realize that you've yet to actually count the votes.

    If you start to get into the idea of machine counting the ballots, you're basically into most of the same sets of issues you're in when talking about computerized voting. At which point, why not simply use the computer to spit out a ballot that could be machine-counted if it's any way a simpler problem to solve?

    Some US ballots are undoubtedly confusing and they could be improved. But it's nowhere near as simple as people with the "use a fucking pencil, n00bs!" approach make it out to be.

Thufir's a Harkonnen now.