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Building a Better Voting Machine 245

Posted by Zonk
from the better-mousetrap-not-included dept.
edmicman writes "Wired News has an interesting article about what would make the perfect voting machine: 'With election season upon us, Wired News spoke with two of the top computer scientists in the field, UC Berkeley's David Wagner and Princeton's Ed Felten, and came up with a wish list of features we would include in a voting machine, if we were asked to create one. These recommendations can't guarantee clean results on their own. Voting machines, no matter how secure, are no remedy for poor election procedures and ill-conceived election laws. So our system would include thorough auditing and verification capabilities and require faithful adherence to good election practices, as wells as topnotch usability and security features.'"
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Building a Better Voting Machine

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  • by argoff (142580) * on Wednesday October 18, 2006 @04:57PM (#16492897)
    I'm serious. The more stupid and computer illiterate people you scare off, the better off we all will be.
    • by joggle (594025) on Wednesday October 18, 2006 @06:42PM (#16494361) Homepage Journal
      I would just like to point out that while the parent post is trollish in nature, it is a sentiment similar to what nearly all (if not all) of the founding fathers believed. That being certain qualifications are needed in order to cast a ballot. Their fear was some rogue could convince less educated people to vote for him so that he could, in turn, pillage the government and/or be a tyrant. I'll grant it's a thorny issue, but the problem of attempting to intentionally limit people who vote is that inevitably some racial groups will be disenfranchised (as well as other categories of population, such as the elderly in this case). Also, some local officials will try to exacerbate the situation to their favor (as happened-- and is still happening--in the South).
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by sunderland56 (621843)
        So, you are saying:

        1. There should be a certain intelligence standard to be eligible to vote.

        Yes, that is a thorny issue; but the idea does have some merit. But, you are also saying:

        2. Intelligence follows racial and/or age groups.

        I heartily disagree, as will many eligible voters.

        Oh, and those Southern officials were NOT trying to enforce any form of intelligence standard - they were banning smart blacks, but allowing idiot whites to vote.
        • by joggle (594025)

          I would say education follows racial lines which will strongly influence any test you were given. There is ample evidence of this in the US wherever you look: the number of minorities vs. whites going to/graduating from college (or graduating high school for that matter), etc.

          My point about Southern officials is that they would be given an excuse to enforce any prejudice they desire. Since voting in the US strongly depends on local officials with little oversight, this is all they would need to disenfranch

  • Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door*

    * Subject to verification of safety by Underscribblers Laboratories; application, denial, re-application, re-denial, vetting by 12,256 paper shufflers, 52,469 rubber stampers, 245,193 red tape processors; re-re-application and final acceptance by the USPTO. Further said design must be the subject of scrutiny, in that it does not deprive any current american mousetrap assembly personnel or their employment in most favoured states, dimi

  • Random spot checks (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Harmonious Botch (921977) * on Wednesday October 18, 2006 @04:59PM (#16492923) Homepage Journal
    From TFA: "Random spot checks...This involves taking a random number of machines out of commission just before polls open on election morning to run a sample election on them to make sure the machines are recording and counting votes accurately.

    Before the polls open? How about during the election? At random times during the day?
    The poll workers should be required to have an extra one on hand just in case one breaks. It would be used to stand in for the one that was being checked. ( It could also be chosen for a random check. )
    • by vondo (303621) *
      Yeah, voters are going to react really, really well to someone coming into the polling place, playing with the machine for 10 minutes, counting votes before and after and saying "Don't worry, I'll erase all this when I'm done.'

      As a general comment on these "the sky is falling articles," it was very easy to rig the vote on a lot of the older technology as well.
    • by JimBobJoe (2758)
      The poll workers should be required to have an extra one on hand just in case one breaks. It would be used to stand in for the one that was being checked.

      In my county (Franklin County, Ohio) that would be an extra 1200 machines at a cost of $5000 per machine. That seems like a lot for the purpose of random testing. (It also messes around with the process workflow of how machines are activated and turned off at the end of the day. At this point in time, only machine rovers (people who go from precinct to pre
      • by Sparr0 (451780) <sparr0@gmail.com> on Wednesday October 18, 2006 @05:43PM (#16493515) Homepage Journal
        $5000 per machine? Why? A $100 PC in a $50 arcade cabinet with a $20 printer could do everything that a perfect voting machine needs to do, and thats thrown together from consumer parts. If someone isn't building this 'perfect' voting machine for under $200 then something is wrong.
        • by JimBobJoe (2758)
          A $100 PC in a $50 arcade cabinet with a $20 printer could do everything that a perfect voting machine needs to do

          I couldn't agree with you more.

          It's absurd that we should spend $5k on a machine that gets used only twice a year, and probably has maximum lifespan of 20 years, but more realistically 5-10 years.

          Assuming 250 voters per machine per elections (which is very high) 2 elections per year at 10 years and you get a capital cost of $1/voter without depreciation. That might not sound so bad to you, but t
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by xenocide2 (231786)
          The $5000 gets you several things. It gets you a gigantic touchscreen about the size of my dell 20 inch monitor for the visually impaired (recall that a significant number of voters are elderly), along with a headset for those who really can't read well at all. It gets you a computer and stand that you can collapse and carry. it gets you a limited subset. And it gets you a machine primarily assembled in the states. It includes the cost of certifying the product design with one of three approved labs that t
      • by Duhavid (677874)
        The cost of Freedom is high.
  • by guyjr (180613) on Wednesday October 18, 2006 @05:00PM (#16492941)
    I think Wired is barking up the exact same, wrong, tree, that Diebold and every other manufacturer of voting machines is barking up - namely that they have all the answers.

    The solution is very simple: require all electronic voting machines to be open source, and invite all software developers around the world to peer review the code. When that majoriy agrees that a system is secure, then it's ready for use.
    • by cp.tar (871488) <cp.tar.bz2@gmail.com> on Wednesday October 18, 2006 @05:08PM (#16493067) Journal
      require all electronic voting machines to be open source, and invite all software developers around the world to peer review the code. When that majoriy agrees that a system is secure, then it's ready for use.

      ... and when it's pronounced secure etc. - burn it to a ROM and disable any access to it which doesn't require at least a crowbar.

      After the vote, have the machine print out the total.

      • Forget printouts. Punch the results into paper tape! That way you have a continuous, physical, inspectable, machine re-readable recording of the vote! And no more hanging chads!

        Ummm.... wait....
      • by lgw (121541)
        burn it to a ROM and disable any access to it which doesn't require at least a crowbar.

        Have you seen the skills of the people who tamper with slot machines? They can pop the mahcine open, swap a ROM, and close it up in just a few dozen milliseconds, without triggering the many alarms.

        Of course, nothing's perfect, but it's a sad commentary that voting machines aren't at least as tamper-resistant as slot machines.
    • Open source doesn't mean shit when any random bozo can reflash the system.

      "For every problem, there is a solution that is simple, elegant, and wrong." -- H.L. Mencken
      • It does if when you complete the software you flash it to a ROM and fix it inside the case such that to open the case will physically damage a component to the point that it cannot operate, for example the act of opening the case will trip a microswitch. Make the component something like the module controlling connectivity to the central system (Which contains a unique key for that machine) and the instant you open a case, you have tripped a self-destruct mechanism using the onboard battery. Result - the ma
    • When that majoriy agrees that a system is secure, then it's ready for use.
      Exactly! That's where Diebold's machines come in. You can use them to determine when you've hit that majority!
    • If you actually read the article, you'll see that they propose something just as good - requiring the full source code to be made public, which allows /. type geeks to do a complete audit.

      Essentially, though, the key requirements are simple to state: secure, transparent, auditable.

      Anything that fails any one of these is unacceptable.

    • by Random Utinni (208410) on Wednesday October 18, 2006 @05:42PM (#16493495)
      I think Wired is barking up the exact same, wrong, tree, that Diebold and every other manufacturer of voting machines is barking up - namely that they have all the answers.

      The solution is very simple...


      Erm? Pot... meet kettle.

      There is no simple solution to voter fraud. There always has been fraud, and there always will be. It's the nature of ingenuity. Hence the "build an idiot-proof machine, and the universe will build a better idiot". If someone wants to hack an electronic voting system, they will, open-sourced and peer-reviewed or not.

      In my view, the goal is simply to minimize the impact of such efforts, and to make it as difficult as possible to do so, as cheaply as possible. Open source *might* be a good way to go... certainly better than the closed electronic systems Diebold and their ilk are currently pushing. However, it's still an electronic system, and electronic systems are prone to making small errors very quickly (or being hacked to introduce small biases, very quickly). I'd personally prefer to return to a simple paper and pen ballot... simply check the box of the person/proposition you're voting for. Put paper in box. Let people count ballots (with observers, if desired). It scales fairly well, is difficult to introduce large errors into, and can't be hacked remotely. If it takes a little longer to get election results, so be it... there's almost two months between election day and inauguration day.
      • If it takes a little longer to get election results, so be it... there's almost two months between election day and inauguration day.

        Actually, it shouldn't even take that long. Here in the UK we run our general elections on a pen and paper ballot system, and we get the result the night of the election. As you say, the system scales extremly well.
    • by Qzukk (229616) on Wednesday October 18, 2006 @06:01PM (#16493787) Journal
      Every time this comes up, I propose the same idea, but each time it gets a little more fleshed out.
      0. The voter completes whatever identification/registration/whatever steps required before being allowed into the actual voting room where...

      1. The voter receives a numbered (in an OCR friendly font, see below) blank ballot and is directed to the voting booth. The number indicates both the voting location and the sequence that the cards are issued. If ballots run out, voters are asked to wait while more are printed and delivered.
      2. The voter inserts the ballot into the electronic voting machine until a green light comes on. Diagrams illustrate the right way to do this, a notch in one corner prevents the voter from continuing until he/she figures this step out. Red light if they fail to do it wrong (labelled "WRONG" for the colorblind, buzzer for the blind though they will probably have someone load the ballot for them) to prevent them from trying to jam it in harder.
      3. The machine displays the ballot in the selected font size or reads the ballot to the blind user.
      3a. Each race is displayed separately with the candidates below it in a column. (or "For" and "Against" for appropriate referendums, etc.)
      3b. The user selects a candidate using up and down buttons, then presses the "Vote" button to select that.
      3c. Their choice is now highlighted on the screen (and read to them).
      3d. The user presses the "Next" button to move to the next race. Or presses the "Finished Voting" to indicate that they will will not vote in the remaining races. Loop to 3a until there are no more races or the user presses Finished Voting.
      4. A list of races and the selected candidates appears, the user can move up or down and see each race (have it read to them) and if they wish to change their mind, they can press the "Vote" button to return to that race and change their vote (See 3). User presses "Finished Voting" again to indicate that they are done (5 second delay required to prevent accidentially bouncing the button).

      Easy enough right? Now...
      5. The ballot card is fed through the machine's printer and printed in rows, with each row containing one race. Columns are the name of the race, the selection for that race, and a pattern designed for optical recognition. Each option has a unique code consisting of the code for that race plus a code for the candidate (to prevent misaligned scans) as well as codes for "no vote" and "write-in".
      6. Voter fills in any write-in positions.
      7. Voter reads the ballot card, and if there is a mistake, the voter presents the ballot to the site overseers who
      7a. Record the ballot number as destroyed and then
      7b. Destroy the ballot and issue a new one. Go back to 2.
      8. Voter places ballot in ballot box and goes home, proud to have done his civic duty.

      Lather, rinse, repeat for thousands of voters. The numbered ballots tell us two things: 1) Are there any missing ballot boxes and 2) are there any extra ballot boxes.

      8a. At the end of the day, the election observers record the lowest numbered unused ballot and destroy the remainder.
      9. Ballot boxes are delivered to a counting station.
      10. Ballots are dumped out, stacked up with the notches aligned, and each stack is counted in total
      11. The counted stack is then fed through an optical sorter set to sort the possible options for the first race into bins, one bin per candidate, one bin for all write-ins, one bin for no-votes.
      11a. Run each candidate's bin individually through the counting machine.
      11ai. Election observers spot check stacks by flipping like a flipbook and watching to see if the optical pattern being counted changes.
      11b. Count write-ins by hand
      11c. Run the no-vote stack through the counting machine....
      11d. and make sure the votes add up.
      12. Report the total to the next higher up official.

      Lather, rinse, repeat for all of the stacks.

      Why is this superior? First off, let's look at the actual counting: The counting machine doesn't k
      • You can't number the ballots like that, as it leaks too much information about who voted for whom. Keep iterating!

        All we really need is computer assisted voting, with all the usability improvements that can bring, but a human and computer readable ballot dropped in a box at the end of the process. There's no real gain in trying to use the computer to make the process tamper-proof, as that will only add complexity.
        • as it leaks too much information about who voted for whom. Keep iterating!

          Thats the purpose of identifying yourself to be let into the room, and then be assigned a ballot inside the room, to seperate these. Plus the bonus points at the end for randomizing them, even if I watch over your shoulder as you sign in and read your registration card or whatever, I wouldn't be able to determine your number from mine, only an estimate that yours must be within about 2*size-of-block from mine.
    • VoteHere is open source. I believe that it is a secure system even though I haven't analyzed the code personally. Further, its design and implementation adhere very well to the 'trust no one' concept that is one advantage of open source (the crucial one in this context).

      With this software, which I think will run on most or all of the machines that have already been purchased by all states, each vote is encoded, encrypted, and published (online) with each step of the process mirrored in an auditable backu
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 18, 2006 @05:01PM (#16492971)
    Paper and pencil. Mark your choices, put it in a cardboard box. It's the perfect solution and scales wonderfully.

    Many countries already use this advanced technique.
    • by From A Far Away Land (930780) on Wednesday October 18, 2006 @05:15PM (#16493147) Homepage Journal
      Other famous democratic countries do use pencil and paper. Canada, one of Americas greatest neighbours to the north uses the birchbark and pinecone voting system... just pulling your leg. They, like Australians, use pencil and paper. We have about 70% voter turnout in Canada, with a voting population in the range of at least 10 million people. It takes us less than 2 hours after a poll closes to give nearly complete and meaningful results to the public.

      Telephoning the result to a central station is the extent of electrified voting in Canada. Everything else is on paper, for easy double checking if there's a court challenge. To have a system without paper that the voter marked, is an invitation for fraud.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by LiquidCoooled (634315)
        paper ballots can still be spoilt.

        Reading this [bbc.co.uk] from the bbc:

        Londoners had to register four votes altogether, a first and second choice for mayor, a vote for a London Assembly candidate and one for an Assembly party. While 2.9% of papers for the mayoral ballot were rejected, the London Assembly paper proved even more difficult.

        Over a hundred thousand people, 6.7% of the electorate, failed to correctly fill out the section choosing a constituency member, while 2.53% did not correctly register a London-wide pa
      • by JimBobJoe (2758)
        Other famous democratic countries do use pencil and paper.

        To be fair, a Canadian Federal election basically has one choice for voters to make--their MP. So do other Parliamentary systems.

        In 2004, here in Ohio, I had 54 different race and issue choices. I have my mail-in ballot in front of me right now, and this year I've got 31 choices (6 statewide offices, 1 congressional, 2 general assembly, 2 county offices, 14 judgeships, and 6 state and county referenda.)

        Counting all that by hand would be an enormousl
        • by soft_guy (534437)
          Counting all that by hand would be an enormously complex task.

          Scan-tron? Seriously, if it is good enough for the SAT, it is good enough for voting.

          Actually that is what we used in Washington state and also in Oregon and it seemed like a pretty good system.
      • by homer_ca (144738)
        The difference is there are a lot fewer races in a Parlimentary system. You vote for your MP and then what else? In US elections there can easily be 50 races in one election. You may not get them all in one election, but people vote for President, Governor, Mayor, City Council, US Congress, US Senate, State Legislature, state and local ballot initiatives, Superior Court judges, School Board, and more. There are so many elected offices and ballot initiatives, you would be amazed at the complexity.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          That's an interesting point. The obvious answer seems to be you choose between convenience of electronic voting - and get shafted out of your democracy that you're supposed to be getting. Or you simplify elections so that dog catchers aren't on the same paper as president - increasing the cost, but simplifying the voting. Since voting is pointless unless the voters know who they are voting for, and can easily make their mark, it's obvious that putting too much onto the ballot is actually less democracy than
        • by green1 (322787)
          and after you have added this much complexity, who still knows what they are voting for on every issue? 50 choices to be made? and you think that will be 50 MEANINGFUL choices? maybe they need to work on simplifying the system a bit...
    • by bartle (447377)
      I'll skip the horse and buggy metaphor and provide to a short list of ways electronic voting is better than pen/paper:
      • It requires a smaller number of volunteers. There are places where people aren't tripping over each other to volunteer to work the voting stations or count paper ballots.
      • It provides a simpler framework for issuing directions in multiple languages.
      • It prevents voters from selecting multiple options and can warn them if they forget to vote on an issue. Ideally we shouldn't be discarding
  • just like encryption (Score:3, Informative)

    by non (130182) on Wednesday October 18, 2006 @05:02PM (#16492983) Homepage Journal
    the best algorithm in the world is worthless in a poor implementation. enacting legislation that governed the process of counting the votes and verifying them is just as important as the machines themselves.
  • by AeroIllini (726211) <aeroillini@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday October 18, 2006 @05:04PM (#16493003)
    "If you've got 50,000 lines of code, that's approaching the complexity of the U.S. tax code," Wagner says.

    Could you please express that number in Libraries of Congress? If you laid out all those lines of code without newlines, how many times would it wrap around the Earth?
    • Could you please express that number in Libraries of Congress? If you laid out all those lines of code without newlines, how many times would it wrap around the Earth?

      What size font?
  • by The Cisco Kid (31490) * on Wednesday October 18, 2006 @05:11PM (#16493099)
    Have one machine with fancy GUI's that are easy for people to use, which PRINTS a clear paper ballot on which the marks are both human and computer-readable (think of the little ovals you used to fill in with #2 pencil, only bigger ovals) and then a *seperate machine* which does nothing but scan and count the ovals.

    The marking machines could be of any complexity, wouldnt require auditing (the names on the ballots would be pre-printed, the machine would only mark in the ovals). Voters could choose to use the machine, or to mark the paper ballots themselves, and in all cases would be able to *look* at the paper ballot and verify their selections before submitting it to be counted. The specs for filling in the ballots could be released (and in fact the ballot specs would be part of the specs for the counting machine), and anyone under the sun could make marking machines, of any design that they wanted. The key is that these machines would record votes only on the paper ballot.

    The scanning/counting machine would have to be absolutely auditable, as simple and as transparent as possible. Every aspect of its operation would be required to be public domain, and available to any citizen upon request.
    • by rjstanford (69735)
      Even better, the wonderful thing is that it doesn't have to be transparent. Its auditable. Every single stage can be confirmed "outside the box," by testing against the specification rather than against any specific implementation. Any element can be tested against at any and every stage of the game, and spot recounts can occur against any polling stations.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by karl.auerbach (157250)
      What you suggest is similar to the proposal via the Open Voting Consortium.

      The differences are in that in the OVC approach only the results of a voter's selection are printed onto the generated paper. (We don't use pre-printed papers except that we use marked papers so that it is possible to distinguish between fake ballots that are printed elsewhere and valid ballots printed in response to a real voter's choices.)

      The reason why the non-selected choices are not printed is mechanical - to keep the voter's s
      • No, the ballots that get marked by the machines should be the same ones that a voter could choose to mark themselves by hand. The candidates names and proposals and whatnots would be pre-printed, with ovals or circles or whatever to mark in. Perhaps large marking pens could be used to avoid time-consuming darkening by pencil/etc.

        And they would be deposited into, scanned and counted, one at a time as voters completed the ballots and inserted them into the counting machine (which would not be displaying the c
    • Have one machine with fancy GUI's that are easy for people to use, which PRINTS a clear paper ballot on which the marks are both human and computer-readable (think of the little ovals you used to fill in with #2 pencil, only bigger ovals) and then a *seperate machine* which does nothing but scan and count the ovals.

      How would you account for reprints? Misprints? Printing errors/jams? You have to eliminate the possibility of multiple ballots. I suppose you could have unique barcodes printed on each ball

    • by homer_ca (144738)
      The article did talk about a machine like that, but closed-source from a proprietary vendor. The problem with using such a machine for everybody is that you've just created a complex, multi-thousand dollar, computerized pen for marking paper ballots, not a wise way to spend our tax dollars. They are useful for letting blind people vote unassisted through audio prompts, but most people do fine with an ink marker and paper ballots. The plan for Los Angeles County is to have one of these machines per precinct
      • But the reason everyone wants the ATM's is so that people who cant punch out a chard or cant figure out which oval lines up with which name have an easier time of it.

        Thats exactly what I meant, an ATM/terminal whatever with the sole purpose of marking a paper ballot. And those voters who choose to do so, for whaever reason, could still choose to fill theirs out by hand. Either way once they have a paper ballot that they have verified has their correct selections, they then insert it into the counting machin
    • Why have "one machine with fancy GUI's" and another "separate machine" which scans them in?

      Why not just have the person fill in "the little ovals you used to fill in with #2 pencil" and have a single machines that scans them in?

      Why have the extra step of a second machine with a GUI? More importantly, why enable people to vote that otherwise wouldn't (aside from the disabled)? Our founding fathers' intention was to build a great nation, not an easy one.

      The great thing about requiring involvement (ie. Filli
  • A simple, inexpesnive, secure, effective voting machine which is auditable could have two components. 1) A pen. 2) A paper ballot. Another similar machine would also have two components and be equally effective. 1) A stylus. 2) A cardboard ballot. This whole thing with insecure computerized voting is an absurd solution looking for a problem.
    • by vondo (303621) *
      Right. Like those effective and accurate butterfly ballots and ballots with hanging/dimpled/torn chads that made the 2000 election in Florida beyond question of who won?

      Exactly.
      • by vijayiyer (728590)
        The election of 2000 illustrated the stupidity of the populace and the problem in not _defining_ a vote before the election. It does not show an inherent flaw in any voting system. The fact is, absolutely any system will be plagued with "problems" once the vote comes down to 0.009% of the total. To blame the vote casting system is yet another knee-jerk reaction.

        Problem: People can't understand how to make a hole with a stick to mark their candidate.
        Solution: Maybe they'll understand how to use a computer in
  • by AeroIllini (726211) <aeroillini@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday October 18, 2006 @05:14PM (#16493127)
    The true perfect voting machine consists of the following four components:

    - Paper
    - Pencil
    - Locked box with slot
    - Election official who can count

    Anything else is a solution in search of a problem, and a way for partisan election officials to send some contract money to their buddies in the tech industry.

    Seriously, who the hell cares about digital records or fast counts? I don't care how fast the results come in, I want them to be RIGHT. A voting system needs to enforce two basic principles: private votes and public counts. The voters need to know that their votes are private and anonymous, and the counting process needs to be simple and transparent enough that it can be understood, audited, and repeated. Computers, for the majority of people, are magical black boxes. They don't trust them as far as they can throw them, and that means there will always be suspicion of fraud, no matter how open the source and how impenetrable the outer casing. When we go to paper ballots, we guarantee that the process is easily understood, auditible, difficult to rig, and that counting is repeatable. There is no electronic system that satisfies all those conditions, and therefore electronic systems should not be used.

    However, if we wanted to use touch screen systems to print out ballots instead of marking them, that's fine with me (it would make voting more accessible, with a well-designed UI). The voter can verify their votes before dropping them in the box. But the printed paper ballots need to be counted by hand.
    • by laxcat (600727)
      Can I at least use a pen? It would make me feel a little better, anyway.
    • Just a few tweaks: Two or more election officials who can count. A box with a slot that can be sealed. Scrutineers from the various parties involved to spot check for irregularities. An accurate list of who is eligible to vote.

      You're spot on about the speed of counts. Who cares? The election coverage is going to ruin TV for the whole night whether it takes 8 hours or 14 minutes to count the ballots. Stupid politics.

      Aside from the private vote, public count principles that you mention, I'd add "On
      • Aside from the private vote, public count principles that you mention, I'd add "One vote per eligible voter". That's where the voters lists come in. Some countries have the voter dip a digit into indelible ink to ensure this last principle.

        Wow, what a great way for politicians to ensure contract money gets sent to their buddies in the indelible ink industry!

        **ducks**
    • by asuffield (111848)

      Seriously, who the hell cares about digital records or fast counts? I don't care how fast the results come in, I want them to be RIGHT.

      Which is why your system is too simple, because...

      When we go to paper ballots, we guarantee that the process is easily understood, auditible, difficult to rig, and that counting is repeatable.

      This is correct except for the "difficult to rig" part. While a paper system is not quite as easy to rig as a Diebold election, ballot-box stuffing is a well-established tradition in th

  • by AaronW (33736) on Wednesday October 18, 2006 @05:17PM (#16493181) Homepage
    For those who are interested in seeing a proper voting system put together, check out the Open Voting Consortium [www.openvotingcon]. They have a free, open-source voting platform that addresses all of the concerns. It has a verifiable paper trail as well as support for blind users and multiple languages.

    I personally have donated money to this organization and believe they are doing the right thing in addressing the current mess we have now.

    Their paper trail has a really nice feature in that it also prints a bar code for a quick machine recount of the ballots as well as a human readable output.

    -Aaron
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by WaxParadigm (311909)
      "Their paper trail has a really nice feature in that it also prints a bar code for a quick machine recount of the ballots as well as a human readable output."

      If it's as you describe and the votes are recorded for the machine in a separate bar code from the human-readable portion, well, that's just stupid as the human can only verify the human-readable portion (can't verify that the bar code is also correct). The human-readable portion should be what the machine reads, not some bar code...as stated in th
  • David Chaum's Method (Score:4, Interesting)

    by John.P.Jones (601028) on Wednesday October 18, 2006 @05:19PM (#16493193)
    At the end of the article they mention David Chaum's method of voter verifiable elections. I first saw this several years ago in graduate school (I believe I was reviewing an earlier version of the paper for a conference). It is a gloriously beautiful protocol, far beyond what I ever hope to see implemented in my lifetime. :( I suggest you take a look, I will look at the version referenced in the article again tonight as the exposition is considerably clearer than the version of the work I read (dumbed down a bit for a mass audience).
  • First of all, make them not terrible. If we could get them to at least on par with the quality of ATM's we'd be somewhere. I am all for electronic voting machines. However, the job application kiosk at wal mart had more effort put into its engineering and design than our current generation voting machines.
  • the best voting technology ever?

    paper

    pencil

    optical scanning of little filled in ovals

    the blind can get by with a guide, just like they always have

    end of story

    what we need is simplicity when it comes to voting, not complexity. i believe we should never go to electronic voting, and even get rid of mechanical voting booths, which has a sordid history of tampering

    of course you can do fraud scams with simple paper ballots too: loose them for entire districts, stuff the boxes with fake votes, etc. but any more co
    • by vondo (303621) *
      Right, because no one EVER goes outside the lines, or makes a stray mark, or doesn't erase something they should have.

      Electronic machines can prevent "overvotes" and warn the voter against "undervotes." Yes, they have issues, but they have benefits too. I run a precinct on election day and our machines are very easy to use (easier than an ATM for the voter). The lack of an auditable paper trail is my only concern about these particular machines.
      • by cens0r (655208)
        My precinct uses the scantron style voting. When you slide in the ballot, it spits it back out if you didn't mark something correctly.
        • This is what LA County is using [inkavote.com].

          Here's warts-and-all analysis [votetrustusa.org].

          The InkaVote Precinct Reader can be used to physically count votes. However, LA County will NOT be using them for that purpose. In LA County, the physical ballots, marked with ink dots, are the official vote. Period. End of story. The InkaVote Plus units are being used to "proofread" ballots before they get dropped into the bin.

          The Reader will kick a ballot out for two reasons and two reasons only:
          1.) Blank ballot. Try again, this time push down
  • The machine should not be made by Diebold or ES&S. Here's the Wiki link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diebold_Election_Syst ems [wikipedia.org]
  • In a bizarre turn of events Wired magazine editor-in-chief Chris Anderson is elected president in electronic elections held in Bolivia, Ghana, Uganda and prime ministor in the UK.
    • by pjt33 (739471)
      That really would be bizarre, because we use pencil and paper for voting here in the UK.
      • by msimm (580077)
        I suspect they do in the other countries I mentioned too. But you, enough finances and lobbying and well, just about anything is possible. :)
  • Why the hell is this needed? You can already track how well a game does by tracking sales. Surely you can track those -- how many boxes did you create? You made the damn things, you better damned well be able to count them.

    On the other hand, you can now buy your game market, which is great news for stockholders of game companies. Have a questionable game? Pay off Neilsen to make your mediocre game look better.

    And while Neilsen doesn't directly lie (that can be proven, although it is highly likely), chaning
  • So what DO you solve anyway by building a "better voting machine" ?
    You still have the problems of a "democratic republic" election system in place, so basically you get to pick between the lesser of two evils, if you're lucky.

    For what it's worth, you could just as well FLIP A DAMN COIN when you elect the president, the end result would be about the same.
  • First, it should add numbers accurately. Nothing fancy, just count what each persons votes for and make sure it adds up to the totals.

    Second, don't allow poll workers to "adjust" votes with administration screens. If the machine can count 'em right in the first place, you don't need to "fine tune" them.

    Third, the machine should work as intended. They shouldn't lock up when you use the touch screen (like the "touchscreen" Diebolds that now require mice).

    Fourth, they should be at least as secure against hacki
    • by vondo (303621) *

      Fifth, print all electronic votes on a government issued printer roll for verification. Get the treasury to design it for anti-counterfeiting.

      The problem with this is that often you know in what order people voted on the machine. If you also know what the votes were, in order, or have any way of finding out, you can determine who voted for whom.

      The only feasible paper method is to print out a card or sheet, have the voter check it, and then deposit it somewhere. Personally I like the idea of having t

    • Our electronic voting solution deliberately used a number pad instead of a touch screen to avoid a halo of finger grease accumilating over the most popular candidate's box. An alternative might be to rotate candidates across the screen to avoide "burn in" that might influence voting.
  • First, the "ES&S" machine they're talking about as a base is the Automark, which ES&S bought and is now downplaying over their less secure setup.

    Second: the optical scan half of this equation should scan GRAPHICS of each ballot, store them for later review, hash them to prevent later tampering and make them available by the DVD load (or HD-DVD or whatever) as a public record. Remember, the voter name is already stripped out at this point. And if you're burning data to "-R" media of some sort, that
  • Any new electronic voting method should incorporate IRV [instantrunoff.com]. For anyone not already familiar with this, Democrats and Republicans both want you to think you are throwing away your vote on third party candidates, and that you need your vote to keep someone out of office. During the previous election, third party candidates were even jailed for trying to attend the presidential debate just to be equally heard by Americans. As incredible as that is, you didn't hear about it on CNN, because that would only giv
    • by Baricom (763970)
      I agree with you, but you're targeting the wrong group. Nearly all election systems used today can support instant runoff voting; the problem is that the laws aren't compatible. Blame your legistlature/assembly/whatever.
  • Cost: Here in Belgium We use electronic voting for about 10 years. A minister has caculated that it costs around 4 euro (+/- $5 US) per vote...While a paper solution costs only 1 euro per vote. The reason: Computers for election are only used for...Elections. So you may use them twice in a decade. Try to find a P200 compatible motherboard, Serial port compatible electronic Pen, a 500MG hard disk...A company still supporting Windows 95 ...They still use "official" floppy disk to boot the system . Next ele
  • Badass! My first posted submisssion! Anyway, my comments that the editors took out, but that I made on the article itself:
    Why doesn't someone / some group create an open source voting machine software? The hardware could even be open source, too. These all seem like good ideas (the article - not the comments, though I'm intrigued by the Brazilian system), so what are we waiting for? Why doesn't someone do it? Who do we talk to to get started?
  • If I had it to make myself, I would use some unique identifier, like ssn but longer, and people could vote either at the polls or on the internet. The number would be hashed in such a way that a list of legal voting IDs would be verifiable but not traceable to the owner. This would prevent duplicate or fraudulent votes. This would also allow you, with your ID, to go in and see how the system recorded your vote. This would allow for unprecidented accountability as any voter could hop on the internet and
  • !. Use non- FOSS software
    2. Tie #1 to hardware
    3. Name your business Diebold
    4. ???
    5. Profit!

    Until it is a transparent, documented process, then democracy is held hostage.
    If I wanted to influence the elections, I might have come up with a better way, but this is sufficient.

    There are ways of making this secure and acountable, but the question is why are we not pushing for this?
  • by Spinlock_1977 (777598) <Spinlock_1977&yahoo,com> on Wednesday October 18, 2006 @06:45PM (#16494387) Journal
    Ok, voting machines cannot be guaranteed to be bullet-proof. Anyone who knows a decent amount about computer software & hardware gets that.

    But why is it so hard to envision a simple audit trail to absolutely guarantee the authenticity of any election?

    1) Make sure every voting machine spits out a paper receipt with a unique transaction number and the vote(s) recorded.

    2) Make public a web site that displays *every* receipt number and its vote(s). Ok, it might be 300 million database records, but a simple menu across the top will let anyone drill down to their receipt number and confirm their vote was recorded correctly. We'll file this exercise as each Citizen's Responsibility. (It's important to note that having a citizen enter a receipt number to see those particular ballot results will not be secure since it would take a different path through the web site software, and also reduce anonimity).

    3) Democracity loving geeks everywhere will write code to scan that (huge) web site and confirm the final totals.

    It seems so simple. What am I missing?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by phantomlord (38815)
      If you take away a verifiable record (be it an ID you can look up or an actual copy) of your vote, you open yourself to the following type scenarios:

      1) Boss: You know, I really need to see your vote receipt so we can make sure you're protecting our interests. If you refuse or you don't vote the way we wanted, see you later.
      2) Abusive spouse: Honey, lemme make sure you voted the way I wanted or I will beat the crap out of you.
      3) Church: You heathen, you voted for people out to destroy our morality. I, r
    • by xenocide2 (231786)
      The problem good sir, is that such a system is no longer "anonymous". You've directly associated a set of numbers with a voter's ballot, and suggested it be publicly accessible. There's good and bad news reguarding this approach.

      The good news is that such a system would result in a lot more voters participating than currently do. The bad news is that votes would be on sale to anyone with a hundred dollars to spare per vote.
  • since nobody reads this stuff, it's safe to post.... won't jeopardize my billionnaire status-to-be.

    The Machine shall consist of a cylindrical container of wood or plastic, holding a marking substance that has a moderate wear rate, and leaving firm black marks. The Substrate for the Machine to mark against shall be a flat flexible surface of moderate reflectivity and low abrasiveness, with some irregularities across its surface. Upon The Substrate will be recognizeable printed marks labelling each candidat
  • You step in the booth. Each election / issue is brought up on a page all by itself. Each candidate / position is presented, along with a uniquely colored dot next to it. You click the position. In front of you, you hear a slight whirring sound.

    A small ping pong ball floats up inside a glass enclosure. A tiny mechanical vice grips it to hold it in place.

    A tiny nozzle on an actuator moves out next to it, and out bursts a small amount of paint. The ping pong ball is now colored in the same color dot as your ch
  • Paper and pencil ought to be the only legal means of voting.

    Ok ok well... maybe if you want to design some machines for people who have various disabilities, etc., to vote with, I would be ok with that - but their end result should to be to print out a paper ballot, which the voter then puts in a box along with everyone else's.
  • It would take alot to get electronic voting "bulletproof," but one very important idea (?necessity?) is to give EVERYONE (with a server and an IP with some bandwidth) the ability to count votes online...to "listen" to all the voting machines as the votes roll in.

    Before the elections, anybody who wants could then add their server's IP/port to the roster of vote listeners. The server would do a steady "ping -t" to ensure that it was online for the entire election (and didn't miss any votes). It would count
  • the easiest way to build a BETTER voting machine would be by any company's whose CEO doesn't deliver the Ohioan electoral votes straight to bush
  • by Animats (122034) on Thursday October 19, 2006 @02:00AM (#16498027) Homepage

    Voting machines should be at least as secure as slot machines. The state of Nevada has standards for those, as I wrote in a previous Slashdot article. [slashdot.org] Nevada is concerned with collecting taxes and not cheating customers when the machines are owned by very shady people. So they have technical standards with teeth. Stuff like this:

    • ... must resist forced illegal entry and must retain evidence of any entry until properly cleared or until a new play is initiated. A gaming device must have a protective cover over the circuit boards that contain programs and circuitry used in the random selection process and control of the gaming device, including any electrically alterable program storage media. The cover must be designed to permit installation of a security locking mechanism by the manufacturer or end user of the gaming device.
    • ... must exhibit total immunity to human body electrostatic discharges on all player-exposed areas. ... must exhibit a capacity to recover and complete an interrupted play without loss or corruption of any stored or displayed information and without component failure. ... Gaming device power supply filtering must be sufficient to prevent disruption of the device by repeated switching on and off of the AC power. ... must be impervious to influences from outside the device, including, but not limited to, electro-magnetic interference, electro-static interference, and radio frequency interference.
    • All gaming devices which have control programs residing in one or more Conventional ROM Devices must employ a mechanism approved by the chairman to verify control programs and data. ... All gaming devices having control programs or data stored on memory devices other than Conventional ROM Devices must:
      (a) Employ a mechanism approved by the chairman which verifies that all control program components, including data and graphic information, are authentic copies of the approved components. The chairman may require tests to verify that components used by Nevada licensees are approved components. The verification mechanism must have an error rate of less than 1 in 10 to the 38th power and must prevent the execution of any control program component if any component is determined to be invalid. Any program component of the verification or initialization mechanism must be stored on a Conventional ROM Device that must be capable of being authenticated using a method approved by the chairman.
      (b) Employ a mechanism approved by the chairman which tests unused or unallocated areas of any alterable media for unintended programs or data and tests the structure of the storage media for integrity. The mechanism must prevent further play of the gaming device if unexpected data or structural inconsistencies are found.
      (c) Provide a mechanism for keeping a record, in a form approved by the chairman, anytime a control program component is added, removed, or altered on any alterable media. The record must contain a minimum of the last 10 modifications to the media and each record must contain the date and time of the action, identification of the component affected, the reason for the modification and any pertinent validation information.
      (d) Provide, as a minimum, a two-stage mechanism for validating all program components on demand via a communication port and protocol approved by the chairman. The first stage of this mechanism must verify all control components. The second stage must be capable of completely authenticating all program components, including graphics and data components in a maximum of 20 minutes. The mechanism for extracting the authentication information must be stored on a Conventional ROM Device that must be capable of being authenticated by a method approved by the chairman.

    That's part of what's needed. Those standards cover the possibility of an "alternate program" in a slot machine, and provide a way to check for it, with logs and an external program check capability.

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