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Diebold Flops in Alaska 255

Posted by samzenpus
from the they-usually-work-so-well dept.
lukej writes "From the Anchorage Daily News, During yesterday's preliminary and ballot measure election across Alaska, Diebold built voting machines failed to 'phone home' causing a hand recount. As a party spokesperson said: "I can say there are many systematic problems with Diebold machines that have been identified in many contexts." Additionally, the state itself has mandated some hand counts of all electronic results, and the Democratic Party is simply suggesting voters request paper voting."
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Diebold Flops in Alaska

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  • by stinerman (812158) <nathan,stine&gmail,com> on Thursday August 24, 2006 @03:58AM (#15968142) Homepage
    As a party spokesperson said: "I can say there are many systematic problems with Diebold machines that have been identified in many contexts."


    He later said: "Of course, they contribute heavily to my party, so its not like we're going to revoke their contract or anything."
    • by Secrity (742221) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @06:32AM (#15968496)
      I may be wrong, but don't government juristictions choose which voting machines are used?
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        You are somewhat wrong, and somewhat right. There certainly is a government entity that choses the voting system, but it is the Department of Voting. In major metro areas (Such as the Cities of Anchorage, Juneau and Fairbanks in AK) or more rural counties (The rest of AK including where I will be soon residing) each department has different officials and different systems. Being an in-law to someone who is the president of the voting department (forget their official name) there is infinitely more than w
    • by All Your Name Are Be (931301) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @07:20AM (#15968597)
      Actually 'he' was a she, and she was from the Democratic party. From TFA:

      Alaska Democratic Party spokeswoman Kay Brown said the slowdown caused by the touchscreen machines is indicative of larger problems with the machines.

      "I can say there are many systematic problems with Diebold machines that have been identified in many contexts," Brown said. "That there were technical glitches with the machines is not surprising, and it's one indication of the kinds of things that can go wrong with the machines and it's something to be concerned about."

      The day before the election, the Democratic party urged voters to choose paper ballots instead of the touchscreen machine. They say Diebold's touch screen machines may be insecure and vulnerable to attack.

  • Seriously guys, (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Zouden (232738) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @04:14AM (#15968188)
    how hard can it be? I could rig up a basic voting system in an afternoon and it would work "pretty good". A large company, on a multi-million-dollar contract, with years of work should be able to produce a flawless machine for something as simple as tallying some votes.

    All I can say is, those secret election-rigging backdoors must take a lot of work, because what else have their developers been working on?
    • Re:Seriously guys, (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ms1234 (211056) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @04:38AM (#15968248)
      Keyword is contract and how long they can milk it.
    • for the morally challenged, that is. Until this bug is rectified, your technically superior solution is useless.
    • by karl.auerbach (157250) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @05:16AM (#15968328) Homepage
      I'm part of the Open Voting Consortium and we've been proposing a system in which the voter uses a machine to produce a paper ballot. That ballot *is* the ballot, not some copy, not some receipt, but the actual ballot. And it isn't good until stuffed into a ballot box.

      The paper ballot is the core - it's in a form and font easy for machine readers to read, but it can also be read by people.

      Now, that vote-printer machine can be any machine that has an interface appropriate to the needs of the voter - such as audio driven for sight impaired voters. (A ballot reader would be available to do an audio readback.)

      Our proposal is to do this, plus a canvassing system (that's the part that aggregates the precinct counts into the grand totals.)

      And we feel that *all* code, and all machinery, should be inspectable and testable by anybody who wants to run a test (and they should be able to publish their test results.) That's one step short of full open source - which doesn't mean that the code couldn't also be open source under one of the licenses.

      It is a mistake to think of these things as a software issue - it involves machines (even if they look and smell like PC's, although I personally tend to prefer smaller/lower power engines like the WRAP or Soekris machines) and procedures, lots and lots of procedures (like what to do if a voter walks out in the middle of casting his/her vote - there are laws that say what to do, and they, of course, vary from state to state and even county to county.)

      But it is harder to do than one thinks - the machines themselves can't just be any old junk PC. They need to be robust in the face of voter use and tampering behind the scenes. And they need to have lots and lots of places where they can be locked-down (often using things as simple as lead-and-wire tamper seals) to prevent hanky-panky by warehouse or precinct people.

      They need to be power-conserving (imagine a precinct with a single circuit breaker/fuse and a flakey or non-existant ground, and that the voting is occuring during a thunderstorm.) UPS's are a pain - they have a high failure rate and given that they often contain a lead-acid battery, are neither lightweight nor quite innocent should they leak. And it's important to keep the fire marshall happy.

      And printers are a pure pain in the rear - they can draw a lot of power and are generally the most failure prone part of the system.

      And there are lots of legal requirements - like protecting the privacy of the vote. You can, for example, potentially reconstruct which voter voted which way by looking at things like sequencial files used for audit/error-detection or for ballot tallies.

      And the stuff has to be easily configurable en masse - counties tend to need hundreds, thousands of these things, and they better all be the same. And they need to be able to be transported by folks who aren't necessarily gentle and set up by people who make your grandmother look like a tech support wizard.

      We were planning on doing a project to produce a reference model for such a system via the University of California (multi-campus project with UC Santa Cruz in the project lead position) but we got cut out of California's HAVA (Federal voting act) funding when the previous California Sect'y of State got caught up in a brouhaha on other matters. It's still worth doing - every state would benefit.
      • by jez9999 (618189) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @05:44AM (#15968395) Homepage Journal
        Makes you wonder why they bother with all the added hassle of machine voting at all, really.
        • by frdmfghtr (603968) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @09:18AM (#15969024)
          Makes you wonder why they bother with all the added hassle of machine voting at all, really.


          AMEN!

          I used to be on the electronic voting bandwagon, but when I saw that it was prone to failure and couldn't be trusted, I jumped off. When machines are reported to carry several thousand votes more than there are registered voters in a precinct, how can ANYBODY say "well, the number isn't enough to change the outcome." How do you know this? What about "errors" that go undiscovered? A little here, a little there, all under the radar so to speak...until you put them all together.

          Paper, paper, paper...mark your ballot with a black marker, drop it in a box, and it gets counted by a representative of each party. No electronic storage to deal with, no way to electronically change results, and it's a permanent record.

          The only two ways it can fail (that I can think of):

          (1) The ballot is a misprint in which case it is simply destroyed (again, witnessed by a representative of each party that it is in fact a defective ballot) and a new, blank one re-issued. The ballot is examined to be defect-free BEFORE being handed to the voter.

          (2) The marker runs dry.

          The only way there can be fraud is if the votes are tampered with after being deposited; since all ballots are in human-readable form, then the ONLY way to tamper with them is also in human-readable form.

          We can process millions upon millions of bank transactions every day but cannot count votes without grotesque errors? Come on people! It's not that hard!

          • by Alfred, Lord Tennyso (975342) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @10:36AM (#15969592)
            Paper has other important failure modes. The marks can be made in an ambiguous fashion; electronic voting machines can prevent that.

            Also, paper ballots can only present the choices one way, so there's no possibility for a second-chance "These are the votes you're casting. Are you sure?" step. That's particularly important when the ballot design itself is confusing.

            Both of these factors made big news in Florida in 2000, and arguably swung the presidential race. Not that these problems outweigh the problems with electronic machines, but building a fix for old symptoms without solving the underlying problem is a time-honored tradition in the US.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Jtheletter (686279)
            I used to be on the electronic voting bandwagon, but when I saw that it was prone to failure and couldn't be trusted, I jumped off. [...] We can process millions upon millions of bank transactions every day but cannot count votes without grotesque errors? Come on people! It's not that hard!

            You make many good points which I agree with, but your first and last sentences above don't jive. We don't process millions of bank transactions daily by pencil and paper, it's done electronically. So if you're against
            • by Guido von Guido (548827) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @11:08AM (#15969864)
              We don't process millions of bank transactions daily by pencil and paper, it's done electronically. So if you're against electronic voting don't bring up the ability to securely process bank millions of transactions as an example since it's really an argument FOR e-voting. Just a thought.

              People who use that banking system can go back and verify that their transactions went through. They can look at their bank statements and make sure that they're the only ones spending their money.

              People who use an electronic voting system cannot go back and verify that their vote was cast correctly. No one can with any system in use in the US. In a paper system, however, you can go back and recount the original paper votes.

              • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                by Jtheletter (686279)
                People who use an electronic voting system cannot go back and verify that their vote was cast correctly. No one can with any system in use in the US. In a paper system, however, you can go back and recount the original paper votes.

                I don't disagree with this statement, and neither does my original post. The key idea here being the "current system in use in the US" which we all here on /. seem to agree is very flawed. My point was that the GP poster made very good arguments in favor of a paper-ONLY voting s
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by Rotten168 (104565)
            We had such ballots in 2000 but the Democrats were too stupid to use them properly. Hence, we get Diebold and electronic voting.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by vtcodger (957785)
            ***The only two ways it can fail (that I can think of):

            (1) The ballot is a misprint ...

            (2) The marker runs dry.***

            The town I live in switched to optical scanning of ballots a couple of decades ago when a few thousand blank ballots turned up missing on election day. To this day, no one knows if the ballots were lost, stolen, or indeed ever existed at all. It's certainly remotely possible that they were marked up and somehow used to replace a like number of real ballots although it doesn't seem very l

          • >how can ANYBODY say "well, the number isn't enough to change the outcome." How do you know this?

            You make an extremely good point.

            Wish I could remember their names, but one university team crunched the numbers and found that if you were to change just one vote in every precinct of the country you could reverse the outcome of a recent presidential election. That sounds strange until you stop and think how many precincts there must be in Florida and that the arguments were over dozens or hundreds of votes.
        • Makes you wonder why they bother with all the added hassle of machine voting at all, really.

          It does "sound" like a good idea. Machine voting was supposed to have plenty of benefits, like: much easier tallying of votes, resistance to ballot-box stuffing, improved experience for disabled/sensory impaired voters, and fewer opportunities for human error in the whole process from voting to recording to tallying. These are things that machines are supposed to do well.

          Unfortunately, the human element let us d

      • by paganizer (566360)
        So what IS your current status? I think electronic voting, for wrong or wronger, is with us to stay; those of us who have the ear of election officials would like to have any information available about projects like this.
      • by linuxghoul (16059) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @06:22AM (#15968468) Journal
        This is practically the same as what I proposed on my blog [blogspot.com] a while back:

        A proposal for a Trustable Electronic Voting System

        Seeing how the failure of electronic voting to earn our trust is a hot topic today, heres my shot at a proposal for a secure electonic voting system.

        1. The voting process starts with a voter walking into a polling station and presenting his/her ID. This is verified by the officials, and possibly representatives of the candidates, and once verified, the Voter is issued a Physical Token. This Token is NOT generated on demand, and can be something like the tokens used at game arcades. Each token needs to have a globally unique serial ID, which would need be changeable. Each polling booth is issued a fixed number of voter tokens, enough for the total number of voters expected to show up at a booth. Any unused tokens need to be returned to the Election Authority.

        2. The voter takes the token (remmeber that this token is not associated with his identity in any way) and walks up to the voting machine. This machine consists of a touch screen with the poll options on it. The machine activates when the voter drops the token into its slot. The user makes his/her selection, confirms it, and is issued a printed reciept of his/her choice. The machine keeps a running tally of the votes polled, but does NOT communicate the vote to any central server. This information is kept secure inside the machine itself, and the machine needs to be made physcially temper proof and temper-evident. At the end of the polling process, all the voting mashines can be collected together and an authorized elction officer can instruct the machine to reveal the poll results. All results from all machines can be tallied to get the final election result.

        4. The receipt format would be a standardized one, established by the febderal election officals, including the fonts, sizes and the information content. It will have on it, printed, the day/date and identifier of the particular election and the id of the machine which issued the reciept, and in large fonts, the selection made by the voter.

        5. The voter checks on the reciept to make sure the information on the reciept matches what he had punched in. If not, the vote is invalid, and he/she gets to vote again.

        6. If the reciept information is valid, the voter proceeds to another machine, where he/she inserts the reciept into a slot. This second machine reads the receipt using Optical Character Recognition, and maintains its own independent tally of votes polled. It also securely holds all the receipts in a safe vault inside it. The first machine and this second machine are not linked in any way.

        7. The first machine and the second machine must not be made by the same manufacturer, or by companies with substantial holding by common entities.

        8. Ideally, the token and the receipt would be federal standards, and the machines themselves can be made by any number of companies. They would need to get certified by a testing body. The certification test would focus on standards compliance (including such standards as physical size, accessibility, etc).

        9. A single company may make both the machines, but in any specific poll booth, machines from two indepepdent manufacturers need to be used.

        At the end of the election, the polling officials return to a central location with all the unused tokens, and the sealed machines. The total number of votes polled by both the machines, and the number of tokens issued is first matched. Then both the machines are activated and the total tallies of votes taken and matched against each other. In case of mismatch, the paper reciepts are retrieved from the second machine, and counted by hand.

        The crucial points are:

        1. Two independent tallies of the same votes, with a trail between corresponding votes (the receipt carries the token ID, so from the machines databases, one can matc
        • by freedom_india (780002) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @06:54AM (#15968538) Homepage Journal
          There is such a voting machine being used in the World's most populus Democracy for past 12 years.

          http://www.eci.gov.in/EVM/index.htm [eci.gov.in]

          OR

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_voting_machine s [wikipedia.org]

          All that you have suggested is already in the machine.

          Seems the country that has long been derided as Third-World, dirt Poor, unwashed masses can implement a technologically superior yet simple solution to maintaining Democracy amongst its unwashed masses with highest ethics.

          Unless US loses its NIH syndrome, it is bound to be abused by companies like Deibold.

          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by MadEE (784327)
            If the first link describes how the system operates then it seems almost the exact opposite of what the parent was looking for. The system is centrally (per station) tallied. Doesn't offer paper receipts nor does it use tokens to identify people. About the only think in common with that device and what he proposing is that they count votes.

            Granted I think tokens are a bit of an overkill both in complexity and expense I think a better idea would be to use a drivers license (with a magnetic strip) as a t
          • I don't think its NIH syndrome as a lot of good voting systems have been created by Americans. Its a combination of Diebold having a larger sales staff, and maybe a little bit of fraud.

            I remember when the local election officer started insisting upon paper receipt ballots he got blackballed by all the "certified" voting companies and the county commisioners slandered him in the newspaper because it caused him to miss a grant deadline when he didn't purchase the Diebold machine that was being forced upon him
          • by houghi (78078)

            There is such a voting machine being used in the World's most populus Democracy for past 12 years.

            http://www.eci.gov.in/EVM/index.htm [eci.gov.in]

            I am woried about the slide 11. There it should just say "YES!" Instead it gives an explanation on how they did their utmost best to make it foolproof.
            On slide 12, it is explained that it can not be tamperd with once it is installed. What about before or after. What about the machine that counts the votes?

          • They can hardly be worse than Diebold, so the usual complaints about software quality don't apply.

            But why not go all the way? Let the Indians do the actual voting! Many Americans don't care anyway and with a population about 5 times bigger the participation is bound to skyrocket. And, (tongue-slightly-in-cheek) Americans pick the wrong guys...
          • by 955301 (209856)
            Technologically superior? Highest ethics? Holy cow! :)

            First, we're actually talking about dumbing the system down to use paper ballots. Second, India does not rank high on ethics - class systems, leaving babies in the dumpster, withholding food for hundreds of thousands of people. The only reason India has advanced is because they have a large fraction of the population that is English speaking!

            And Deibold having the voting machines *is* an example of the government not suffering from NIH! First, the govern
        • by antic (29198)
          Voting in the US is already handled by depositing a token into a container. The tokens are coins, the container is the government's pocket!
        • Your token idea, which seems to remove the need for a voter to show ID at the poll, is a very bad idea. How hard do you think it would be for me to buy 800 tokens from poor voters for $10 each? Then my party faithful friends get three tokens each. At least today, if you try to buy someone's vote, they are free to take your money, walk into the polls, and vote for whomever they want. When you show up to vote, the fact that you have voted needs to be recorded.
          • Noo.. The token is taken from the entrance of the poll when you show your id to the machine. This is simply to match the number of people who got in line to the number of people who actually voted. But yes there could be a problem of someone pocketing the token and turning around and not voting. But ultimatly this is no less secure than how most polling stations in which you sign in then walk to a booth and vote.
            • you show your id to the machine

              This only works if your ID is machine readable, and one of the ones that the machine recognizes. Right now, there are at least hundreds of forms of ID that allow you to vote. Your idea would require us to limit voters to one or two forms of ID that the machine expects. The machines would also have to be as good as humans at catching fake IDs (not going to happen). Also, instead of narrowing the record of John Smith's voting down to a location and approximate time, you ha

        • by Misch (158807)
          How about Brazil's voting machine system [national.com]... electronic count, voter veririfed paper trail, randomly selected precints for recount
      • by retrosteve (77918) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @07:43AM (#15968655) Homepage Journal
        I'm part of the Open Voting Consortium and we've been proposing a system in which the voter uses a machine to produce a paper ballot. That ballot *is* the ballot, not some copy, not some receipt, but the actual ballot. And it isn't good until stuffed into a ballot box.

        We have such a machine in Canada. It works very very well. It's called a number 2 pencil.

        No joke. Sometimes technology isn't the answer.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Skrynesaver (994435)
          The Irish govenment attempted to move to electronic voting, piloting the scheme in three constituencies. As we use PR with an STV system the counting software itself was quite complex, the issue that excited the population though was that there was no paper backup and the machines were closed source. I mean really, a private company in charge of the method of selection of the government. The attempt failed and we have returned to a paper ballot, we managed to waste € 52 millioin + storage costs duri
        • by swillden (191260) * <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Thursday August 24, 2006 @08:50AM (#15968896) Homepage Journal

          We have such a machine in Canada. It works very very well. It's called a number 2 pencil.

          This always comes up, but Canadians fail to realize just how different American elections are. My typical ballot includes over 50 selections -- I don't mean 50 options for a single race, I mean 50 separate decisions, including national, state, county and municipal officials, plus ballot initiatives, judicial retention votes and others that I can't remember right now.

          Many parts of the US do use simple paper ballots, marked with a pencil and tallied by hand. They're areas with small populations, and they're nearly always among the last to report results, because tallying the votes is hard. Sure, it's parallelizable, but with such a long list of individual decisions, it requires much greater parallelism than Canadian elections do, and the large number of races means that combining the separate tallies is also a time-consuming and error-prone process.

          Further, paper and pencil has the disadvantage that it excludes many people with disabilities from being able to vote.

          Voting machines, designed and implemented correctly, *are* a better way, at least for our style of voting.

          Sometimes technology is the answer.

          • In the UK we have similiar numbers of selections, but we have a more sane approach - dont hold all the elections on one day. Usually the General and Local elections will fall on the same day once every 4 - 6 years, but usually theres two or three elections spread out over a year. Max Ive had to choose from is 9 candidates over 2 ballots.
      • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @08:02AM (#15968708) Homepage Journal
        They need to be robust in the face of voter use and tampering behind the scenes. And they need to have lots and lots of places where they can be locked-down (often using things as simple as lead-and-wire tamper seals) to prevent hanky-panky by warehouse or precinct people.

        Poker machines here in .au have to run firmware which hashes to a number attached to the license of the machine. The hash is made when the machine passes validation and the authorities can at any time go to a machine and check the hash against the ROMS.

        As many others have pointed out, this is not rocket science.

      • by hey (83763)
        Since printers are flaky, why print the ballot on demand (with the voter's X)? Why not have
        the ballots already printed and let the voter draw an X. Like most for the world does.

        Sure, feel the finished ballot into a counting machine.
    • by plopez (54068)
      First rule of consulting, if you solve the problem you are out of a job.

      See also:
      http://despair.com/consulting.html [despair.com]
  • Diebold's still in business? How?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 24, 2006 @04:20AM (#15968202)
    I see the Title "Electronic Toilet" and then the words "paper voting"...
  • by SuperBanana (662181) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @04:37AM (#15968243)

    Concern over the machines led the Alaska Legislature in 2005 to pass a law requiring a mandatory hand count of ballots in one randomly selected precinct in every election district.

    Be interesting to hear about how those random hand counts compare to the machine tabulations.

    By the way, it'd be nice if slashdotters took notice that a number of the failures were related to phone lines (probably people plugging them into the wrong jacks, digital lines, or lines requiring special dial-out numbers, etc.)

    Last but not least:

    The Diebold electronic voting machines nationwide have been criticized by voter groups and computer scientists who say they are vulnerable to fraud. Diebold has defended the machines, saying they are secure when elections officials follow proper procedures.

    That's the whole point, Diebold: you shouldn't have to "follow proper procedures." The machines should make it impossible to do so, just like I punch a ballot, place it in a box, which is locked and sealed, and taken by police to the counting facility, etc. The current system requires a fair amount of work to interfere with; the Diebold machines seem to require a fair amount of work to NOT interfere with!

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by kfg (145172) *
      Be interesting to hear about how those random hand counts compare to the machine tabulations.

      Well, that depends on how carefully you pick your "random" precint, doesn't it?

      KFG

    • by BiggerIsBetter (682164) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @05:45AM (#15968396)
      So voter groups, computer scientists, and at least one of the political parties think these are a bad idea? We've got stakeholders and specialists all saying the system is junk, so WHY WHY WHY are they still in use then?

      I'd love to hear the justification from the person who is authorizing this programme.

      • by Secrity (742221) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @07:41AM (#15968653)
        One American political party (the one who currently controls the country) likes Diebold voting machines and likes the CEO of Diebold.

        An Aug. 14, 2003 fund-raising letter from Walden O'Dell, chief executive of Diebold sent to the Ohio Republican party said that he is "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year." The letter coincidentally went out the day before Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell (a Republican) was set to qualify Diebold as one of three firms eligible to sell upgraded electronic voting machines to Ohio counties in time for the 2004 election.

        http://www.bradblog.com/DieboldContributions.htm [bradblog.com]
      • After the counting fiasco in FL, Congress passed the "Help America Vote Act" [fec.gov] to get rid of the "hanging chad" forever. The Act provides funds to states to buy electronic machines so they can retire the punch card machines.

        As you can see here with the Roll Call Vote [house.gov], Overwhelming majorities of both parties voted for it, but MORE DEMOCRATS than republicans voted for it, even though Democrats are the minority party.

        [posting as AC because I have mod points.]
    • by elrous0 (869638) *
      a number of the failures were related to phone lines

      A senior senator from Alaska says he attributes the failures to "blocked tubes."

      -Eric

  • by j1m+5n0w (749199) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @04:40AM (#15968253) Homepage Journal
    I am of the opinion that hand counts of paper ballot receipts (printed by the voting machine, verified by the voter, then dropped in a box at the site of the election) should always be done, regardless of whether it was a close race. Otherwise, Diebold could avoid a recount by fabricating a landslide. From the perspective of avoiding vote fraud, I can't think of a better method of running an election than forced recounts, though for convenience sake its nice to have a quick, initial electronic tally which can be verified later.
  • Still buggy? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jandersen (462034) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @04:41AM (#15968257)
    How can the system still be buggy? I mean, seariously? Haven't they had several years to complete it in now? A voting system seems to be such a simple application, even if you spiff it up with loads of extras, such as automatic reporting to a central database, security features etc etc. Have they had to invent the transistor and the binary computer all over? I know I'm a brilliant programmer (and sexy as hell too), but I would have thought that even lesser mortals would have big problems stretching the coding of a voting system out over several years, let alone leaving it full of bugs.

    So how come they are able to stay in business? Is it the power of the free market?
    • by jimicus (737525)
      Is it the power of the free market?

      Yes.

      Specifically, it's the power of the Free Market when the US government decides to effectively "sell" the opportunity to become one of very few Authorised Suppliers of Voting Machines.
    • Re:Still buggy? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by LaughingCoder (914424) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @07:41AM (#15968652)
      Is it the power of the free market?

      No! There is no "free market" when the government is the customer. It's all about connections, campaign contributions, whose turn it is (I'll explain that in a minute), and many other distortions. If you accept that it is the role of government to control/regulate free enterprise so as to "smooth the rought edges" of capitalism, then how can that work when the government is also the customer? You have a serious conflict of interest.

      As regards "whose turn it is" -- I worked for a defense contractor years ago. We submitted a prototype for a new missile system. Our system met all of the program requirements (size, range, accuracy, cost); plus we won the "shoot off" hands down (our competitor failed to hit a single target). However, our competitor had not won a contract in awhile and neither had any other contractors in their geographic region (ie congressional district). Consequently the contract was awarded to them. This is just one example of what goes on every day with big government contracts. It is hardly what I would call a "free market". Rather, it is more aptly called a "fixed market" - as in, "the fix is in".
  • If a format for voting has been used for years, with little inaccuracy or error, such as paper ballots, then surely they could just not adopt the new method of computerised voting? A little tradition can sometimes be a good thing, especially if it works. What's next, the papal elections are done through MSN messenger, no need to go to Vatican City anymore. (I suppose that was a bad example as Chrisitian traditions are often more about being luddites than keeping with proven methods, but you get the idea.)
    • by stinerman (812158)
      What's wrong with the old system?

      Quite obviously the problem is that there isn't much money in government contracts for punch cards and the like.
  • by Volkov137 (767377) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @05:06AM (#15968314)
    Must have been a clog in Ted Steven's series of tubes causing all the problems.
  • I don't understand (Score:5, Informative)

    by pubjames (468013) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @05:19AM (#15968335)

    Speaking as a Euroweenie, I just don't understand the apparent apathy in the USA with regards to the very serious issues surrounding vote counting machines. In a democracy, could anything be more important than making sure that votes are counted correctly and fairly, with a transparent process that can be verified?

    Have you seen this, for instance?

    http://alternet.org/blogs/video/40755/ [alternet.org]

    That was a computer programmer testifying (two years ago) that he'd been asked to write vote rigging software for the Ohio elections. What was the outcome of that? Was there a formal non-partisan enquiry into the elections in Ohio? Was there a huge public protest there? What am I missing?

     
    • by babbling (952366)
      You're missing the fact that people are indifferent. They don't care about anything except money anymore.

      Well, most people, anyway.
      • by pubjames (468013)
        You're missing the fact that people are indifferent.

        Well, I guess that's the bit I don't understand. Why are people so indifferent to such an important issue? It gives me the creeps. It feels like there need only be another 9/11 type incident for Bush to be able to say "I'm suspending democratic elections in the USA for the forseeable future as we're a country at war. Support our brave troops!" and people would just cheer and wave their flags.
         
        • And Blair would do the same, even if it took another UK bombing or two...
        • by tbannist (230135)
          It's an unholy mixture or patriotism and religious certainty, and apathy. There are five main groups:

          1) You see America is the chosen country of God, and therefore it's elections can't be fraudulent because God wouldn't let that happen to his chosen country. Therefore any allegations of fraud must be the work of those evil satanic athiests.

          2) The Republicans won, I'm a Republican and therefore I won't do anything to rock the boat.

          3) Who cares? Government is evil and one group of evil commies is just as
    • As as Canadian I am mystified by what seems to be a complete lack of outrage regarding the accuracy and transparency of electronic voting systems. You'd think with all the controversy of the last two presidential elections that Americans would sit up and take notice, but it doesn't appear to be.

      We have an almost quaint system of voting here that requires only a few paid volunteers, some paper ballots and a pencil. It's quaintness is offset by its efficiency; I have never waited more than a minute or two to
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by stinerman (812158)
        In America we usually vote for many offices at the same time; we also have more people. Of course, all that means is that we need more people to count the votes. I think it shouldn't be too hard to find a representative for each candidate for office as well as a few citizens to oversee the process.

        As far as people really not caring, I think that has to do with something completely different. The problem here is the rampant partisan gerrymandering which all but guarantees a victory for most incumbent poli
      • it's transparent, verifiable, and relatively fool proof.


        I think you answered your own question.

        (c.f. the 2000 election, the 2004 election, Diebold, political kickbacks, corporate interference in politics, representatives (purchasing of), etc, etc, etc...).
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by TheLink (130905)
      Yeah, seems funny to me too and I'm in some 3rd world country.

      If all that "Democracy" and "US Constitution" stuff the US likes to boast about isn't just bullshit talk, then all the Diebold people involved and their bosses AND the people who approved the machines should be lined up and charged for _treason_.

      Tell me why making crappy voting machines AND approving them shouldn't be regarded as treason.
      • by nomadic (141991)
        If all that "Democracy" and "US Constitution" stuff the US likes to boast about isn't just bullshit talk, then all the Diebold people involved and their bosses AND the people who approved the machines should be lined up and charged for _treason_.

        The US Constitution specifically states that "Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort." This does not qualify. We try not to stretch the law just because we'
    • by nomadic (141991) <nomadicworld@@@gmail...com> on Thursday August 24, 2006 @07:36AM (#15968639) Homepage
      Speaking as a Euroweenie, I just don't understand the apparent apathy in the USA with regards to the very serious issues surrounding vote counting machines. In a democracy, could anything be more important than making sure that votes are counted correctly and fairly, with a transparent process that can be verified?

      Where do you get the apathy from? I guarantee you most of the outraged posts here were written by Americans, there has been extensive media coverage of voter machine problems, and investigations by legislative bodies. Also keep in mind that not every state uses Diebold machines, and furthermore some states that do use them don't use them exclusively.
      • there has been extensive media coverage of voter machine problems

        No. There has been extensive media coverage of Jon Benet Ramsey, liquid carry-on bans, Mel Gibson, internet predators, etc. Diebold has been very mildly criticized a few times on TV News programs, almost never mentioning the Diebold CEO's connections to the Republican Party.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Shaper_pmp (825142)
      Apathy. In crushingly large amounts.

      Administered chiefly by incessant American Idol and Fox "news" for the proles, and an institutionally-corrupt political system that makes it abundantly clear that voting is an increasingly pointless action for the intellectuals (who are in any case outvoted by the mindless hordes of Fox-news-watching proles).

      I'm in the UK, where the same thing is starting to happen. Tony Blair is slowly removing power from traditional sources and investing it in himself and his cabinet,
  • On a related note... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Nekkrist (709729) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @05:26AM (#15968350)
    Check out this testimony from a former programmer at a election fixing...I mean voting machine company.

    http://alternet.org/blogs/video/40755/ [alternet.org]

    Summary --
    Computer programmer Clinton Eugene Curtis testifies under oath before the U.S. House Judiciary Members in Ohio. Stephen Pizzo writes:

    If you can watch this entire video, and still use an electronic voting machine, you deserve the government you get. If your state or district has decided to use electronic voting machines this November demand an absentee ballot today. Watch this video. Then join those of us who have decided that since paper was good enough for our constitution, it's good enough for our vote too.

    Oh, and when you're done watching the whole video... pass it along. November is only a a few weeks off and the last thing Republicans want to see is either house returned to Democrat control. Because if that happens, hearings happen. And if hearings happen... well, who knows - someone(s) could go to jail. So, demand a paper ballot or an absentee ballot in Nov. and leave the cheaters with a pocket full of worthless Diebold electrons.


    A partial transcript:
    Are there computer programs that can be used to secretly fix elections?
    Yes.
    How do you know that to be the case?
    Because in October of 2000, I wrote a prototype for Congressman Tom Feeney [R-FL]...
    It would rig an election?
    It would flip the vote, 51-49. Whoever you wanted it to go to and whichever race you wanted to win.
    And would that program that you designed, be something that elections officials... could detect?
    They'd never see it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by freedom_india (780002)
      Iam not surprised there was no outcry over this.

      Imagine the outcry if Deibold makes Coke Vending machines or ATM's like this, where it deducts a penny/dime more randomly from your/bank account.

      News At 11.

      We would have so many laws passed against this so fast that you would wonder how congress (which usually is as fast as a snail) managed to pass so many laws.

    • by Overzeetop (214511) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @08:26AM (#15968789) Journal
      It is an interesting video, but seems skewed to the opinion that the election was rigged. Also, the programmer began to stray from his knowledge when asked about the exit polling data, which he took to be infallible. Does anyone have a transcript, and is there an identification of the party affiliations of the questioners?

      This is one of the problems with political commmitee hearings. They are looking for an answer, and tend only to look in the places that give them the answer they want. The testimony concerning Feeney's staffer correcting the course of his work - that Feeney wanted to hide code to rig an election, not to know how to detect sowfware that could rig an election as he had originally provided - could be quite damning. Nonetheless, proof-of-concept viruses are also written by white-hat hackers for new exploits, so it could be entirely on the up and up. Of course, this research should have been made public. Does anyone know how Feeney has voted or testified when confronted with digital ballot machines? Is he publically for or against paper trails?

      Witch hunts and lynchings are not my cup of tea, nor should their methods be used in civilized discussions. Sadly, most Americans are too ignorant of computer operation to make an informed decision concerning this type of thing. Even otherwise intellegent people do not understand the technology which goes into software and coding; these are black boxes which operate like a microwave oven or an alarm clock.

      Note: I'm a democrat and always have been. I voted against GWB both times. And have had some very nice (unspoken) "I told you so" moments with my wife since 2004 (she's a long time republican and voted for GWB).

    • by Rotten168 (104565)
      Sorry but even Bev Harris thinks he's full of shit. [thoughtcrimes.org]
  • Who's to blame? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by no.17 (997011) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @05:40AM (#15968387)
    I am constantly in awe at the failure of implementating of IT within (the) public sector (services). Governments/states spend millions on the lowest bidder, with costs often spiralling to beyond that quoted by the highest bidder initially, and it increasingly seems as if you get what you pay for.

    At least in this case lives were not at risksee here [scotsman.com], here [telegraph.co.uk] and here [128.240.150.127].

    It could be argued that selection of companies such as Diebold comes from a lack of awareness of IT by governments, and is simply a cost/saving excercise, but even so- sensible questions should be raised about all contractors- have they got a track record, how are they trialling the product, are their guarantees more than verbal...do we have a backup?

    Sure DIebold cannot make excuses...but can the government either?
  • by Chaffar (670874) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @05:42AM (#15968392)
    How else could I justify to other people that we elected Dubya TWICE? :)
  • How is it that the largest democracy in the world manages to get it right [bbc.co.uk] while these guys foul up. I imagine they didnt test this properly at all. Classic case of 'someone effed up' and didnt test the most basic function of this machine properly.
  • by crazyjeremy (857410) * on Thursday August 24, 2006 @07:33AM (#15968628) Homepage Journal
    A few hours after we proudly have a story on the electronic toilet, we have a story about the failures of electronic equipment that should be more accurate and reliable than anything else...

    Ever think we spend our time perfecting the wrong equipment?
    • A few hours after we proudly have a story on the electronic toilet, we have a story about the failures of electronic equipment that should be more accurate and reliable than anything else...

      Perhaps we could combine the two. I heard of a small town radio station which ran a survey by asking all those who vote Yes to flush their toilets now. Apparently you could see the level drop in the water storage tower after a big flush.

  • Oh, wrong election (Score:2, Informative)

    by Gathers (78832)
    Darn, I just read the headline and thought this story was about the 2004 presidential election..
    Diebold and the State of Alaska still hasn't released the data files that could show wtf really happened there.
    http://www.bradblog.com/?cat=101 [bradblog.com]

    --
    What brought down WTC-7?
  • FedEx can do it... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by HaloZero (610207) <protodeka&gmail,com> on Thursday August 24, 2006 @08:39AM (#15968848) Homepage
    ...why the hell can't Diebold?

    The sum of this problem is taking a number, and incrementing it. You must add a pretty, easy to understand interface, and then add a paper trail system.

    Here's what I want:
    • I walk into a voting center.
    • I am asked for ID.
      • I present my state Drivers License or Federal Passport for visual inspection.
      • In return I'm provided with a re-usable line-tracker token (deli waiting line slip).
    • I wait in line to vote.
    • I enter the voting booth, surrendering my deli slip to a large box.
    • I vote.
      • The machine produces three bits of paper; my reciept, my official ballot, and my exit poll token.
      • I retain the reciept for my own personal records. It contains no bare words, simply a tracking number, date and time, and location.
      • My Official Ballot is dropped into a lockbox of a million similar others, to be stored for eventual hand-recount. It never enters my or anyone elses hands.
      • My exit poll token may be presented to exit pollsters, or I may destroy it.
    • I enjoy some milk and cookies, and leave.
    • Much later, at home, I am able to look up my ballot based on the ID number on my reciept. From this, I can tell where my ballot is, in what box, in what warehouse, what machine I used, what voting center, and the date and time. It may also show what machine was used to process my vote in a recount, or if a hand recount had been done.
    • I am able to sleep at night, knowing that democracy will take effect.
    This is really not that difficult. Not as difficult as Diebold has made it, and surely not as cloak-and-dagger.
    • The official ballot needs to be delivered to your hands, so you can inspect it, and visually confirm that it says you voted for whom you voted. You then take that, fold it, and, by hand, drop it into the lockbox, while being witnessed by any party members who are there for that purpose, as well as an elections board rep.

      Then, while the electronic tallys are used for quick reporting, the official count is done by hand, of the ballots, again, by an election board rep being witnessed by party reps.

      This is

      • by HaloZero (610207)
        One would have to decide what balance to achieve here. Should the ballots be immediately human-readable? My initial gut reaction was no. A 120x120 pixel-hashmap should be printed into the ballet which hashes the workstation used, the date and time, and my actual decision. Visual inspection in this case would be useless. Of course, and I mention FedEx again, they have handheld scanners that decode these things in a flash of a second, which could tell you all of that information. It allows privacy in that a c
  • by gelfling (6534) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @08:41AM (#15968856) Homepage Journal
    Ok that's a weird statement but here is the basic assertion. I have a Pure Digital single use camera so I did a little googling to see if there was a way to hack it. Turns out these cameras are actually quite complex and secure. They are engineered 8 ways to Sunday to ensure that you can't really do this. Of course there is a way, more or less but it involves building your own electrical interface, reverse engineering some digital processing technology, writing some unassembler code and picking through the bytes by hand. A $20 camera. It seems to me that if someone can build this much protection into a $20 camera then it should be possible given the massive awards, time and effort of Diebold to do this for a voting machine. Let's say for the sake of argument and normal government waste that a voting machine costs a 100x what a camera costs; $2000. I don't know but let's say. So are we concluding that for $2000 we can't find anyone to build in the protection and reliability of a plastic camera that costs 1% of a voting machine?
    • by Tackhead (54550) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @11:59AM (#15970336)
      Funny you should mention Pure Digital.

      When you're in the business of building $30 one-time-use camcorders, and you mistakenly leave your FTP site open with your client-side software on it [digg.com], and some hacker figures out the cipher and the key length, and some other hacker takes that information and performs a clean-room reverse-engineering and writes a little distributed application that results in a third group of enterprising hackers brute-forcing the key within two days, and when you're gracious enough to post a polite request instead of a cease-and-desist [forumer.com], and the people who cracked your hardware are ethical enough to take down the offending code to help keep you in business... things work out pretty nicely. Even if there are a few mirrors of the missing piece of the puzzle floating around on the 'net.

      When you're in the business of deciding whether the R-sociopaths or the D-sociopaths gets to govern a trillion-dollar economy, and the source code to the machines that control access to all that money, all that power, and all those guns happens to leak.... probably not so good.

  • How hard can it be? (Score:2, Informative)

    by uira (883607)
    We've got it working here in brazil for ten years now. We were the first country in the world to have fully eletronic elections (since the year 2000). We also lend the machines to Paraguay and Ecuador, and currently have plans to start exporting the technology. On presidential election we can have the results within 12 hours, and in small towns, within a few minutes. BTW, it runs on Linux. Just my 2 cents :)
  • Diebold is Soooo 2004. Flaky results, mystery errors, no paper trail are things of 2004. Diebold, thou have cheated death with continuing on to the 2006 Congressional elections. Thou should and shall die, and not exist beyond the hand of death. Death to flaky results! We need a version of the Office Space Copier Beatdown [youtube.com] with one of these Diebold voting machines.

How many QA engineers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? 3: 1 to screw it in and 2 to say "I told you so" when it doesn't work.

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