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Ask a "Star" of HBO's Voting Machine Documentary 342

Posted by Roblimo
from the paper-ballots-never-have-software-problems dept.
Herbert H. Thompson, PhD ("Hugh" to his friends), is one of the people featured in the HBO documentary, Hacking Democracy, that Diebold tried to keep from airing. Hugh is a long-time Slashdot reader who called me to volunteer for this interview — on his own, not through anyone's PR department. Here's a YouTube excerpt from a CNN Lou Dobbs show with Hugh in it. (Find more articles by and about Hugh here. And perhaps check this brand-new MSNBC story about e-voting, too.) Hugh suggests that you give him "your wildest questions about what went on behind the scenes and how safe the e-voting systems actually are." Let's take him up on that challenge, hopefully while following Slashdot interview rules. Note to Diebold and other voting machine companies: We welcome comments and questions from you, same as we welcome them from everyone else. If you feel you are being vilified unfairly by Slashdot readers, please respond and set the record straight.
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Ask a "Star" of HBO's Voting Machine Documentary

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  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Friday November 03, 2006 @01:03PM (#16704577) Journal
    Other countries are embracing E-voting [smh.com.au] despite the massive concern here in the United States. My simple question is, in your opinion, will E-voting ever reach standards rigorous enough to satisfy the American populace? If not, why?
    • I'm astonished that it's not as simple as several vendors make the UI, several vendors make the DB's, hook them up on a closed network which of course requires physical security, but there will always be human element). When a person votes, the UI computers broadcast the votes over the networks, to the multiple DBs (I say 3). I leave out the authorization part of this equation because it obviously COULD be done.

      The UI program issues the voter a paper receipt, to be used in the event of a recount. He she
      • by Zelet (515452)
        The point of the paper receipt isn't for the voter to keep but to maintain a papertrail of what people actually voted for. The paper reciepts verified by the voter and then dropped into a locked drop box like the old paper ballots. If there is a recount or a dispute, instead of ONLY having the electronic (easily mass changeable) record, they will have a more secure paper trail to follow.
    • by syphax (189065)
      Let me take this one, Hugh:

      will E-voting ever reach standards rigorous enough to satisfy the American populace? If not, why?

      Because current "rigorous standards" are neither. I mean, we have poll workers taking Diebold machines home [bradblog.com] for WEEKS before the vote. The weaknesses of these machines are well documented. This practice is so freakin' insecure it's just insane.

      If you applied the same standards that are applied to, say, Nevada slot machines [nv.gov], with a few extras like verifiable paper (or other durable m
  • paper trail? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ummit (248909) <scs@eskimo.com> on Friday November 03, 2006 @01:03PM (#16704581) Homepage
    This is a really basic question and it seems I should know an answer, but it never seems to be discussed: Why are the electronic voting machine companies generally so dead-set against emitting verifiable and auditable paper records? It can't just be cost, because they could and would just pass that on to their customers.
    • Re:paper trail? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Thansal (999464) on Friday November 03, 2006 @01:10PM (#16704723)
      It can't just be cost, because they could and would just pass that on to their customers.


      Sort of a follow up, how do the states/districts decide what machine to go with? Is it a standard "go with the lowest bidder", is this why we see such shoddy machines going into action? Do the decision making organizations tend to have specific features they look for? Anything else you would like to share about the decision making processes that you have seen?

      Thanks for doing this also!
    • Re:paper trail? (Score:4, Informative)

      by jj00 (599158) on Friday November 03, 2006 @01:42PM (#16705453)
      Pittsburgh (Allegheny country) had a public review of 4-5 voting systems (Unisys, Sequoia, ES&S, and Diebold) that I attended. Of all the systems I saw, ALL of them had an option to produce a paper trail. Some were inherently better at paper trails than others - such as the bubble-fill versions, but they all had some sort of option.

      Most of the salesmen there seemed to steer you away from the bubble-fill devices, stating that they were cheaper up front but would cost more in the long run with paper costs. I still liked them the best. They have multiple ways of recovering from problems - built in paper trail, still work under power outages, and anyone that can play the lottery can use them.

      I took some pictures if you're really interested. [flickr.com]
    • by slapout (93640)
      What's to keep the machine from registering the vote wrong and then printing out an (also wrong) piece of paper?
    • by workindev (607574)
      Why are the electronic voting machine companies generally so dead-set against emitting verifiable and auditable paper records?

      They aren't [pcworld.com].
  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Friday November 03, 2006 @01:05PM (#16704627) Journal
    In your opinion, what is the largest inherent flaw within electronic voting systems today? Diebold's been in the news of having many potential problems ranging from securing the physical hardware to the ability to hack the software or firmware. I'm sure you're quite prepared to pose a case against implementations but can you think of a more intuitive scheme (encryption, network layout, verification scheme) to protect against "hacking our democracy?"
    • by delta407 (518868)
      He doesn't need to suggest anything, since others already have. The most intriguing to me is Ron Rivest's ThreeBallot [mit.edu], which I've written an article about [lerfjhax.com]. Quoting myself:

      The properties of an ideal election system are contradictory. Voters should be able to verify that their votes are counted correctly, but should be able to have their choices kept completely private--in fact, some would say that voters should not be able to prove they voted a certain way, even if they wanted to. So, can both of these goals

  • as in "no-choice-it-must-be-evote-or-novote-and-novote-i snt-an-option", how would you set it up? I.E. would there be encryption, would there be ways for individuals (but not others) to track their own votes, etc?
  • Typo (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Jeffrey Baker (6191)
    I noticed in the documentary that the Diebold machine tested in Tallahassee prints "Diebold Memroy Card" on its little grocery-store-quality tape. Is this kind of slipshod programming reflected throughout the Diebold system?
    • by fishdan (569872) *
      I saw that typo too, and I started to wonder that if THAT slipped QA, what else did? A typo itself is not a big deal. The fact that it passed testing and was shipped with a type IS a big deal
    • > I noticed in the documentary that the Diebold machine tested in Tallahassee prints "Diebold Memroy Card" on its little grocery-store-quality tape. Is this kind of slipshod programming reflected throughout the Diebold system?

      Don't fret -- the typo is evidence that they hire real programmers!
    • by Aardpig (622459)
      Brillant!
  • Your bio kind of paints you as an academic with tons of authoring and training but no real deep diving into implementing an E-voting system. Have you worked on any physical systems or only the theory behind it?

    I ask this because of a quote, "In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. But, in practice, there is." - Jan L.A. van de Snepscheut. Which occasionally appears at the bottom of Slashdot. I interpret it that the theoretical side of the world is constantly criticizing the pa
    • "In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. But, in practice, there is."

      I think that when there is a difference between theory and practice, that it simply means that the theory is wrong. A right theory will hold up in practice. Otherwise it is not right. So this should not be seen as a criticism of theory or theorists in general, but an exhortation to have right theory.

      All too often that quote is taken to mean "Well, I don't know jack about this, but I'm not an academic who has stu

    • by lawpoop (604919)
      "'In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. But, in practice, there is." - Jan L.A. van de Snepscheut."

      That's a nice theory. Does it hold up in practice?
  • Issue a statement with verbage stating something along the lines of "these machines, like everything electronic, controlled by a computer, are 'hackable' and here's what you can do, as a voting body, to protect the investment, and to ensure a safe and reliable election:"? It seems that these flaws are bad, but they're fixable. They have the way to plug the holes, but they don't work on it, don't promote it, and don't seem to want to admit there's issues. I know they're a company trying to protect their b
  • by Noryungi (70322) on Friday November 03, 2006 @01:10PM (#16704733) Homepage Journal
    Let's assume for a moment the 2006 US House/Senate election goes this way: Republicans keep control of both through a series of smallish victories, Democrats gain a few seats, and the results are explained away in the mainstream media as "fluke results", "margin of error", etc...

    How do you prove that foul play (hacking) has been involved?

    Do you even have a plan in place to check the results?

    Please note that this is a very serious question. There was a saying, a few years back, that said a novice hacker is someone known in a small circle, a confirmed hacker is someone who is known all over the Internet, and a great hacker is someone who is totally invisible.

    What if the election was subtly hacked, in a way that left lingering doubts (51%-vs-48% kind of results and all that), but no solid proof?
    • ... so a republican victory automatically dictates tampering with voting machines? The democrats have a long history of being ahead in polls and losing, before e-voting ever hit the scene. Democrats are democrats and have a tendancy to lose it for themselves as the elections approach (see: John Kerry's recent comments, Alan Hevesi, etc)
    • > How do you prove that foul play (hacking) has been involved?

      Obviously we should apply the Intelligent Design movement's latest algorithm for proving that God (or some other unnamed being with supernatural powers) tampered with biology.
      • by soft_guy (534437)
        Obviously we should apply the Intelligent Design movement's latest algorithm for proving that God (or some other unnamed being with supernatural powers) tampered with biology.

        I'm waiting for someone to get caught red-handed rigging an election and then try to say that God did it (probably because God hates Democrats.)
    • by ScentCone (795499)
      What if the election was subtly hacked, in a way that left lingering doubts (51%-vs-48% kind of results and all that), but no solid proof?

      Despite my reputation, here, I'm not being a smart-aleck. What if, as a variation on your scenario, the guy you want to win does so by fairly tight margin? People who think that narrow victories are a sure sign of a vast conspiracy against them personally are looking right past the reality: modern communications (rabid media coverage, the internet, etc) and technology
  • OSS? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Xzzy (111297) <sether@tru7hMONET.org minus painter> on Friday November 03, 2006 @01:10PM (#16704737) Homepage
    Does the HBO show spend any time discussing the three "sides" to the debate? E-Voting, open sourced e-voting software, and paper voting? The last Slashdot article on this topic, when Diebold's complaint was announced, spent some time on this. The worry being, the debate is nothing more than "e-voting good" or "e-voting bad", ignoring the possibility that "open source e-voting" might be a viable middle ground.

    How do you think open source could fit into this issue? Or should it?
    • Re:OSS? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Speare (84249) on Friday November 03, 2006 @02:01PM (#16705787) Homepage Journal

      Before I poo-poo the idea, let me say I like the idea of OSS implementations of anything the government does: they pay for this implementation in my dollars, so I might as well get a chance to see how it works. But this does not make the system more secure.

      Even with OSS, you're relying on an assurance by some clerk at the polling station that the code you've audited at home is the code that drives your voting choice from fingertip to election commission. You can't SEE software, and as this crowd knows, rootkits can virtualize the whole machine to appear to run one thing while really doing something else.

      The only way for an individual to audit their vote is to see their vote on a tangible artifact, be it marks on paper, holes in paper, colored beads or whatever works in your village. It's already bad enough that you can't follow that vote artifact out of the voting booth into the counting center, and watch it every step of the way, but with many eyes from all vested parties along the path, you can have a small sense of security in this process.

    • by xlv (125699)
      As much as I like Open Source, this is not the solution in this case. Each time the issue comes up and the answer is always the same: if you cannot trust the entire chain, Open Source is not an advantage. Yes, you can verify that the code you're shown does not have obvious bugs or backdoors but:

      - you need to inspect the compiler and other tools as well (see the famous Trusting Trust compiler hack http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Backdoor [wikipedia.org])

      - you do not control the hardware, you don't know what goes on at the lowe
    • by AK Marc (707885)
      OSS is irrelevant. It may be the best (or the worst) implimentation of unverified voting, but it doesn't address the substantive issues. Electronic voting with or without paper trails. Electronic voting with or without verification. Electronic voting *only* for those that require it (what it was supposedly invented for, handicapped voting). The OS on the electronic voting machine is less important to me than getting a system that is tracked and verified (and yes, tracking and verification can be done w
  • Pen-and-paper voting (Score:5, Interesting)

    by NetDanzr (619387) on Friday November 03, 2006 @01:10PM (#16704745)
    What, exactly, is the argument against pen-and-paper voting? It seems to me that everybody wants to migrate to voting machines - electronic or mechanical - but so far nobody has explained to me what's wrong with good old-fashioned "put an X next to your candidate's name" voting.
    • by Black Parrot (19622) on Friday November 03, 2006 @01:21PM (#16704975)
      > What, exactly, is the argument against pen-and-paper voting? It seems to me that everybody wants to migrate to voting machines - electronic or mechanical - but so far nobody has explained to me what's wrong with good old-fashioned "put an X next to your candidate's name" voting.

      The "problem" is that it doesn't shuffle enough of your tax money into corporate pockets.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      In many jurisdictions, like mine, they do put an X next to somebody's name, and then slide the ballot into a scanning machine which counts the votes. However, the issue of returning to a 1920's style all-manual system is the count, the crucial part of the system. In Canada ballots have only 3 or 4 party names listed. Its easy to count those. In Chicago, we will have nearly 90 names on the ballot. The possibility of mischief or mistakes increases dramatically when you let humans do it.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Mercuria (145621)
      One of the big motivations is to allow handicapped individuals to have a private voting process. Until modern systems were put into place, a blind person who came into a polling place was accompanied by someone from the Republican and Democratic parties (cue third-party ranting), and she would tell them which candidates she wished to vote for, and they would mark her ballot accordingly. Thanks to HAVA, she can put on a set of headphones and vote with privacy. Other examples based on other disabilities are
    • Our last election was on paper ballots (we previously used Diebold voting machines), and here's why I think that my county likes voting machines over paper ballots:

      1. Handicapped access. In order to fit the 30 or so different races/items/etc on one piece of paper, the print on the paper ballot was very small - if you can't read the ballot, it makes it very hard to vote. The electronic machines can show larger text or can "read" ballots to a voter with vision problems.

      2. Printing costs. There were 33 diffe

      • by ??? (35971) <k.kobly@com> on Friday November 03, 2006 @02:33PM (#16706381)
        1. Handicapped access.

        It demeans the real challenges faced by individuals with handicaps to suggest that we need to diminish the reliability of our electoral system in order to encourage their participation.

        2. Printing costs.

        Costs for paper / pencil only systems are significantly less than for electronic systems, particularly when election administration is centralized (see Canadian electoral system costs). This is even before you consider that electronic voting equipment is being amortized over an absurdly long period of time (far longer than their estimated useful life. I would bet there will be a lot of counties writing off systems after the next cycle that still have significant unamortized book value).

        3. Storage costs.
        Storage costs are increased with electoral equipment. The equipment itself needs to be stored and takes more room than paper ballots. Further, the equipment typically has more stringent environmental requirements (temperature, humidity, etc. control) for the storage facility than paper ballots. Paper ballots need to be stored for less time than equipment. Paper ballots can be destroyed once disputes relating to them have been settled, and only have a useful life of at most one electoral cycle. Equipment must be stored throughout its useful life.

        4. People.

        It takes candidates' representatives and two officials from the authority conducting the election to count ballots in precinct. These are individuals who are already involved in the process, observing and administering (respectively) the conduct of the voting process of the election.

        5. Quicker results.
        We know who our Prime Minister is before bed-time EST on election night. How about you? Vote counting is a highly parallelizable activity.

        Regardless, is it appropriate to set cost and speed above accuracy and security in elections administration?
    • by Sounder40 (243087) *
      What, exactly, is the argument against pen-and-paper voting?

      Disregarding all of the flippant comments this question will undoubtedly draw, the simple answer is accuracy. Paper tabulation is inherently inaccurate, as evidenced by the 2000 Florida debacle.

    • The US doesn't really have elections, we have census data and districting. The party in power in the state (originally elected) carves up districts to put as many of their opponent's neighborhoods into clumps, i.e. districts that are 65%-80% for their opponents. This is easier for the GOP to do because Democratic voters are predominately urban voters (wealthy and poor) so make is districts that look reasonable on a map. Then you spread out your voters depending on how ballsy you are. You only need 51% o
      • by mcmonkey (96054)

        Also, if 100 people vote, 48-47-5 (REGARDLESS of which of the first two candidates win, a majority is disenfranchised in a first-past-the-post system.

        So anyone who didn't vote for the winner has been disenfranchised?

    • What, exactly, is the argument against pen-and-paper voting? It seems to me that everybody wants to migrate to voting machines

      In case you missed the last election, I'll sum it for you in two word: hanging chads.

      That, plus the huge amount amount of federal money that was made available shortly thereafter to the states to fix the mess, and election officials who, not knowing any better, opting to spend it on a shrinkwrapped product sold by very few vendors.

      Note that what's missing from the equation are feder
    • by AK Marc (707885)
      What, exactly, is the argument against pen-and-paper voting?

      It is illegal to only have pen-and-paper voting. There must be handicapped access, and rather than multiple systems, it is easier and cheaper to have just one system. One system, all paper = illegal. One system, all electronic = legal.
  • by sharkb8 (723587) on Friday November 03, 2006 @01:12PM (#16704773)
    Do you think the greatest threat of an e-voting system being hijacked is during the voting itself, with one or more people influencing things at the polling place, during the processing, with untrained, nonaccountable poll workers and supervisors, or do you think a greater threat would be someone maliciously attacking an electronic vote counting reposiotory/database?
    • > Do you think the greatest threat of an e-voting system being hijacked is during the voting itself, with one or more people influencing things at the polling place, during the processing, with untrained, nonaccountable poll workers and supervisors, or do you think a greater threat would be someone maliciously attacking an electronic vote counting reposiotory/database?

      Or by pre-rigging the machines before delivering them to the state, to misrecord, mistransmit, or miscount the votes, or simply misreport
  • What confuses me about electronic voting is that we constantly do commerce daily through electronic means (ATMs, credit cards online, etc) yet we cannot hammer down a viable scheme for voting. I am a programmer and very familiar with model view controller applications and it's always caused me great confusion of why we don't simply use a web based application for voting. For instance, if I built a secure website that required a local official to access through a terminal (with possible hardware verificati
    • > What confuses me about electronic voting is that we constantly do commerce daily through electronic means (ATMs, credit cards online, etc) yet we cannot hammer down a viable scheme for voting.

      Who says we've got a reliable system for electronic commerce?
    • by ScentCone (795499)
      people to input their SSN and vote

      Umm... how do you know that the person entering their SSN is the person associated with that SSN? One of the larger issues here, I think, is the odd resistence against voters having to actually prove who they are. That, truly, I don't get. The rhetoric that it's somehow discriminating (against some particular cultural segment) to ask for ID at the polling place is already preventing such measures from happening even where they're still using much more old-fashioned ball
    • by Garwulf (708651)
      I may not be a programmer, but I have worked in an election (Canadian) before, and I can tell you exactly what's wrong with that approach - the moment you ask for the SSN, it stops being a secret ballot. Even if you don't record what the ballot is in relation to the SSN, there's still the possibility (and suspicion) that it can be hacked into, and the votes revealed.

      (And, part of being able to correct if something goes wrong with this would have to be matching up the vote to the SSN, and all of a sudden it
    • by ??? (35971)
      What confuses me about electronic voting is that we constantly do commerce daily through electronic means (ATMs, credit cards online, etc) yet we cannot hammer down a viable scheme for voting.

      Red herring. Stop repeating this crap.

      Maybe because the two problems have vastly different requirements? Maybe because e-commerce does not require anonymity or secrecy in the same way that voting does? Maybe because in the e-commerce problem, it is essential to prove that a given transaction occurred, and that it oc
      • Maybe because the two problems have vastly different requirements? Maybe because e-commerce does not require anonymity or secrecy in the same way that voting does? Maybe because in the e-commerce problem, it is essential to prove that a given transaction occurred, and that it occurred between a particular set of parties, while in an election, it is essential that you not be able to prove this.

        I disagree with your premise here - many e-commerce transactions require anonymity and secrecy... and that's why th

  • I would like to know if the studies of Diebold's machines have ever been compared to similar studies of other methods. I'm sure we all remember the issues of hanging chads and how recounts could be manipulated, which is one of the reasons some people don't support paper trails. Without this comparison, I feel like complaints about Diebold and other manufacturers can be construed as alarmist and nitpicking at best, political posturing and propagandising at worst. Do you have any numbers or direct comparis
  • Since many -- if not most -- districts with electronic voting devices have disposed of their older, non-electronic systems, there's no available back-up mechanism other than paper and pencil, something unlikely to be accepted due to impracticality. There's hardly the time and even less impetus to print the millions of machine-readable absentee ballots necessary.

    Given that, by law, voting is anonymous and private and necessarily leaves the voter alone with the device, what can be done to minimise the risk

  • All politicians are criminals. Thus, it really doesn't make any difference if we use e-voting or rock stacking. The system promotes only the most corrupt and reprehnsible people to run for public office.

    Given a choice between being burned alive or shot in the head, I suppose I would choose none of the above.

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

    by gorbachev (512743) on Friday November 03, 2006 @01:24PM (#16705033) Homepage
    As a software engineer I'm constantly amazed at how incompetent Diebold and other companies making e-voting applications appear to be. This stuff is not rocket science at all, but fairly uncomplicated, basic software engineering.

    Why do you think it's so hard for Diebold and other companies to come up with solutions that work well? Is it a stubborn unwillingness to listen and learn from critics, shere incompetence, or something else?
    • by alfredo (18243)
      There is an agenda behind the programming, and it is not delivering a solid, secure voting system. It is insecure by design.

      Remember Rep Peter King (R NY) said during the voting on Nov 2 2004 "It's already over. The election's over. We won.... It's all over but the counting, and we'll take care of the counting." He said it during a picnic on the White house lawn.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H3foms6x12U [youtube.com]
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by davewill (21519)
      As a software engineer I'm constantly amazed at how incompetent Diebold and other companies making e-voting applications appear to be. This stuff is not rocket science at all, but fairly uncomplicated, basic software engineering.

      As a software engineer I'm constantly amazed that other engineers think this is simple and easy. The first time I heard about "touch-screen voting machines" I thought to myself, "Now, THERE'S a BAD idea". Voting is much harder to program for than financial transactions are. For o
      • Bad software engineers pick the most complicated solution and complain about how impossible the task is. Good ones find the nugget of truth that makes complicated problems easy. Same here... electronic voting is actually a very very easy problem if you realize the truth: secure systems are not needed at all.

        1. You have a computerized vote selection system. This does not need to be secure at all, because it will print out the selected votes onto paper in a human readable form. It can be written in TCL/TK
  • When are you going to be on the Daily Show?
  • All of the attention lately has been on the touchscreen voting machines, yet
    • Hacking Democracy

    clearly showed a tampered memory card skewing results in a optical scan machine. On the one hand, at least in this sort of system there is a paper ballot to verify, but it's mind boggling to me that something as simple as a optical scanner could be designed so badly as to allow an attack through the memory cards used for transporting results.

    This raises an entirely new set of concerns, and seems to suggest that ma

  • by the-banker (169258) on Friday November 03, 2006 @01:28PM (#16705113)
    It has always seemed to me that the real Achilles heel of e-voting is the networked approach that most vendors have taken. With a networked approach, fraud can be perpetrated on a mass scale if entry is gained at one weakness.

    As a former election judge, I have enough experience to know that rigging a paper election is a daunting, nearly impossible task, as there are litterally thousands of ballot boxes that would have to be compromised for any sort of advanagte (on a state or national scale).

    Are these concerns balanced (or even discussed) when officials are purchasing equipment? Do local Board of Elections have not only the expertise, but the concern to ask the right questions? And how do BoE directors react when they hear about your concerns and research?

    • There is no reason why we should be running advanced multiuser operating systems with multiple layered components to take the results of a ballot. Rather than an evolutionary leap in technology (in security terms) the next logical step should be a rudimentary (10k lines of code MAX) realtime OS designed to do nothing but voting. Release the code, secure the hell out of it, and build the physical unit like a lockbox with advanced (read: MEDCO style) locking mechanisms. Buttons not touch screens etc. ATM ma
  • A simple solution? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Brickwall (985910) on Friday November 03, 2006 @01:36PM (#16705299)
    To me, the only 'benefit' of e-voting is the speed of counting after the polls close, which seems pretty small compared to the problems that have surfaced. That said, I wonder what you think of this possible solution:

    After the voter makes his selection on the e-voting machine, the machine then prints out a piece of paper with the voter's choice on it. The voter reviews it, makes sure it's correct, and then exits the booth and deposits the paper ballot in an old-fashioned ballot box. When the polls close, we have an instant count but if the result is challenged, we have the old-fashioned system to do a recount. Note that "hanging chads" and other such nonsense wouldn't apply, as the machine would print the voter's choice - no question of "unclear marks" or "multiple selections", or other problems that exist with manual ballots today. It seems to me this would satisfy both camps, without requiring a massive rewrite of the software, and minimal physical changes. (These machines must have a port somewhere that a printer could be connected to.) Any thoughts?

  • by logicnazi (169418) <logicnazi AT gmail DOT com> on Friday November 03, 2006 @01:38PM (#16705357) Homepage
    I saddened and dismayed by the poor engineering and ignorance of basic security practices that our electronic voting machines show. However, is this really something we should panic about or even the biggest problem in our election system.

    All voting systems are vulnerable to fraud. What makes these electronic systems different is that one or a very small number of individuals can engineer a fraud. However, their ability to execute a fraud is limited by the media polls (we will suspect something if the results are inexplicably different than polled) and knowledge of precinct history. Thus the danger from individuals changing the vote seems to really be that they will shift a close race (say 10% apart) one way or another.

    However, this sort of shifting close races doesn't greatly degrade the structural force of voting. All candidates will still try to enact policies to garner support whether they need 50% of the votes or only 45%. Much of voting is random, affected by things like personal charisma rather than policy questions so clearly the system doesn't work because we always have the person who 50% want but rather it works because of the structural pressure not to stray to far from what the people want. Or to put it in political science terms what does all the work is the tendency of all candidates to shift to the middle in the long run who actually wins each race isn't so important.

    But now comparing the potential for electronic vote fraud to things like machine politics (with conventional ballot stuffing), safe districts, voter disenfranchisement efforts, felon lists etc.. etc.. it doesn't seem like it is such a big deal. Making sure the poling places in the inner city don't have enough machines has a much bigger structural effect, by making sure one group's votes don't count at all, than just giving one candidate a random 10% of the vote. Creating a safe district removes virtually all of the structural pressure of voters on government and it seems far more effective and less dangerous to accidentally strike the wrong people from the rolls or put too few voting machines in some precincts.

    In short are we letting our concern over the technology of voting blind us to the bigger issues? Shouldn't we be paying more attention to who gets to vote, how districts are drawn and other conventional aspects of voting than to the potential for individuals to electronically cheat?
    • by imadork (226897)
      However, their ability to execute a fraud is limited by the media polls (we will suspect something if the results are inexplicably different than polled) and knowledge of precinct history.

      IIRC, the last two Presidential elections had results in particular states (especially Ohio and the ever-problematic Florida) that differed by the media exit polling data by a significant margin. This is why Florida was originally called for Gore in 2000, after all, because that's what the Exit Poll data said. Luckily, a

      • by logicnazi (169418)
        No, they didn't.

        You are using a different notion of significant than I am.

        The point is that no one denies that the Florida and Ohio races were close. What I'm saying is that in the long run it doesn't really matter if some close races are thrown one way or another. Sure in the short term it seems to make a big difference but in the long run this gets lost in the noise of bad voter decisions and the fact that it won't always be one side cheating.

        The point is florida and ohio are exactly what any undetected
        • The point is florida and ohio are exactly what any undetected electronic vote theft would likely look like, a close vote thrown to one side or the other. But this didn't mean that either Bush or Gore/Kerry could ignore what the voters in either of these states thought. They still had to do just as much campaigning and be just as careful in the past four years to court these voters.

          No - you've forgotten about gerrymandering. Once you get power in congress, you can change district borders around to ensure t

      • by Aardpig (622459)
        as we all know does not include me -- either for Florida or Ohio. And I'm sure I'm not alone. Nice try, though.
  • Are voting machines fixing the wrong problem? As far as I can tell the problem with the traditional system is not in the voting process, but in the counting process. Surely what needs to be made more efficient is the process of counting votes? What I mean here is sticking to time tested voting cards (or making them more machine readable if you need to), but making machines that count and tally the results faster. At least with such a solution you still have a paper trail that humans can count, even if it sl
  • The more attention to this issue, the better.
  • Great quote that can be construed in very interesting ways in the linked video:

    Lou Dobbs: "E-voting machines will count at least 3 out of every 4 votes cast in next week's election."

  • Despite the rhetoric to the contrary, the list of requirements for a "perfect" electronic voting machine is quite long and somewhat conflicted. Anonyminity and verification comes to mind.

    I have to point out that each successive generation of voting machines has undergone more or less backlash, until the populace came to flush out the details. I believe this should prompt us to stronger and stronger oversight and transparency in designs, but not cause us to give up altogether.

    Diebol
  • First of all, I'm from Missouri. Missouri approved a company to create touch screen voting machines to Missourians. According to Voter's Unite [votersunite.org], one of those companies is AccuPoll - a company that is now bankrupt [yahoo.com]. The CEO of that company recently spoke out [votetrustusa.org] against voting machines, saying the following: I am not happy about the outcome, or the state of the industry. I think that something needs to be done. I'm not sure what it is, it probably doesn't include AccuPoll at this point, but I do not feel that a
  • Why are people so hell bent on using voting machines? What benefits could voting machines provide that can counterbalance the loss of transparency and accountability that inevitably occurs even if open source/standardized protocols and machines were to be used, compared to voting with paper? Is it really more important that people know a result of their vote faster than that they know that the result is what they actually voted for?
  • Somehow people seem to think that a very insecure system is being perpetrated onto the voting public replacing a secure, error-free manual system.

    The problem is that manual counting results in considerable errors introduced during the manual process. Just about all manual processes introduce errors of one sort or another. However, through the history of voting it has been very rare that the margin between the candidates comes anywhere near the margin of error.

    This is no longer really true in the US today.
    • by ??? (35971)
      Electronic vote collection and counting reduces the margin of error to a level below the margin between recent candidates.

      Curious. There is a significant amount of evidence that the manual counting system used in Canada has an error rate well less than %0.1. There is also significant evidence that e-voting machines (DRE and OpScan) have error rates well in excess of %2.
  • Has Diebold attempted to prosecute you or Bev Harris for what they call theft of the source soft and software?
  • Just about every state has on-line lotteries. They consist of thousands (possibly tens of thousands) of terminals scattered throughout a state. Each terminal is connected real-time via a secure communications network to a central database. You cannot lose a single transaction (could be the winning number). You're dealing with large quantities of money - so prevention of fraud is paramount. You need to provide paper records (to customers) and an audit trail for on-line / paper records. And you have to
  • If you feel you are being vilified unfairly by Slashdot readers, please respond and set the record straight.

    For the record, I'm not a fat, gay Republican. I'm a fat, ugly Republican. Huge difference! I seriously need to update my Slashdot F.A.Q. [creimer.ws]
  • by N8F8 (4562)
    If you haven't noticed, most of these issues are blown out of proportion. This is the media trying to "create" news instead of reporting it. Look at any system involving humans under a microscope and things look a little messy at the deepest levels. Ask questions? Sure? Demonizing poll workers, voting officials and voting machine companies is assenine.
  • I didn't get to see the documentary. I don't have HBO.

    I, for one, have lost faith in the election process. It doesn't bode well for our governmental processes when people don't think that the election process works. For the first time, I understand why other groups who had been disenfranchised by the system feel the way they do; it's rigged. The bad guys (the current leaders of the Republican party) don't care about democracy or the constitution. The just care about power. They'll game elections every wh
  • Here in Nevada, we got our Gaming Control Board engineers involved in the process of selecting our electronic voting systems. May seem odd at first glance, but these folks are experts at evaluating complex electronic systems (slot machines) to detect things like back doors and vulnerabilities to fraud or tampering, as well as test for reliability and accuracy. In the end, we went with voting machines from Sequoia Voting Systems that provide a paper trail the voter verifies before the vote is recorded.

    My que
  • What is the option for people when they go to the polls, who want to opt out of electronically submitting their vote? How does one go about objecting to the whole system and yet still have their vote cast?

  • What is your take on the constant threats coming from Diebold? To have the CEO state that he will deliver his state to the Republicans, and then unleash the attack lawyers on everyone pointing out the painfully obvious flaws in the system seems terribly questionable behavior. It seems to me that it would be easier, probably cheaper, and certainly better PR to take advantage of the free testing and fix the issues rather than sending lawyers after anyone who breathes a word about the flaws and refusing to f
  • Although many of us who understand the issue believe that this is a huge threat to democracy and that solving it is critical, it always seems like most of society doesn't care. Because the issues are technical, most press reports primarily consist of some security researcher saying the system is vulnerable, followed by an industry spokesman saying "no it isn't," and they leave it at that, and most people don't know what to think and won't become incited.

    As a possible remedy, I among others, have been advo
  • It's hard to imagine something less in need of fixing, than making a mark next to the name you'd like to see in office. Why e-voting then? Adding tech adds complexity and increasing complexity means increasing problems. Am I missing something here? e-voting appears to be a result of misplaced faith in technology as a cure-all (or a boondoggle for e-voting companies due to successful lobbying, not sure which).

    Seriously...I have never understood the real world advantages of e-voting over optical scan pape
  • One of the strategies of the neo cons is to create chaos then capitalize on that chaos. They did it in Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004.

    Their only hope is to create chaos nationwide. The only way they can do that is with massive failures of the voting system and creating chaos through aggressive challenging at the polls.
  • At it's base, it's not even about "can they be hacked". It's about a much easier benchmark of trust. Has the machine been tampered with?

    That's all that's really needed to invalidate vast blocks of votes.

    So, if you want to deny people their vote, go in late in the day, and just tamper with the machine in a visible way (cutting seals, etc).

    At least with a paper receipt system, they could do vote correlation if the machines were tampered with. And they're already pre-checked by the voter themselves.
  • Oregon casts 100% of its ballots by mail. In this election over 45% of California's ballots will be cast by mail, a substantial increase from a few years ago. Many other states are getting on the bandwagon. In fact the criticism of e-voting systems is if anything accelerating this trend as more and more people want to leave a written record of their vote.

    Isn't the whole e-voting argument becoming irrelevant, fighting over a soon to be obsolete voting method where people get out and travel to the polls to vo
  • * Main question *
    Try to explain to us, why an electronic voting machine would ever be safer, less tamper-proof or in any way superior to an equally expensive internet-based voting alternative ?

    * Context/argument *
    Today, internet banking is a wide-spread practice, and generally accepted as reasonably tamper-proof.
    A similar internet-based vote validation system should offer the same (or even better) reliability levels as any electronic voting machine could.
    The problem of tampering could be even further reduce

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