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eLection '04 674

Until this week, I've been unconvinced by those who say the U.S. election process needs to be conducted with computers instead of paper, pencil, and punchcards. I've changed my mind. It's time to take a good hard look at our ancient voting system, and bring it up to date. When today's 14-year-olds go to vote in the 2004 elections, will they still take the pencil from the volunteer, slide the punchcard into the molded plastic, and turn the weird knobs? Or will they use the technology they've grown up with?

My change of heart came while listening to an NPR story last night. Election results for one county in Michigan were held up for two hours because some volunteers with ballots were barricaded in the building by a bear. A bear! What century is this?

There are some fair concerns about moving to a more-than-just-dead-trees voting system. We have to consider what the impact will be on voter enfranchisement. A change that makes it possible for the rich to vote by telepathy, for example, while the poor have to drive a hundred miles uphill both ways (to access a non-telepathic voting booth) would not be exactly democratic.

Would it have been fair, in 2000, for the middle class to be able to vote from the comfort of their homes and jobs, while the poor and homeless had to get to a voting booth? I don't know.

But my best guess is that, by 2004, this won't be a question anymore. Plot the percentage of lower-income homes with internet access from 1996 to 2000, and then extrapolate another four years. So if it should be done, how can it be done? There are five key issues to solve: authorization, anonymity, data confidence, UI, and security.

I propose a system in which each voting booth runs a webserver which logs votes (without identification) to two internal media (hard disk and floppy would be good, see below). Once the polls close, each booth's computer can be totalled and sent over the internet to the state's central server.

Meanwhile, any computer that speaks https on the internet would become a voting booth of its own, running slightly different software.

Each state's official results could be in an hour after its polls close. Which beats the ten-day waiting period we have now for our overseas ballots.

Authorization isn't really that hard: When you register to vote, you (by default) get a password delivered by snail-mail a week before the election. Tampering with that mail is a federal offense, of course. On election day you use secure http to sign in from anywhere with your name, address and password. Lose the password? Sorry, you don't get the comfort of home/work; you go to the voting booth with everyone else.

Anonymity is trivial; any logs with identifying information either don't get stored, or get wiped immediately.

Computers crash. Data confidence means the servers write the votes to multiple media: network, hard drive, flash RAM. A dot-matrix printer makes a good emergency backup medium.

This system also needs a dirt-simple GUI for voters connecting from home or work. No butterfly webpages necessary; click a name, and get a confirmation screen that shows you name, party, (importantly) photo, and big "yes" and "no" buttons.

At the voting booth it can be even simpler, using touch-screens.

Security is, of course, always a problem. Secure http effectively eliminates the man-in-the-middle attack, so the main worry are that an attacker will be able to run unauthorized code on a government computer which could (read) correlate my name with my vote or (write) change my vote. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that a completely open-sourced system, from the kernel up, combined with clean-room installations at a secure location, can make these concerns minor by comparison to existing vote-fraud concerns.

(My vote would go to OpenBSD, Apache, and Mozilla, though of course good luck predicting what will be best four years from now.)

Also, net admins overseeing the effort need to have enough access to track and lock out attackers, but obviously they can't have access to change the election results. Lock them in a room for the day with a hundred video cameras tracking everything they do, like the officers on missile-launch duty. Many net admins will find this a relaxed and enjoyable work environment compared to their current jobs.

There are many problems that have to be solved -- please bring up the ones I haven't mentioned here, let's start the debate! My hunch is that they can be solved. And the overriding question must be, will it be an improvement over the current system?

Given that Florida's election is being decided by a 400-vote difference, with 19,000 botched votes thrown out, I'd say the impossibility of clicking on two presidential choices at the same time makes this system a huge win.

The broken user interface on our existing punch-cards system is probably going to give us the wrong President of the United States. How much worse could a digital system really be? I don't claim to have all the answers, but I know what century it is, and the time for Little House on the Prairie nonsense is over. Let's make this happen for 2004.

I'll give my last word to Andre Uratsuka Manoel, a partner at the internet firm Insite, in Brazil. (Props to TBTF for putting Andre and me in touch.)

Brazil has a 100% electronic election. On election day I go my "electoral section," identify myself, sign my name. The "section president" then types in my code and I walk to the booth which is in a corner of the room where no one can see my vote. I then type the number of my candidate, see his/her photo and press "confirm."

The voting machines store the votes in at least three different places: a floppy disk (which is locked), a flash card and the internal hard disk. There are written procedures for any kind of failure I could think of and back-up machines readily available. Those machines can connect to a phone line and send their results to the Election Court of the state.

The results are proclamed extremely fast. On the mayoral run-off elections that happened 2 weeks ago, results were out 2 hours after the election in the city I live in (Sao Paulo, with about 6 million voters) and 6 hours after it in the last city in which there was a run-off. In my home city the results came out a little after the election sites closed and the result was proclamed with the winner having 40 thousand votes more than the second place (0.4% of 1 million votes).

In the first round of elections in Sao Paulo, the third place contestant lost the ticket for the run-off elections by less than 0.1%. The one who lost didn't even think of contesting the results because no one thought there were any kind of frauds.

In the first round, 100 million voters (about the same as the active voters in US) in 5 thousand cities chose their mayors and councelors. All the results were proclaimed 30 hours after the voting closed.

This happens in a country that has a much lower level of literacy, technology-savvy and of money as the U.S. Remember that some mayors were chosen in places hours away from anyplace else (even by plane), i.e. in the middle of the rain forest. Those places don't have electricity.

Of course there were complaints, but not because of the electoral process. Mostly they were due to campaigning on the election day, voter transportation and coercion.

(Updates: Dave Riesz mentioned Riverside County, California, which has an electronic voting system already in place. Their 2000 primary turnout was the highest in 20 years, which may or may not mean anything. That led me to the California Internet Voting Task Force which looks interesting. Don Wegeng pointed me to RISKS thoughts by Douglas Jones. Brian Dunbar points out "Hurrah for Slow Recounts" by the always-interesting Ellen Ullman.

Lee Coursey passes along Elizabeth Ferrill's Discussion of Electronic Voting. James McCann, a programmer at, says my description is "not terribly far off but very incomplete" -- I'll take that as a compliment -- check out his site and too. And finally, a story in Salon that makes my point better than I could: "Confessions of a Florida Poll Worker."

If you have more links or information, emailme.)

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eLection '04

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  • The obvious enhancement to a touch screen machine at the voting place would be for the touch screen device not to count your vote directly, but print it out. You then take your "receipt" and deposit that in the ballot box.


    • the voter can see exactly who they voted for before depositing the ballot
    • the machine would refuse to print an invalid ballot (ie, voting for two candidates in the same race)
    • ballots are available as evidence for recounts and suchlike
    • prevents the voter from voting multiple times in the booth
    • ballots can be printed in a way to make them easily scannable (such a bar code beside the name)

    The first two properties solve most of the problems reported in Palm Beach. There would be no 19,000 spoiled ballots with two presidential candidates marked off, and people voting for Buchanan by mistake would see it (best print the ballots in large print!) before putting the ballot in the box, and have a chance to fix their ballot.


    • any of the increasingly automated systems being suggested makes it difficult to write in a candidate or spoil a ballot deliberately
    • doesn't help voting from home any
    • touch screen user interface still needs careful attention to design
  • Precisely my point. As of right now, only blacks (who voted 90% for Gore) vote as a block. But, if canidates could safely ignore states with higher levels of diversity, and appeal instead to the largest interest groups, whether broken down by race, age, profession, or who knows what, they'll find the biggest block of people with common concerns and target those people to the exclusion of everyone else. For the exit polls on how people voted, based on gender, race, and so forth, see CNN []


  • There are major constitutional problems with any scheme that involves the federal government setting standards for the states.

    Most people don't understand that the states have a great deal of discretion in how elections are held. There isn't a constitutional requirement that a state hold an election to select the electors for the electoral college. A state could give that power to the Governor or legislature. See McPherson v. Blacker [].

  • You're right -- you don't own your vote. And you can't sell it. And no one is extending the privlege to use it -- it is not yours to "use", or to transfer or sell or loan or otherwise dispose of as personal property. It is yours to vote with,
    or not, as you see fit. But no other choice exists -- you vote, or not.

    Again, false. You are allowed to contract for your vote, and it's done every day.

    You just aren't allowed to have a direct transfer of goods in return for a verified vote.

    It is perfectly kosher, however, to say "I'll vote for you if you'll vote to lift restrictions on encryption", followed by the candidate saying "ok, I'll do that, vote for me." It's even legal to follow that up by showing him your absentee ballot with his name on it, and letting him mail it for you, although that part of the exchange doesn't happen in practice.

    It is in fact common practice to say "vote against Right to Work, and we'll recommend all our members vote for you", followed by thousands or millions of people voting as their union has requested. Few will go against their union's wishes in that situation, although again they don't yet take that extra step of verification. (Because they don't have to.)

    I reiterate what I said; if I don't own my vote, and am not free to contract it in any way I choose, I am a slave, not a free man.

    You can't see the forest because you're a tree.

  • Hey, no one had to mod it up in the first place... maybe it's a good post that provokes an interesting discussion... and perhaps we can discuss whatever the hell we want on slashdot, damn the moderators.

    Yea, my post is off-topic, but it branched off into another discussion. So don't complain about the discussion on the side, and don't expect us all to talk about only what Slashdot decides to bring up.

    My post has been moderated down since, and I assume that someone just as dickheaded as you is responsible. I have the karma to spare (I'm well above 25 to get my nice +1 bonus) but it angers me that a post moderated three times +1 Interesting gets a late -1 Offtopic just because there's a bored moderator out there with points to spare and a stick up his ass.

    BTW, If I had mod points and no posts in this topic, I would NOT mod you down. Your post has merit in this discussion, even though I disagree with it.

    I'm surprised no one accused me of karma whoring yet.
  • What about Jews and others who observe a Sabbath on Saturday?
  • The number of electoral votes is based on the census results - which are ten years out of date (2000 EC #s based on 1990 census). My state (Washington) is horribly underrepresented population-wise in this. A lot has happened here in the last ten years.

    As for moving power from the national level to the state level - why is this inherently a good thing? I think this argument is nonsense. State borders are artificial, and have little to do with individual communities' needs in the modern age. See one of my messages in this thread for more info on that point.

    Also, as I've said before, the President represents us all, therefore should be elected by ALL, not by the States. Representation of the States is accomplished by our State Representatives & Senators.
  • Why not use technology and the old ballot system together. Have a touchscreen that is an interface to the punch card that way it you could not highjack the vote electronicly. And the only thing that has to change is the equipment at the polls. Just a thought
  • One word...braille.

    It's not like a blind voter could use a touchscreen, after all.

    Zardoz has spoken!
  • The problems in Florida were not the fault of the older methods. The whole punch-out ballot paper was designed to be *machine-readable*. There is no gray area in putting a large 'X' in a box next to your preferred candidate and having the ballots counted by hand (takes too long - get more people)

    Given the aging population in Florida, it strikes me that a gratuitously tech solution would only serve to disenfranchise some of the wisest people in the community.

  • Shouldn't worry too much about the 2004 election. If we're _really_ lucky they'll have finished the final recount of all the Florida votes from THIS one!
  • I think one additional requirement is that each voting station be required by law to run Windows. That way Microsoft could profit from the process: undoubtedly they would require each voter to purchase a valid user license and scan in the hologram from their box before counting their vote.

    Since most precincts would use Windows 9x rather than NT or 200X you can be sure that the ensuing chaos from machines locking up - losing votes, and in general crashing in flames would give the technical people of the world a massive - if silent - laugh. Then we could send the voting machines a virus and rig the election any way we wanted.

    The future looks bright for techies.

  • Yes, by law, we have "None of the Above" on the ballot for all statewide offices.

    Years ago, I looked it up to see what happens. If memory serves, should none of the above win, a new election is held with all current candidates disqualified.

    I don't think that could happen in a presidential election, however--the polls *must* close on the Tuesday following the first Monday in November. I assume that if none won in the presidential election, the the governor would order the legislature (the old one, not the newly elected one which wouldn't take office for several months) into a special session and that the legislature would appoint electors--very likely a delegation led by the governor.

    I was quite relieved in '96 to find that choice; it's much more clear
    than a general protest vote for one of the third parties.

    hawk, a Nevada lawyer among his many hats . . .
  • I'm a recent graduate in computer science from Carnegie Mellon. *I* have no faith in computers either.

    I want voting to have hard records. It's very easy for a software program to add 10,000 to a location in memory. Hard to create 10,000 fake ballots and harder to insert them into the system without them being noticed.

    Secondly, you extend the complexity of the system. How do you know the software in the system has no traps or backdoors. (If it's based around windows, how do you know that windows has no special trapdoors for throwing elections?) Secondly, how do you know that the software, when installed, is the same as what was written?

    ANother problem, for those who suggest having a printer printing reciepts: If it is computer-readible, how will the user know if what was printed equals what they voted? Why can't the machine count the vote as for candidate X, yet print a recipt as if for candidate Y?

    Finally, you have a lot more problems on the client side: Can you imagine a version of Melissa Virus, that's very innocous and tries to stay hidden. It waits till you try to vote. It waits for you to type in your password, then it secretly votes for who IT wants, not who you want. Hell, Windows 2004 might have this feature built into the OS!!

    The problem with computers is that a small group of people, or even a single person, can subvert an entire election. That's almost impossible with old-fashioned paper ballots.

    These are critical issues. None of the explanation above says how you're supposed to be resistant to these types of fraud.

    The opponent (and therefore threat-model) for an electronic voting system is a HELL OF A LOT worse than that for E-commerce. You're describing how to be resistant to credit-card fraud, where there are small transactions and subversion of the system is minimal. Voting is different. Countries are going to want to subvert the system (Russia, China, Iran, France, organized crime..) and THEY have the resources to bribe, blackmail, and subvert the system from within. They're also going to analyze the system for subtle flaws, and they will break it.

    Do a search for 'electonic voting' on comp.risks.

    Security is HARD. Hasn't Bruce Schiener said that a dozen times before? This is why I hope we do not have electronic voting until we do truly know how to make it secure, a system, standardized by NIST, that's had people trying to break it for 5-10 years. Voting is more critical than AES, it should have the requisit analysis.


  • I believe there are legal problems that prevent them from requiring a voter to present a photo ID. After all, there are large numbers of people who don't have a driver's license or passport. Voting is a right, not a privilege.

    When I voted, the election judges asked for my name, looked it up in a big printout, and asked for my address and date of birth. Someone else could get that information, but they would have to spend time memorizing it well enough to repeat it on demand. They would also have to be the appropriate gender and age group.

  • You raise a lot of good points. I never said it was simple... although I may have simplified.

    I'm kind of tired of arguing the whole point anyway. The electoral college isn't perfect, but somehow I don't think this is the time to discuss it anyway. I think we should discuss the faults of all the 2-party system + candidates + campaign + election + the media combined.

    Someone said how living in Oregon usually means your vote doesn't count because a president is declared on the news before their polls close. That's the media's fault. The whole 19,000 invalidated votes is probably a fault of the election process, and basically a lot of the disgust among the American people is a result of the parties, the campaigns, and the media combined.

    Again, I don't care who's elected. I think they're both qualified. And the electoral college isn't going to have a negative effect on the outcome of this election... but I just want it to be decided and for everyone to shut up and stop whining. People are getting killed in Israel, there's a US warship being towed back home with a 60x40ft hole in the side of it, and the stock market is dropping. We have better things to think about right now.
  • In a democratic system voter accessibility is essential to preserve freedom and equality. In acient greece, the origional democracies went through spells of democracy and oligarchy. This happened by the powerful calling meetings of the people at inconvinet times, and deciding with only a few people. Obviously it would be difficult to do, but over time it would be possible to wear down the abillity of certain groups to vote. Any major changes will have to take into account future patterns, and make sure that voter accessibility is universal.

    I personally think that this years problems would look tame next to the first year of computer based voting, but over time would mature greatly and benifit everyone.

    Perhaps in Canada where we select our PM indirectly, or in your congressional elections would be the best place it start. I would really have hated to see people complaining that Al Gore lost because of computer voting fraud.
  • Paper ballots have their own set of problems. Ballot boxes from districts that vote for the wrong candidate can be "lost".

    A friend of mine from Texas told me a story about a county courthouse that conveniently burnt down the day after the votes had been counted, preventing any recounts or outside verification.

  • Actually, scratch the electoral college, and no non-whites count. Blacks are like 10% of the nation, and hispanics more like 5. But, to win California, you MUST have a good black or hispanic vote. To win the nation, all you need are whites. So, the parties can just forget about minorities, and focus solely on the largest groups. So your suggestion that CA, NY, FL, PA, and TX would be the important ones is actually backwards. CA, in particular, would be one of the least focused on states.

  • by TheDullBlade ( 28998 ) on Friday November 10, 2000 @03:41PM (#631753)
    I have no problem with the state gov'ts appointing senators and voting for the president. IMHO, this would work just fine, and would have preserved the power of the states so that "President" wouldn't be such an important role. It would also cut down on the average citzen's democratic responsibilities so they could focus more on making the correct choice of state government.

    However, since the so-called "states" have become little more than provinces of the Federal State of America, with no power to secede from or directly control the federal government, it is unrealistic to speak of going back to this older way of thinking (unless everybody suddenly wakes up and says, "Hey, we had a pretty good system, why did we change it?" - unlikely!).

    There's a very simple way to cure the Electoral College problem: allow electoral votes to be split into percent votes (IOW, split each vote into a hundred votes). The states can then be coerced into splitting the votes along the lines of the popular vote in the same manner that the feds force all the changes that aren't strictly constitutionally kosher (I'm sure the public would be behind it, and the constitution has always lost out to public opinion in the past). This would prevent the abuses you mentioned, since the feds would still control the number of E.C. votes handed to each state, according to the census.

    This would not be a substantial loss of state sovereignity (that took place long ago), just a superficial one.

  • Actually, that the EC is fair/unfair, good/not good is a moot point. It's the law of the land, and it can't be changed for this election. Maybe it's appropriate to change for the next election cycle in 2004, though I don't think so.

    1. brianvan is correct -- the EC acts as a check/balance to keep the more populous states from electing a President by themselves. It's similar (in spirit, if not in action) to a weighted vote system with run-offs.

    2. I think our Founding Fathers who designed this system were pretty smart guys, who thought about this carefully. They had a similar (if smaller in scale) setup then: some populous urban states and less populous rural states. I'm not ready to say that some AC yahoo posting to Slashdot (including my own self) is smarter than Jefferson and Co.

    3. The EC system gives more data than a pure popular vote. You get one set of data from the popular vote and one set of data from a winner-take-all state EC vote (here's a map of the US -- these states went for Bush, these went for Gore), and an EC vote (similar to state-by-state, 300 for Gore, 240 for Bush).

    4. It does give 3rd parties a chance to make an impact. The Libertarians could campain heavily in North & South Dakota and come up with 6 EC votes. That puts them in the spotlight, from which they can build on in the next election. In a close race like this years, it could be very significant -- and would at least drive the 2 parties to adopt some of the 3rd party's principles.

    Is it perfect? Well, no. And any other solution we come up with will also be flawed. Since this solution was devised when there weren't any truly "established" parties (I'm talking 100 years of ingrained political hackery), I have a bit more faith in it than one re-designed from some ad-hockery dominated by two truly established parties.

    And I'd like to add, the fact that Gore is screaming "Do over! Do over!" like a petulant 6-year-old does more to diminish him, in my mind. Sure he has documented lies and half-truths, just as Bush has documented verbal boners (God, I hope that doesn't become criminal -- I'd be doing 20-years-to-life). Both of them are so unpalatable to me -- which is why I voted Libertarian.

    Last point -- the fact that we are so concerned about who/which party is in power troubles me. If Government was little more than a convenience to protect the borders and deliver the mail, and not the Fount of Everything Good and Holy (as it seems to be now), we'd be better off, and less likely to worry over who gets elected. We could just elect those people willing to suspend their normal lives for 4 years to keep the White House warm and termite-free, rather than power-hungry politicos who think their "vision" of the country's future is the best.

    (in other words, would you rather have George Bush/Al Gore running 30% of the country's business, or that nice retired guy next door (ex-Army, who keeps his yard mowed and weeded) keeping watch over .01%?)

  • Not too big of a problem, no.

    It just means that the system could be processing a lot of votes, more than it needs to, and that there could be confusion.

    If you got one net-vote, then you had to cast the correction vote at a polling station it'd be more secure.. If any number of votes were cast, you could cast one and I could theoretically cast a similar vote later from reconstructing your password (watching you type it, with a keyboard logger, etc) which overrides your vote. You may not have felt coerced and not bother to check the results or recast your vote, so I've got a free vote.

    But, if all votes except the first took physical presence you would know if someone had already voted for you, and to override someone's vote you'd have to pretend to be them in person. (Not that this is hard, but it's beyond the scope of *computer* security.)

    So, if you vote and it tells you that you already have, you jump in the car and go down to the polling station with ID and get the old vote cancelled and cast a new one. Theoretically this could be more secure because the attendant could check your password but also look at picture ID, etc.

    But then, votes aren't terribly secure now. It could be argued that a system with a theoretical loophole is good enough as long as it's not repeatable on a system-wide level. (If I have to work to steal each vote, that's okay... if I can script it to steal as many as I want with a few keyclicks, that's bad.)
  • ...said that they are used to seeing the Republican candidate first and the Democrat candidate second. It's been that way ever since they can remember...

    Which means they were used to vote for the n-th hole -- since they can remember.

    If they can't even stop to analyze what are the positions of the holes in the ballot, do you imagine they will stop to think about the bigger issues at hand? Those people shouldn't vote. If they voted, their vote should be cancelled.

    Oh, it was? Good!

  • Again, false. You are allowed to contract for your vote, and it's done every day. You just aren't allowed to have a direct transfer of goods in return for a verified vote. It is perfectly kosher, however, to say "I'll vote for you if you'll vote to lift restrictions on encryption", followed by the candidate saying "ok, I'll do that, vote for me." It's even legal to follow that up by showing him your absentee ballot with his name on it, and letting him mail it for you, although that part of the exchange doesn't happen in practice

    That is not selling a vote, that is voting based on an issue/campaign promise, etc. That is simply using your vote to achieve a goal that the person you are voting for can achieve while in office. Thats the entire point of voting -- to vote for those who will achieve your goals while in office. And frequently in a tit-for-tat fashion as in congress, you will vote one way on an issue to achieve cooperation on another issue -- essentially acieving a policy comprimise -- another purpose of voting, not a circumvention.

    But by direct sale or transfer of a vote, you most definitely circumventing the purpose of voting, which is to represent the policy desires of the people.

    I reiterate what I said; if I don't own my vote, and am not free to contract it in any way I choose, I am a slave, not a free man.

    Please spare me the Ayn Rand hyperbole -- your vote is not a peiece of property. Your vote is a social contract, and forcing you to use it or not (without sale or transfer) is only a limitation in the influence others may have over you.

    Votes DO NOT exist in a vaccuum -- if there was no society the entire concept of voting would be meaningless. Votes are a form of social perticipation, they do not arise "naturally" as a right of man like the ability to speak or move freely. They only have meaning in social groups that have agreed amongst all their members that voting will take place and be respected. therefore the value of the vote is only as great as the respect that all members of that group, and the group collectively place upon it.

    You can't see the forest because you believe that your tree is a forest by itself, so you miss all the others...

  • is that there is no physical record to guarantee the machines are honest. I want something that we can go back and check; there's too many ways to hide things in a machine. In particualr, it should be possible to verify by eyeball before putting the card in--e.g., on the butterfly machines, if Bush is hole 3, I can make sure that chaff 3 is missing.

    But physical ballots don't fully avoid the fraud: I've just put out an oped piece showing that there are two counties in which bush gained, and four in which gore gained, which are not even close to believable. It's at

    I've included the histogram as both jpeg and ps there. In a nutshell, almost everything should be within a couple of standard deviations, but bush has two counties at about 16 out, and gore has four that range from 20 to 50 . . .

    hawk, wearing his statistician hat
  • 1- It seems a dumb-ass form of protest since the assumption seems to be that spoiled ballots are the result of idiots who shouldn't be allowed to ote anyway.

    It's better than sitting at home and being counted as just another citizen who doesn't give a damn. A large number of spoiled ballots would at least get some attention. Lots of them would raise the question of whether votes were being counted properly (during the Quebec referrendum it was alleged that, in some "Non"-leaning regions, the vote counters were told to find any excuse they could to discard a ballot as spoiled). It could force a recount, which if done deliberately would be a real "fuck you" to the system.

    2- Under my scheme, you could protest by marking all the races as 'Abstain'.

    AFAICS currently the only way to "abstain" is to stay at home. If you dislike all of the candidates, your only options are to vote for someone you don't want to vote for (implicit acceptance of the system), stay at home (abstaining by apathy), or you could spoil your ballot in protest.

  • That is not selling a vote, that is voting based on an issue/campaign promise, etc. That is simply using your vote to achieve a goal that the person you are voting for can achieve while in office. Thats the entire point of voting -- to vote for those who will achieve your goals while in office. And frequently in a tit-for-tat fashion as in congress, you will vote one way on an issue to achieve cooperation on another issue -- essentially acieving a policy comprimise -- another purpose of voting, not a circumvention.

    But by direct sale or transfer of a vote, you most definitely circumventing the purpose of voting, which is to represent the policy desires of the people.

    Oh, please; what if the policy you're voting for is welfare, and you're on it? Then you're exchanging your vote for thousands of dollars of somebody else's money.

    In any event, show me where in the Constitution it says I can't sell my vote.

    Please spare me the Ayn Rand hyperbole -- your vote is not a peiece of property.

    Sorry, I'm Libertarian; you're thinking of Objectivism. That's two aisles over, next to "Anarchist" and "Patrio-psychotic Anarchomaterialist". I have never quoted Ayn Rand in my life, and wouldn't even if she happened to say the best example of something that proved a point I held dearly.

    Your vote is a social contract, and forcing you to use it or not (without sale or transfer) is only a limitation in the influence others may have over you.

    No, it's a limitation in what I can freely decide as an adult to do with my own freedom. Who asked you to protect me?

    I don't need your protection in this case. If I do, I'll ask for it. Until then, stay out of my mind.

    My vote is my basic inalienable right, not a "social contract" or privilege. That's why we got along just fine for 200 years without a law against selling it.

  • Check these out. Pretty funny 'cause it's true: rid aballot1.asp [] rid aballot2.asp []
  • Well, in San Francisco, they introduced a new system this year called "Eagle" that did much the same thing. You fill in a white space in the middle of an arrow next to the candidate you selected; this is then inserted in a machine that checks for integrity and tabulates. It's a big improvement over the punch-card system used until this year's primary, and seems to have worked well. Non-absentee results were complete before midnight (though absentee votes are an increasingly high percentage of those cast, so this was not a complete result).

    However: it all depends on the human factor! In my polling place, the machine didn't show up on time - so they had to stack the ballots in a big pile in the back of the room until it did arrive. I actually never saw my ballot go into the machine. Presumably my ballot counted. But there was a very contentious proposition on the ballot this year, Proposition L, [] which I opposed - and which is trailing at this count by seven votes. Is there a chance that the poll workers at my precinct screwed up one or more ballots, and that this may have made a difference, despite the fancy-pants new voting machines? I think so!

    So the key to any new system is that it be idiot-proof and secure by design, of course, so the poll workers don't accidentally make a mistake that could compromise the election. Given the ICANN experience of lost passwords and so on, I definitely think that we have some work to do on the non-technological side of voting to make sure that any new system works.

  • No, it's a limitation in what I can freely decide as an adult to do with my own freedom. Who asked you to protect me?

    Who said anything about protecting you? Why would I or society give a damn if you waste your vote? Society is protecting ITSELF against those who would undermine the function of voting -- in other words, when your vote selling means that wealthy people get to vote more frequently than those who cannot afford to buy votes, we as society have had our agreed-upon mechanism of decision-making abused.

    My vote is my basic inalienable right, not a "social contract" or privilege.

    Okay, please explain how a vote can exist without a society. What does a vote amongst one person signify? The only purpose of voting is as a participation in a society that uses it as a decision-making mechanism.

    There are plenty of things you don't get to vote directly on, and several things you vote on directly, others indirectly. You seem to be claiming that your right to vote is inherent by virtue of existing -- we should therefore vote on when anyone gets to take a shit. But we don't because it's pointless. We, as a society, have decided that sometimes we get together and vote on topics, sometimes we don't. When we do get together to vote, we do so within specific rules -- you have to use a ballot (you can't just write "george bush" on a piece of paper and hand it in).
    You can't vote unless you're a citizen -- but by your logic, even foreigners should get to vote in US elections, since it is a right by virtue of existence. True RIGHTS are rights of all people, so for example you do not have to be a citizen of the US to have free speech, the right to assemble, or freedom of religion. But you cannot serve on a jury or vote -- because those are SOCIAL actions by which we participate in SOCIETY.

    You must have society for the existence of a jury or a vote to mean something, therefore the society has to agree on how that jury and vote may function -- being on a jury does not mean you can convict someone regardless of the law, and having a vote does not mean you can sell it or transfer it. Your right and responsibility to jury duty does NOT mean that you have ultimate authority over guilt or innocence -- you still must abide by the law and if you don't you WILL be removed from the jury and have your verdict overturned. if you do not vote according to the law, your vote WILL be thrown out, as the 27,000 improper ballots in Florida attest.

    Don't get me wrong -- I know what you're saying -- it makes me feel weird to say that your vote isn't YOURS, but at the same time, it's not just something that you have to dispose of, it's more of a social responsibility than a posession. Our entire government functions on the presupposition that, regardless of how wealthy or poor you might be, when you come to the ballot box, you have exactly one vote to cast (of course, depending on your state it's worth a different amount :) But you just seem to be ignoring the fact that your vote does not existly solely for your sake -- it is something that affects hundreds of millions of other people.

  • What's the difference between this & just adjusting the threshhold of a popular vote from 50% to some other value?
  • by gad_zuki! ( 70830 ) on Friday November 10, 2000 @05:09PM (#631786)
    *sigh* technophiles. Touch screens that print out punch ballots. Its really that simple and they can use the old punch readers over and over. No login, no eye-scan, no tokens (how i hate that word), etc. Computers and networks aren't the solution to everything, you can get amazing results by improving on traditional methods with technology without completely replacing it.

    Maybe Jamie has a TV playing a video of a fire in his/her's fireplace. Naww, its a 3D simulation of a fireplace running off a remote server through a T3.
  • Your proposals, interesting as many of them are, are basically orthogonal to the process of voting itself. You can do most of the above using just about any technology for recording/counting the votes.
  • The ballot in Palm Beach was the same ballot administrated in St. Louis County, Missouri. I was wondering if anyone else here used that ballot? It sure did not seem confusing to anyone here.

  • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Friday November 10, 2000 @06:26PM (#631796) Journal
    For days we've heard about how there were 19,000 double-punched ballots that were thrown out in Palm Beach county. This story seems to come up right after mention of the confusing "butterfly ballot", with the implication that about 19,000 people:

    - got confused when trying to vote for Gore,
    - punched the Buchannan hole
    - realized they goofed and punched the Gore hole
    - turned the ballot in, and
    - the computer kicked it out as dobule-punched, so
    - their vote didn't get counted, and
    - Gore lost most of those 19,000 votes.

    Well, it turns out that's NOT what happened.

    It seems that Mary Matialin (a conservative commentator) got suspicious. So she actually CALLED the poll workers and ASKED what this was about.

    It turns out that the 19,000 "spoiled ballots" were ACTUALLY people who:

    - mispunched their ballot (in ANY way at all),
    - realized they'd goofed,
    - took the ballot to the election officials and said "I goofed. Please give me a replacement.",
    - were told "Sure. Here",
    - punched that one,
    - (maybe screwed it up too ... loop until they're happy with one), and
    - turned it in.

    So if any of these 19,000 ballots was a Gore supprter, Gore GOT the vote in question. (He might have missed some votes if the voter didn't realize until after they'd turned it in that they'd screwed up. But there aren't 19,000 worms in THAT can.)

    You won't hear about this on the establishment media, of course. But Mary talked about it, and Rush Limbaugh picked it up, and put it on both his show and his web page. Here [] is the link.

    (The page also makes an anaecdotal claim about Palm Beach county being a hotbed of Buchannan support, which could also explain its outlier status in the Buchannan count.)

    (Again I'm not claiming to have checked any of this myself - just posting the reference for your perusal. Enjoy!)
  • Rumour has it that MI5 used to (during the cold war) check up on those who voted communist, though this is all denied, of course...

    I would venture to guess that US history has had incidents with bullying people who have voted opposing parties in the past.. THe simplest thing I can think of is the good ole' boys, who's members include the police officers that protect the ballot boxes.. And much like the Amish, I doubt that any good ol' boys are reading this, so I feel safe in saying that. :) Other possibilities are the mafia who simply want to assure that their corrupt leaders are re-elected.. Though they probabily take hits on the vocal supporters of opposing candidates.

    I am humbled buy our situation, but the problem, I think, would be likely no matter what voting system we had.. A race this close is impossible to resolve amicably - unless one side conceedes.. But I think Chivalry went out with Nixon; strangely enough.

    As for the accuracy, In any analog system, you're going to have margins for error. paper-count measurement is based on the exact positioning of the card at the moment of reading.. Those partial punctures really make a difference (which is why I fully support the idea, that some senator brought up, in aboloshing paper voting in the US).

    Sometimes you have to have something this severe to make a national change. You can bet that butterfly votes won't be seen here again (and possibly anywhere else in the world)
  • HA HA HA HA!!! So that is why we haven't had a White president in the last 50 years!!!

    Well, as confusing as this statement is, I'll assume that you're simply refuting my statement and saying that the electorial college has not prevented racists / radicals, and additionally has not allowed minorities to lead.

    Well, let's use some emperical evidence.. IF the southern states had the majority of people in the country (thankfully they don't), and we didn't have an electorial college, then a former KKK person could actually be elected president. the north east corridor, however, would garuntee that such a thing could not happen (because they have a lot of people in NY and a lot of states overall). If you had a black radical who's primary goal was reperations for the mal treatment of blacks, then you'd have the entire south blocking them (even if there were 51% people represented by the liberal north). Likewise a religious zellot like Buchanan (poor guy.. with all his bad press, I almost feel sorry for him), should have little ability to win any state.. Though he may have 1 - 3% representation nation-wide, no single state is sufficiently right winged to carry him.. A similar case with Nader.

    The one down side, is that it is unlikely that a totally new type of person could be elected.. So, for example, Jessie Jackson probably couldn't get elected.. BUT, colon Powwel might.. But for a different reason.. The president is supposed to be a national icon (similar to the Queen of England). The president is supposed to be our international representative, as well as making the most public descisions on which bills to pass, and selecting the types of people to run various government agencies. This president should be the conglomeration of all of it's citizens (the melding of a president). From this, war heros tend to be excelent choices.. They embody our pride and ideals, so other minor choices, such as issues are less important. Unless they strike nerves with different regions of the country.

    As for the melting pot metaphore.. US citizens are not the only ones that coin that phrase.. Many famous Europeans have as well. If you were to go to my high school, you definately would have to agree that there is a merging of cultures. Yes there is still the ghetto, and the rich preppy development, but the middle class suburbia is becomming more and more diverse. The melting pot is like having different colored clumps meltable chocolate sitting on a frying pans slowly melting. The bulk of each piece is still solid and distinct from one another.. But over time, more and more of the liquid blends together to ultimately become indistinguishable.

    You can not argue that there aren't elements of the middle class that are distinguishable.. I see this especially in high schools and colleges. Wealthy work along side the poor, black among the white... Granted, the extreme of the cultures (the eletists or the home-boys (of any race)) tend to keep to themselves, but there is a large growing group that sits happily in the middle.

    Just think, not too long ago, the color of your hair or your european nationality was a big divider (Italians wouldnt mingle with the Irish, etc.). Now, I can barely notice someone's European nationality, though african/ asian is still obvious.. In another century or two, I predict that we'll be at a very uniform level (if we don't kill each other).

  • the method of dividing the power is completely incapable of increasing it. This is quite obvious.

    I'm sorry, I don't understand what you're saying.. It isn't obvious to me at least. Perhaps instead of subjectively berating the system with unsophisticated language, you could provide evidence (you know.. being scientific and all).

    The idea is that you want to reduce the power of the majority.. Geographically and ideologically. Power is a bi-stable system.. The minority has almost no power until just about the 50/50, then they suddenly are empowered almost instantaneously. After that, they grow exponentially until no-one else even has a say. This is not a fair system, and this is what the Federalist papers tried to prevent.. Mob rule.

    NY and California are peeked.. Their voters will not achieve any more power, but that's fine.. The two of them alone carry a better part of the power required. NY is it's own little idiology (it's own melting pot), but California is rather liberal, while Texas is rather concervative. Should CA and NY alone determine the president, ignoring the Geographic differences in idiology? Granted, Texas has enough power to offset this, but then you have the remaining southern states, who population wise could not affect the presidential outcome much, but electorially they can.

    Another issue of dividing power "increasing" it, is with his example of gerimandering(sp?). Ignoring the president for a moment, if you put all blacks in one district and gave them a black representative, then that senator would only have 1/5xxth of a voice. If, however, you spread those people out among several districts, then you could influence 5-30% of the vote for multiple districts (including sympathists), thereby having dozens of representatives in congress, a significantly greater margin.

    Ahh.. I don't care to argue anymore.. If Hillary has her way, it'll be abolished anyway, and the math deficient among us will simply look at this election as all the proof they need.

  • by hawk ( 1151 )
    Recounts tend to provide an additional margin for the candidate who one in that district/county/whatever--which is to be expected, if the errors are randomly distributed: if Sam has more votes than Paul, more were probably miscounted for Sam than for Paul.

    I flatly don't believe the skew in Florida. Two counties show *way* to much gain for Bush, and four show even more than that for Gore.

    And if this county is to be recounted by hand, what about the strongly republican counties with even bigger edges for Bush?

    I have a longer piece on the statistical unbelievablity of the first recount at

  • The problem with that is hardly anyone would get elected at that point. Make the vote required to be 70%. I don't know of too many presidential elections that would be won in that case. You'd just be setting up every single election to be decided by a vote in the House.
  • But you just seem to be ignoring the fact that your vote does not existly solely for your sake -- it is something that affects hundreds of millions of other people.

    And you are continuing to forget that rich people ALREADY can contract for my vote; the law just prohibits one particular arbitrary way of doing so.

    They can and do (White House phone transcripts show Gore doing this in Clinton's name) promise multi-million dollar pork barrel projects in return for money that is then spent on anti-the-other-guy television commercials. Isn't that the same thing? Nobody's getting prosecuted over it.

    They can and do promise "vote Democrat, and we'll keep taking 47% of the income of the rich and give it to the lower 40%, and if you give us Congress we'll extend that to the lower 60%". Isn't that contracting for a vote?

    Cigarettes are a lot cheaper, and have the advantage (to Gore) that he makes money off their sale, since he's a tobacco grower.

  • And you are continuing to forget that rich people ALREADY can contract for my vote; the law just prohibits one particular arbitrary way of doing so.

    Um, no -- spending money on advertising to try and persuade you is not "contracting" -- no matter how much money they blitz on you (as evidenced by this campaign where both spent tons of cash) you still don't guarantee anyone at all is going to vote for you.

    The number of independently wealthy people spending 10x the amount of their competitors while running for congress rises every year, but they continually get smacked down for trying to "buy their way" into office.

    But all of this is beside the point, which is that we as a society have the right, responsability, and ability to restrict voting for obvious reasons.

    And it's worth noting that if your argument is simply "well, you can spend a shitload of money on campaigning", the VAST majority of people in the US are against that, as well -- indeed, we're unique in the world that we allow even that. That comes down to a matter of free speech, if it wasn't for our pesky first amendment we WOULD have limitations on that kind of fund-raising and spending. It's only inconsistent in that literally buying a vote could never be cnsidered political speech, but of course advertising (no matter how obnoxious or pricey) is still rightly considered speech.

    And please, your transparent attempts to turn this into a partisan battle are sad, this has nothing to do with Gore or Bush or Clinton. You CAN'T buy or sell a vote, and buying advertising is not the same as buying votes no matter how hard you try to claim it is. Yes, giving someone cigarettes for a vote is illegal, and anyone doing it should be prosecuted for vote buying -- amazing you're no longer arguing that the homeless people are entitled to sell their votes for cigarettes, though. I guess people only should be allowed to sell them if they vote the same way you do?

  • ... there's precedent for an election being overturned because of the inaccuracies of punch-card voting. In 1998 Massachusetts outlawed the use of punch card balloting because in 1996, a primary result was overturned when they went back and manually counted the "hanging chad" cards that hadn't been counted by the machine vote. (The vote count there, by the way, went from -250 to +100. Check the recent AP Wires for the full story.)

    Given that the punched card system I'm familiar with (which appears to be the same as the one used in Florida):

    - Makes the voter use a stylus to push out the chad - with the chad solidly attached to the card until it suddenly pops loose when the pressure reaches a certain point.

    - Passes the card through a narrow slot, while bending it, to knock off any chads that are still clinging to their hole.

    I find it difficult to believe that large numbers of cards with "hanging chads" could result from "voter error".

    A more likely explanation for hanging chads would be poll workers either mishandling the ballots (to be charatible) or surreptitiously punching cards while handling them, without the aid of the "machine" to clean off the chads.

    Regardless of whether these problems are the result of a defective design or cheating by poll workers, I agree that Massechusetts did the right thing by outlawing the machines. (Of course there IS the question of whether whatever replaced it was less, or more, susceptable to either error or cheating.)

    But if the machines ARE subject to "hanging chad" error in normal use, this error would not be limited to Gore voters, but should occur with equal density to votes for Bush. So manually recounting ONLY a small number of heavily-Democratic precincts would have the same effect as cheating. Only the errors in THOSE precincts would be caught - and the errors in THOSE precincts would be mainly missing Gore votes.

    If some precincts are going to be recounted by a different set of rules - one that recovers votes lost by mispunched ballots - then to get an accurate measure of the actual vote you must recount ALL of the precincts in the state - heavily Democratic and heavily Republican alike.

    So which should it be? Assume the errors are fairly distributed and discard the manual recount, or assume the election is too close for that and recount them ALL?
  • I'd have a paper backup created at the voting booth:
    1. Voter enters a selection for each ballot item.

    2. Voter presses "PRINT" button.

    3. Paper card is printed (in a simple font which is easily read by humans and machines) and dropped behind a window where the voter can review it but not touch or mark it. The "VOTE" and "REJECT" buttons are now activated.

    4. Voter presses either "VOTE" button to enter the vote and drop the card into the locked ballot box or the "REJECT" button to reset the machine to step 1, mark the card as void, and drop it into the locked reject box.

    The locked boxes would be held, and recounted (by machine) if the computer count is challenged.
  • Why is it necessarily impossible for a computer to make an electronic and a physical copy of information.
    It's not impossible at all, and on the face of it I have no problem with the idea. The problem is that you're investing all your trust in little machines and networks, and I can't understand why you think that would help things here. The big problem in this election, it seems, is bad interface design. That's a problem all over, especially but not at all exclusively with computer systems. What needs to be done here is rethinking the interface, not digitizing the back end for it.

    It's like saying that a car got in an accident because the wipers were broken & the driver couldn't see, then replying that it wouldn't have been a problem if the car had been a diesel or LP engine or something -- the engine has nothing to do with matters here, the broken interface is the true culprit.

    I don't see why some of us have to be so resistant to change that we make such foolish assumptions that data can only exist in one place.
    It's not resisting change, it's refusing to accept it blindly. Consider: a lot of these proposals surround the idea of online voting, on grounds that [1] encryption is strong these days, [2] online transactions are pretty secure now, and [3] results would be fast. Consider each of those points more carefully though:
    1. Brute force cracks of any encryption scheme are pretty easily feasible now, especially in a networked world. It may be impractical in most case, but consider the stakes here -- choosing the Leader Of The Free World. Do you really think no one would try? Don't you think $enemy_state_du_jour might want to take a shot at it? If concern about Chinese tampering with campaigns was a problem before, you haven't seen anything yet.

    2. Ok, so you can authorize & authenticate a secure connection between a client & a server. Wonderful. Only problem: how do you know that the right person submitted the authorization token? If you mail my password the week before the election, but I'm on a business trip in Brunei, my Vietnamese girlfriend will check my mail for me. What's to stop her (or my 7 year old wunderkind, or the creepy guy next door, etc) from logging on & voting as me? All the system knows is that someone claimed to be Chris Devers, correctly stated that "the blue mongoose flies at midnight", and then voted for $whoever.

      On the server end, what about a DOS attack that brings down the polling server in a district where one candidate has too much of an edge, or some kind of DNS or IP spoofing attack that siphons off all the would be votes for that district into some digital circular file somewhere, lost in the great bit bucket in the sky. And nevermind attacks that actually breach the server somehow, corrupting whatever database tables or installing whatever worms or trojans or what have you. Suffice to say, there's all kinds of fun ways to violate the integrity of the polling system.

      Then there all the fun out-or-band attacks that could be done. When my legit absentee ballot arrives in the mail, will they invalidate it if voter records show I already voted online? Which, if either, would count? To turn it around, could someone covertly submit absentee ballots for every person that is known to support an opponent & will vote online, thus invalidating their votes & turning the election to the other side? How about a distributed Perl script cracking tool to vote online for every registered voter in a district, trying each password against each voter, in an attempt to stuff or invalidate ballots? When pressed, it would be relatively easy to product paper documentation of the forged results, no matter which side of the attacks you may be trying to press. Again, there are lots of ways to overwhelm the system.

    3. Finally, as for fast results -- look, speed just isn't the problem here, the constitution gives months to decide for a good reason. Proposals that center around the idea of speeding up results are fixing the wrong problem.

    I'm not totally against using computers as a tool in elections, but I see some huge problems with the idea and no clean solutions to them any time soon. Proposals that fix a non-problem while exacerbating the real problems will not win approval. Any proposal that dismisses with the idea of on-site, accountable, secure elections will win my disgust, because you're scrapping what's good about the current system & replacing it with something that can never be trusted.

    If you really want to see digital elections happen, then hey go for it, but you had better come up with a clear, safe, and fair system that thinks through the sorts of problems with what you've described thus far. Choosing national leadership is far too important for anything less.

  • Actually, Palm Beach had no edge for Bush; Gore won that county. He also won all of the counies he's demanding recounts in.

    Just an observation of a very odd phenomenon.
  • Yes. Expect gore to pick up a handful of votes in areas he one, and bush to pick up votes in areas he won. Hand counting only in districts that one candidate one *will* skew the results, and is inherently inaccurate. I hope this lets me post as me. However, I got an AC page. I'm getting that a lot recently . . . hawk
  • Um, no -- spending money on advertising to try and persuade you is not "contracting" -- no matter how much money they blitz on you (as evidenced by this campaign where both spent tons of cash) you still don't guarantee anyone at all is going to vote for you.

    There you go making assumptions again. I'm talking about the "contracting" that goes on face-to-face by the party organizations and at fund-raisers.

    I am a relative nobody, but candidates and/or their organizations have made me promises to my face in return for my vote and support.

    That's a contract. Because they didn't actually cut me a check, it was legal; but agreeing to fund a project is a lot worse than agreeing to fund my Counter-Strike habit, because the former uses everybody's tax money and the latter only uses campaign money freely given.

    And please, your transparent attempts to turn this into a partisan battle are sad, this has nothing to do with Gore or Bush or Clinton.

    Documenting a recent example of a specific campaign isn't partisan, it's news.

    If I had had an example of another party doing it floating around in the forefront of my brain, I'd have included it.

    Yes, giving someone cigarettes for a vote is illegal, and anyone doing it should be prosecuted for vote buying -- amazing you're no longer arguing that the homeless people are entitled to
    sell their votes for cigarettes, though.

    You're evidently not reading what I'm writing; I'm arguing that it should *NOT* be illegal, and that the law that says what Gore did is illegal is itself an unConstitutional law, and it should be abolished.

    I feel that what he did was immoral (taking advantage of people who don't have the mental ability to make a rational decision because they're starving and mentally unstable), but I absolutely do *NOT* think anybody should be prosecuted over it, contrary to your assertions.

  • I think the biggest benefit by using screens is that the type can be made REALLY BIG for the people who have bad eyesight (ie. the people in Palm Beach FLA). I don't know how blind people vote now unless they've got braille ballots (which would be odd sized anyways, so they'd still have to do something special for them)
  • Okay, but we already have this: absentee voting. In fact, I consider it a wonderful thing. It enabled me to vote at all because I'd just moved to Arizona and couldn't transfer my residency in time for the election. But I had time to send off for my absentee ballot!

    Now, I don't think absentee voting should be the only way to vote. I think we should keep the local polling locations for just the reasons you mentioned. But I think using the internet or some digital replacement for paper absentee ballots would be great. A lot faster, more effecient, and no worries about lining up the booklet with your voting card :) In fact, you could even include a confirmation screen to make SURE you meant what you said.

  • I like that "abstain" feature idea. Another way to make sure people don't mess things up.

    It would also be interesting to see not just how many votes people got, but how many voters abstained from the vote for whatever reason. That could have some interesting ramifications.

  • My greatest fear in the move to a more modern method is that the possibility of a recount will be lost.

    The old system in the old days took a month or more to count the votes with many hands.

    I almost prefer this because it makes the election harder to rig, and harder to coverup evidence of a rig.

    If we move to electronic methods then we must ensure beyond 5 nines of reliability that one person (living) gets only one vote, and that said vote is inviolable, unchangeable, and that no more votes may be added or altered. That's the security issue.

    How do you perform a recount when there's no paper trail to start fresh from?

    A host is a host from coast to coast, but no one uses a host that's close
  • that the vote of someone who lives in a less-populated state is WORTH MORE than someone who lives in a more-populated state. How is this fair?

    The States get their increased representation via two Senators for every state, no matter how large or small. The Presidential election is _national_, and should have nothing to do with the invididual states - only the population.

    The easy (and likely) compromise - allow all states to split their electoral votes according to the popular vote.
  • In an ideal world, the main goal of a new election methodology would be to maximize access and security, neither of which are well served by the current system. Admittedly, it is getting better. A black person actually has access to voting hall, usually, but may still be required to show multiple forms of identification to get a ballot. Ballots are put into lock boxes, but whether those exact lock boxes make it to the central office depends on the integrity of the precinct workers.

    It is easy to envision another reality. We can open all schools and libraries, in which we have put computers and secure networks, to voting. A person can go to any school or library, show their voter registration card, and get a sealed envelope. Let's say the envelope has two large computer readable random unique numbers, one on the outside, one sealed. The precinct worker would activate the outside number and deactivate the voter registration number for that election, without linking the two. The voter could then use the two unique numbers to vote. The issue is making the system secure enough, and anonymous enough, to allow people to vote only once and vote secretly. Naturally, we would have to secure the data stream and the counting computer to make sure that the IT people cannot change or filter votes. Can it be done? I think we can match the current levels of security and surpass the levels of access.

    Of course, the real benefit of computer voting will be the possibility of new voting methods. For instance, the limitation of being able to vote for only one candidate, which is the best we can do with paper voting, imposes the will of the elites on the masses. Our election system has clearly reacted to universal suffrage by limiting the official candidates. It was ordained from the beginning of the primaries that we would have either Bush or Gore for president. It was highly unlikely that in casting a single vote anyone could change that. If we could cast a set of choices things might be different. If Republicans could have said my first choice is McCain and my second choice is Bush, or the reverse, and then a weighted sum was created for all candidates, McCain might have won. Likewise, if in the general election the far left could vote for Nader first and Gore second, and the far right could vote for Buchanan first and Bush second, the will of the people might be better represented.

    The system we have is not the only system there is. As anyone who does serious coding knows, there is more than one way to sort a list. The best way depends not only on the kind of list, but also the overall process, and, as in voting, if we want a certain result at the end.

  • "Well, hello Mr. Smith -- I'm glad to see you've got that 'I voted' sticker. It's good to know our employees are voting. I trust you voted for our company's preferred candidate?"

    "Um, sure, sir."

    "Good. Show me your receipt."

    This may be extreme, but I'm just trying to get across the point that in a way, it flies in the face of the anonymous nature of voting to issue receipts. And if you had them, it would make coercing people to vote a given way much, much easier, because there would actually be a method of proving how they voted.

  • by Mad Hughagi ( 193374 ) on Friday November 10, 2000 @08:09AM (#631837) Homepage Journal
    Nothing is as indisputable as a completely real process

    Perhaps you mean a 'completely observable process', however I get your point and I totally agree with it. The only problem is that for the most part none of our elections are like this. The concept of having anonymous voting coupled with the sheer number of voters prompted people to design new systems with which to perform votes.

    In moving from a system where everyone yells a 'yea' or a 'nay' to the ballot method we left out the ability for the community as a whole to observe what the actual vote was first hand - our current system leaves it up to someone else to count the votes and as such you automatically lose the sense of personal security in knowing that your vote was properly included.

    By using a computer controlled method to register votes we are not losing or gaining any functionality over the ballot system from a voters point of view. If you can write an X and not click a button then you definately must have an interesting situation. What we are gaining however is the ability to open up the counting method so that there is no single point where it can break down. With people counting votes you have to ensure that the vote counters are sincere and you depend on their ability to perform their jobs perfectly. Now I don't know about most people, but I would think that the more people counting the better, since independant errors will decrease. By implementing a purely digital system, we would have exactly that in that the developers of the system would be able to see where the others made flaws - we have programs that can calculate launch trajectories to Pluto, I'm sure we can make vote counting systems properly. Also, since many places use automated counters now, what would the difference be? If many people work on the digital voting system there will be no opportunity for it to become flawed from a design point of view.

    As for hacking, etc. one must be aware that the opportunities exist to maliciously affect ballot systems as well. 'Rigging the vote' immediately comes to mind. The security of a digital system would probably be easier to monitor than the ballot system anyways - it's a lot easier to determine that you have altered results from a digital source than from a bag of ballots. And as for punishment, well, you can just imagine what would happen if you were involved in a federal vote scandel of any sort.

    I guess in the end I'm advocating the use of technology to make things easier for everyone and more stable. A punchcard never lies, true enough, but a computer only does what you tell it to.

  • by Brazilian Geek ( 25299 ) on Friday November 10, 2000 @08:09AM (#631839) Journal
    Here in Brazil our elections are all done on computers now. This is a massive step forward from the previous paper ballot and canvas bag from 8, my 1st election. The computers - hardware wise - are very redundant, 2 HDs (redundant), some EM shielding, heavy duty LCD screen behind a few mm of acrylic, large, tough and clickity numerical buttons (with braile on them) and 3 other buttons (vote blank, correct and accept) - the CPU is an AMD (at least the one I saw). The software is a totally different matter that I won't go into since it would have to vary in an election in another country...

    This is a perfect solution (with the exception of the software that really does need a better public auditing) to our election system 'cause we are obliged to vote - it's a law here, you must vote or loose a sliver of your citizenship. Being as such we are all given a 'Voters License' that is specific to a voting booth so all we do is show up at the correct location, someone specified types up our license and the booth is opened for voting.

    Anyway, the whole software problem from up above is that this process allows vote auditing by someone. You can corelate (sp?) the voter's license and the vote cast. The brazilian government branch responsible for electoral transparency and privacy doesn't release the software's source code or present a valid working machine for reverse engineering even though they are obligated by our constitution.

    Anyway, that works for our electoral system - at least in theory, I'd love to participate in a hack-a-booth contest. It's feasable but I don't know if it's practical for everybody.

    All browsers' default homepage should read: Don't Panic...
  • Everyone is complaining that voting in your home is bad. why then is no one challenging Oregon's 100% mail in ballots? Or the fact that many states of absentee ballots as a default? I got my ballot in the mail, and that's just as dangerous as a password of some kind.

  • by RedX ( 71326 ) <redx@wideop[ ] ['enw' in gap]> on Friday November 10, 2000 @08:11AM (#631842)
    Perhaps these problems could be solved by using something that most everyone already has: their driver's license or photo ID. About 4 years ago I got one of those fancy, credit-card-looking driver's licenses with the magnetic strip on the back. This strip has been used a grand total of ZERO times since I received the card. This strip could be used at the voting terminal to provide secure authentication. Then we'd just have to find a way to ensure that the ID of each voter isn't tied to that voter's votes in a database somewhere (yes Doubleclick, I'm talking to you).

    I'm against having people voting from their homes via computer, but I fully believe that each polling place needs to be fully computerized. The idea of waiting hours or even days for results to be counted is absolutely ridiculous with the technology that is available today. Each polling place needs a database server to provide authentication and to compile votes, a few computerized voting terminals, and a modem to transmit these results to the central county or state office when the polls close. The database server could be eliminated at each location if a dedicated connection were available, but that's unlikely in the fire departments and churches that are typcially hosting elections.

  • The case against computerized elections can be summed up in one word: Fraud. With paper ballots, there is no question who voted for what, unless the voter is simply clueless (say, not picking who they intended because it was confusing.) In those cases, especially for the elderly, there are plenty of people who can assist them. With knob ballots, it's vairly easy for anyone with basic mechanical knowledge to tell if the machine is working correctly.
    With computers, I would never suggest using anything moe than a ColecoVision ADAM, runnin BASIC on top of it. There are too many loopholes and security vulnerabilities to make computerized elections at the polling stations to work. As computers get flashier and more powerful, the measures that the state and county governments (who run the elections) have to go to get more extreme.
    Maybe voting can be handled online, using public and private key encoding to ensure that the ballots are sent only once and are valid, but the overhead would be a nightmare compared to the "everyday" polling methods.
    I simply don't think anyone is ready for real computer voting, but counting votes by computerized devices is fine by me ;)
  • Here in Denver, Colorado, we DO use computerized voting booths. You press the buttons of your choice, which all light up. You complete your vote by presing the "cast vote" button at the bottom. You can check and change any choice you make up until then.

    I was surprised to learn that there are many places that use paper.

  • I agree with you that as a replacement for absentee balots it might be workable (assuming you can get around the authentication issues). California did a study on online voting and basically said that elections online at this point cannot be made free and fair. But I digress. The reason it might be acceptable for absentee balots is that the people who receive these are dispursed widely, and thus the likelyhood of large scale tampering/intimidation is small. Further the number of absentee balots is small relative to the general voting population, so the impact of any fraud is mimizied (though it might not fly in florida right now). On general principle (that is if we apply this to elections outside the US) I would still worry about cities with large expatriot communities, where you would have to go back to the polling station method.


  • by TBone ( 5692 ) on Friday November 10, 2000 @08:16AM (#631852) Homepage

    Everyone wants some kind of national push to develop 21st century voting systems, for everyone to 'get with the program' and get away from the punchcards, the scantron forms, or whetever else.

    However, the United States of America is still just that - a Republic of United States. Voting is a right guaranteed under the Federal constitution, but exercised and controlled at the state level. In this sense, there are effectively 50 little countries voting here.

    Imagine the European Union trying to pick a President/King/Queen/Prime Minister/whatever. Do you think Germany really gives a rat's ass how Sweden runs their voting? Or that France wants to be forced to adopt England's voting methods? Not on their life. They are individual countries with a common, uniting regulating body. That's essentially what the US is, with significantly more regulation coming to the states than an EU commission would have over the countries of Europe.

    There will never be Federal Voting Standards. If you want your local voting standards changed, call your local election board and get things moving.

    Oh, and here in Jacksonville, Florida (Duval County), we used punchcards this year, but there are already plans underway to move into computerized voting by 2004.

  • To avoid repetition, I scrolled through all the posts to see if anyone else had mentioned this... and I've come to the conclusion that either: 1) nobody from california reads slashdot or 2) nobody from california that reads slashdot voted. This year, california implemented electronic voting. The story is H ere []

    Electronic voting powered by Java...taking place at the normal polling place, not over the web, using a pseudo-smart card technology. Great Stuff.
  • by MsGeek ( 162936 ) on Friday November 10, 2000 @08:17AM (#631857) Homepage Journal
    Heya all...

    I actually participated in the LA County experiment with touchscreen voting []. The system I tried is actually the same system that San Bernadino County is using.

    When I wrote up this article, I was unaware that the machine does not submit its results via the Internet or some sort of VPN, but each machine is taken back to the Registrar-Recorder and manually read out. So the security issues I raised in the original article may not actually be valid.

    The thing that I must stress about the new touchscreen system is this:

    1. It is unambiguous. The choices are clear.
    2. It is simple...a child could do it.
    3. It easily adapts to the visually handicapped/learning disabled and to those not fluent in English. There is an audio headset for the visually handicapped, and the machine has versions of the ballot stored for some 10 languages other than English.

    If this touchscreen system existed in Palm Beach County, FL, you wouldn't see the kind of confusion that was rife there.

    The punchcard ballot is what we have in Los Angeles County currently. It's archaic. It's time to bid it farewell, as it is time to say bye-bye to the Electoral College.

    The touchscreen system I used at the test station in Van Nuys could be a great way to prevent debacles like in Florida from happening again.

    Again, the link is .ph p?sid=15 []

    ---- Hey Grrl Geeks! Your very own geek news site has arrived!

  • Sorry to be a math nazi, but just for the record:

    ...with the winner having 40 thousand votes more than the second place (0.4% of 1 million votes)

    40,000 / 1,000,000 = 0.04, or 4%, not 0.4%.

  • This election is Election double zero, which sums it up nicely. (OK so I'm bored at work)
  • I hate to say this, but IMHO we need paper ballots at some level, so here's what I propose. Vote with a nice pretty touch screen, confirm your votes, and bam - electro gee whizzery does it's thing. A paper ballot is ALSO printed out, which is stored in a ballot box for manual counting _IF NEEDED_ after the election.
  • The significant problem in doing a public electronic vote is to find a way to gaurentee that each person can vote no more than once while at the same time making sure that the vote is really anonymous.

    Split it up into two sections. Give everyone a card with a bit of flash memory on it. Have everyone register for a vote sometime before election day. This will put an id on the card. The id will not be tracked per voter, just that it was assigned. On election day let everyone vote in an authorized place on authorized machines, and record the id and the vote.

    For the meantime, they could still use paper and do the election the sdame way, except that the computer will punch the holes or whatever it is. The computer can read the values and display it to the user. That should rid confusion and keep at least the same security of secrecy that we have now.

  • I think one state, Nevada, has the ability to include "None of the Above" on the ballot; watching CNN on Tuesday as the polls came in , I know that "None of the Above" was getting 2-3% in the various elections (including Presidental) in that state.

    I do think that requiring an Abstain/NotA choice for EVERY ballot question, and then requiring that every ballot question be answered in order to validate the ballot *before the voter hands it in*.

  • There will always be a margin of error. While electronic voting may be able to reduce the margin of error, we will still make a likely margin of error at least one tenth of one percent. In this vote in Florida, the decisive margin is about half of one hundredth of a percent of the vote. Even with an electronic system, we would still have a statistical tie in Florida.

    The problem is that in a two party system, you have one winner and one loser, and a bunch of people who don't matter. In a winner take all system where the candidates of the two major parties are not substantially different, a tie is inevitable. Nader (and other small party candidates) have been arguing that the political system needs to empower third parties somehow. I think that this whole situation clearly demonstrates their point.

    Other countries don't have this problem because smaller parties can throw their support behind major parties to form coalition governments. Not only does this eliminate the possibility of a tie -- or worse yet a statistical tie that leaves one person a "winner" but without any clear mandate -- it also injects new ideas into the political process.

    I'm not necessarily advocating the elimination of the existing political system, but it would be nice if Nader could trade his votes in Florida with Gore or Bush in exchange for a promise or two that his agenda will move forward. Not only does that make all of the votes for Nader count in a really substantial way, it also gives Bush or Gore a margin of victory well beyond the statistical margin of error.

    While I agree that electronic voting is a good idea, we can't expect technology to wipe clean the systemic flaws of the polical process. We need to recognize there are serious problems and start proposing real changes.

  • Here in the UK, we have something much more low-tech than punched cards. We vote by writing a cross next to our chosen candidate on a piece of paper, and they're counted manually.

    And even though I'm a geek, I hope we don't change it. The system is simple to understand, transparent, and has public confidence. Recounts can be done when necessary. (Close constituencies are recounted several times). Oh, and we still manage to count the votes in almost all constituencies by about 5 or 6 hours after the close of polls.

    On the other hand, can you imagine the conspiracy theorists if votes were done by computer? Can you imagine the complaints from people who panic whenever they encounter technology?

    No, in my opinion, the Florida ballot wasn't too low-tech, it was too high-tech.

    Besides, if the results came in near-instantly, we'd lose all the excitement of election night! :)

  • Check it out here []. Polling places use computers and a private network to relay vote tallys. I also heard that they use a touch screen computer display to actually cast their ballots, but I havn't seen any reports confirming this.

    Also, California is apparently running non-binding on-line voting demonstrations. []
  • OK, I've voted in PA, MA, and CA. So I've seen at least 5 different voting methods, and can comment on what I think is the best way...

    Electronic voting sounds wonderful, but if you pick up a copy of Applied Crypto, you'll understand why it's not my favorite form, regardless of how you do it. Electronic Voting is a hard problem - there are lots of very tricky pitfalls, and I'm sorry, as someone who deals with computers professionally, I'm not going to trust that we get it right.

    For those of you bitching about how stupid people are that can't use punchcard systems, I seriously doubt you've ever used one. The best analogy I can make for using punchcards to vote with is the SAT (or other standardized test). Imagine taking the SAT - all the questions are in a booklet, and you have a seperate answer sheet that only has row numbers and lettered circles. Now image that you have to take it in INK. That's how bad punchcards are. Here in CA, I had to vote on about 30 different races/propositions. Believe me, it's not simple at all to get it error-free.

    Me, I'm for using the system I first used in PA: the good old mechanical voting booth. You step into it, pull a lever to close the drapes, and you have all the choices in neat rows in front of you. The booth can be set up so that you can't make mistakes (only allowing you to vote ONCE for a given office, for instance), and you can go back and change your mind up until you pull the main lever to exit the booth. The row sizes can be adjusted (I think most of the print was in at least 36 point when I last used on), so you can accomodate the elderly and disabled easily.

    Also, mechanical voting booths have several advantages over both paper and electronic ballots:

    • Unlike most electronic methods, mechanical booths fill out a punch card (as in the old 80-column IBM ones) and drop it in a hopper after you are finished. So, there is a physical record (for recounts) of all votes.
    • Tallies are much quicker than by paper, as the voting booths have numerical counters on the back that read out votes. Kind a like speedometers for each candidate. So, when you do the initial reporting, all election officials do is run around to the back of each booth, read off the numbers, and take a picture for verification. You can have tallies about 10 minutes after polls close.
    • It's a lot easier to do massive vote stuffing in an electronic environment than either a paper or voting booth one. If I want to fix a state-wide election, I would have to stuff ballots at a significant number of polling stations, which requires considerable organization. Fixing an electronic elections requires me to break into ONE computer - the central counter. No matter how secure this is, it's a VERY tempting target.
    • Mechancial booths are far easier to understand and much less likely to make mistakes in than ballots, and they tend to be far more comfortable to the populance than an electronic system.
    • Mechanical booths don't crash. What happens when you're electronic voting terminal crashes? Can you get the votes out of it?

    All in all, I'm strongly in favor of mechanical voting throughout the nation. Hopefully, we can take this debatacle and make some improvements.


  • by BeBoxer ( 14448 ) on Friday November 10, 2000 @08:24AM (#631882)
    While person and paper might be simple, it is far from unmolestable. Were you asked for identification when you voted? I wasn't. I could have found all the info I needed to vote in my name in the phone book. Some consider it to be a legal problem to require anything to vote. Poll taxes and literacy tests were (rightly) thrown out. In at least some areas, this has be taken to mean that requiring identification is also wrong. So in quite a few areas, voter fraud is trivial.

    Take a look at FL, and all the anomolies that are popping up there. Now they are saying that with nearly 6 million votes cast, the difference is less than 400 votes. I'm supposed to believe that Gore got 99.99% as many votes as Bush? I don't think that that's realistic at all without some outside influence pushing the totals together. It's just a little disturbing that this election might be decided by a few hundred "votes" when tens of thousands of votes have been thrown out for being double-punched (something which is easy to to do a ballot _after_ it's been cast.)

    The simple fact is that this system is easily tampered with, and the amount of power and money that is at stake is capable of corruping a lot of people into being dishonest. We need a system which both allows people to verify that there votes were correctly included in the final tally, and also allows some random percentage of the votes to be audited after the fact to check for fraud. While secret ballots have advantages, one big disadvantage is that fraud is almost impossible to detect after the fact.
  • Elections are far too important to go all digital & networked this way. Not everything needs to be fast & technological. A lot of countries spend much more times with elections than we do -- three days, a week, etc. That would be a far better way to improve things.

    The most obvious problem with your system is that it leaves no paper trail . In a rare situation like this one where a recount is needed, I would never trust a computer system alone. The database can be corrupted or compromised. The network connections, though relatively secure, are not invulnerable. Admittedly, traditional old or non tech methods are open to compromise too, of course, but they have the trump card of tangible evidence of the vote in the form of some paper ballot.

    I'm not against applying technological measures on top of the old ones -- scan in the ballot & process it however you would like, for example. But I have not been so seduced by technology as to believe that it is some kind of pixie dust that, when generously applied, would make all the problems we're dealing with this year would go away.

  • by ichimunki ( 194887 ) on Friday November 10, 2000 @09:29AM (#631899)
    Um. There are any number of ways to prevent the sort of problem which plagues the ballots with the punch holes, which is precisely this: more than one hole may be punched, which invalidates that ballot. The extra hole may be the result of misaligning the card in the machine. The extra hole may be the result of mistakenly punching one hole and then mistakenly punching another one (which has the positive effect of nullifying your original mistaken vote, but does not allow you to vote in the affirmative for your actual choice -- and from what I understand the FL voters who punched twice were not offered replacement ballots). The extra hole may be punched after the fact by unethical persons wishing to invalidate your vote for whatever reason. There is no way to prove when or by whom the extra hole was punched or as a result of which error unless no ballots are accepted that have this issue (i.e. a machine reader will not let you leave the polling place without submitting a correctly completed ballot). It is my understanding that there was no such validation of ballots for persons leaving the FL polls, or if the ballots were obviously invalid that they were not replaced.

    The best method for combining machine and analog certainties involves using a machine that only allows you one selection, and allows you to change that selection until you press a final "OK" button, which then prints a machine readable receipt, which you then submit to a collection box. The first machine can submit tabulations for instant counting. If there are errors in this process, the receipts can be machine read to quickly replace those results. And if there are severe concerns, or some sort of handcount is needed, there are pieces of paper which humans can look at and verify. This provides anonymity, error correction, and verifiability, nor can I think of a single way to tamper with this type of ballot. Anything less can always be looked at with suspicion.
  • by twisty ( 179219 ) on Friday November 10, 2000 @08:30AM (#631914) Homepage Journal
    Here's a method of verification that could bolster the confidence of voters... Imagine, the year is 2036, and you cruise your hoverbug up to the Drive-Thru window at Mickey-D's:

    McMicrophone: Retinal identification confirmed... May I take your vote?
    Voter: Hmmm... What are the specials today?
    McMicrophone: We've got three new parties available... the Darwinist Party Pack, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger Junior... the Posthumanist Party, starring Max Moore... and Martian Party, starring the head of Leonard Nimoy.
    Voter: Uh, just gimme a large Green, a medium Democrat, and a Libertarian and NaturalLaw in small.
    McMicrophone: Here's your ticket *bwop* , please pull forward to the next window.

    You pull forward, and insert your ticket which contains your anonymous voting data. The Display comes up and shows:
    You have ordered:
    1 small Hagelin
    1 small Browne
    and 1 Large SOCIALIST

    Hey! That isn't what I ordered!! Gimme the manager!
    The Manager apologetically straightens it all out, with a complimentary order of fries.

  • by stomer ( 236922 ) on Friday November 10, 2000 @09:01AM (#631930)
    Agreed. If these people can keep track of 15 different bingo cards at once, why can't they understand a very simple ballot?
  • by WNight ( 23683 ) on Friday November 10, 2000 @09:05AM (#631952) Homepage
    You need to add a couple more things to this e-voting picture...

    You need anonimity, so nobody can check on how you voted. Then you need confirmation, where you can check the official logs and see if your vote was counted properly. To avoid coercion you also need the ability to cancel your vote after you make it.

    So, you vote. Nobody can look it up by any piece of ID that is connected to you, it's merely indexed by an MD5 hash, or something. Then you can use this hash at a later date at any public terminal to see if your vote is tallied for the right side. And once the results are announced, you can check to see if you vote is for the right candidate.

    Then, if you let someone who can form the MD5 hash (someone with the original information) cancel an existing vote, the idea of coercion is mostly gone. You could vote at work (with the boss watching) then drive by a polling booth later and cancel your old vote and place a new one.

    This means people could waffle and recast their votes, but if you made them do it at a voting station and they only got one chance, it wouldn't be too big of a deal. And if those voting stations offered anonimity in the form of private booths, etc, people could be safe from coercion while casting the real vote.

  • by SEWilco ( 27983 ) on Friday November 10, 2000 @09:39AM (#631954) Journal
    "No one's vote was taken away. Those 19,000 people voted again after the machine beeped when they fucked up their first ballot."

    Whoa -- the Palm Beach system was indeed using validity-checking equipment? Ballots were checked for validity by a machine when the voter turned in their ballot?

  • by vlax ( 1809 ) on Friday November 10, 2000 @09:07AM (#631981)
    Electronic voting will never be fully trusted. Much of the confusion in the current election is simply because computers tabulate paper ballots.

    Do the opposite. Go to paper balloting with big print and boxes that have to be marked with a big 'X'. Then, these ballots need to be counted by hand in each ward. This is what is done in the overwhelming majority of countries.

    An even better reform: stop holding elections for everything on the same day. It's not genuinely convenient to anyone. Compel state and local government to hold elections on a day other than the second Tuesday in November of even numbered years. This would shrink the size of the ballot enough to make paper balloting and manual counting easier. In Federal elections, there would never be more than 3 offices to vote for: a Presdient, a Senator and a Rep.

    Even better, have three different election days, all at different times during the 2-year election cycle. One for the feds, one for states, one for local government. That way, there are only three things to vote for in Federal election, three in state election (except for Nebraska) plus state referenda, if any, and one day for local government, which usually means one or two candidates in county races, one or two in municipal races, a school board election, in some places a hospital and/or public transit board election plus county and municipal referenda.

    Furthermore, make the FEC final arbiter of all elections. Take local government out of the process of deciding on voting methods. I think this would minimise corruption rather than make it more likely.

    And, if you really want to bring American voting into the modern world, use Condorcet voting and/or proportional representation.

    Here would be my reform - if I had the dictatorial power to impose it:

    1) Austrailian-style manditory voting. No more griping about people who didn't register, or registered but didn't vote. It costs more, but it's worth it.

    2) A paid half day off on election day. Give everyone a chance to get to the polls.

    3) Condorcet voting for Presdents, Senators and Governors.

    4) Allocate seats in the House to each state rather than drawing districts. If a state has only one House Rep, use Condorcet voting. If it has two, divide the state into two electoral districts and use Condorcet voting. For more than that, use party proportional representation to allocate seats, but also guarantee that any party or independent that gets at least the fraction of votes in the state equal to the number of votes divided by the number of seats in the House gets one seat.

    That way, all Reps still represent a state, rather than being 'at-large' national Reps as the Germans have, but the number of seats in the House is still apportioned more reasonably according to voters demands.

    5) Move all states to unicameral legislatures like Nebraska. There is no need for state government to replicate the silliness of the Federal government. This way, state elections are for a Governor, one Rep and whatever referenda are going on, and judges in those states where state judges are elected. Also, make state legislatures mixed district/proportional voting on the German model. States are small enough to support 'at-large' representation.

    6) Elect a single board for county government by at-large voting for multiple candidates. This means your ballot lists all the qualified candidates and asks you to vote for as many as their are seats on the county board. County supervisors are chosen by the elected board.

    7) Do the same for school boards, hospital boards and public transit boards, where such things are elected.

    8) Do the same for municipal governments, unless they are elected on the "New Plan", where city commissioners are elected instead of appointed by the municipal government and there is no city council. In that case, go back to Condorcet voting.

    9) Stop electing every damn office under the sun, especially judges!!! Elections for judges force judges to be biased. It is a travesty of law to do it this way. In California, we elect offices like state treasurer and insurance commissioner and this is stupid. These offices were less corrupt when they were appointed. I haven't seen anything brilliant come out of elected hospital boards or public transit boards either, and the first thing I would do to reform education is get rid of local school boards.

    These reforms would bring the US in line with - in fact ahead of - most other countries in terms of sane, modern, reliable, unambiguous voting systems.

  • by magic ( 19621 ) on Friday November 10, 2000 @07:31AM (#631998) Homepage
    Sounds like a great idea!

    Two quick notes. You have to keep track of who voted (so people don't vote twice). This doesn't mean keeping full logs of every transaction, but it isn't possible to not keep any logs at all as the article initially states.

    I'm increasingly disturbed with government and other agencies assuming that they can put critical information and services on the internet and expect that information to be reliably available. For example, my college insists on a 100% on-line course registration system. If your net connection goes down, you're screwed-- the registration day will be over before you can sort through the beauracracy or fix the connection. Any kind of electronic voting system needs to have a completely failsafe backup (like punch cards). A simple DoS attack on a voting machine shouldn't disenfranchise hundreds of voters.


  • by Millennium ( 2451 ) on Friday November 10, 2000 @07:32AM (#632013)
    ...well, the main one is assuring anonymity while also taking out any chance of fraud.

    In addition to the suggestions you recommend, I would add this:

    A voter comes up to the front of the line. They provide the necessary ID, and the electoral official marks their name off of the list (computerized, of course). Then the official gives the user some kind of token, perhaps a cheap smartcard-like device, with no identifying information.

    This done, the user steps into the voting booth. The first thing they have to do is insert the token into a reader. This is why I prefer the smartcard approach; the reader can take the token completely into the machine, where the user cannot get it back by force without attracting a great deal of attention.

    The user then punches in their vote and confirms it, like you said. Once they confirm, the token is rendered invalid (for example, a magnetic signature could be wiped) and then given back to the user. Because the token is now invalid, it cannot be used to vote again. And because you must get the token from an electoral official, who knows whether or not you've already gotten one, this prevents people from sneaking into the booth for another vote while preserving the secret ballot.

    As an addition, the user can cancel their vote at any time before confirming it. In this case, the token is not rendered invalid. This gives the user the opportunity to request help from an official, perhaps because the "ballot" is not offered in any language the user can understand. Once you've confirmed the vote, though, there are no second chances.
  • by nharmon ( 97591 ) on Friday November 10, 2000 @07:35AM (#632028)

    Oh yeah, receive passwords by snail mail? Are we not forgetting the problems with the ICANN elections?

    Honestly, we need to keep the physical booths around for quite a while longer. Perhaps absentee balots can have an option of being web-based,... but let's not go too far.

    Also, there is the issue of election laws. Specifically, the "no campaigning within 100 feet of the polls". So if this is all web-based, can we outlaw door-to-door campaigning?

    They're very good ideas, but let's be honest. Convenience is not a primary issue with elections.

  • by ruin ( 141833 ) on Friday November 10, 2000 @09:15AM (#632031) Homepage
    1. Photo-confirmation of the Presidential-pick is a great idea.

    Yes, but what of the unintended consequences? Picture a thoughtful, middle-aged voter in the voter booth.

    VOTER: "Hmm... I've heard some good things about that Nader feller. Maybe I should vote for him."

    [Presses the Nader button, Ralph's mug gets flashed on the screen]

    VOTER: "AIGH! Get it off... get it off!"

    [Blindly stabs at the buttons. Nader's face is replaced by Bush's.]

    VOTER: "Ahhh... much better. This feller looks like a good choice."


  • by locust ( 6639 ) on Friday November 10, 2000 @07:36AM (#632037)
    Being able to vote from anywhere creates situations where people with a vested interest in how you vote (your boss, on an anti corporate measure) demand that you vote in thier presence, where they can watch your vote. This preasure can have adverse effects on your career, and your personal relationships. Imagine if there is something you don't agree with your wife on, and know if its brought up there will be an argument. Now one or the other can be considerably upset at a vote that they've seen. Another example pertains to registered rep/democ voters in the us. I could easily see the parties demanding that thier registered members vote at a party installation where they are watched, and harassed if they don't vote the party line. Further, because most voting places will not be secure (it s easier to secure a polling stations) your voting history can easily be recorded and used against you.

    Technology is not the solution to all problems. --locust

  • by DoomHaven ( 70347 ) <> on Friday November 10, 2000 @07:39AM (#632052)
    1) Given a identifying password
    Just means I can go to X computers, and type X different passwords, and vote. Guess passwords would not be very hard; either they would be like a CD-Key/serial-number, and be generated, or they would even be simpler to guess:

    Adams, Doug: abcdefg
    Adams, Dougie: abcdegh
    Adams, Douglas: abcdefi

    2) As well, because the mail-delivered passwords are the only identifying feature, they could be bought, sold, traded, etc. Maybe not by me, but what if you are low-income, no HMO, little daughter is sick, etc. How much is the going price for a vote?

    3) After voting electronically, going to a voting station, and saying, "I lost my password, ring me in!".

    The best way would be the electronic touch-screens at the voting booths. That way, you don't need even to be literate to vote, just touch the picture of the candidate, and voila - you're too stupid to read, but now you have voted in an election. Voting still has to be done at a voting booth regardless of the electronic security you could put together, simply because of the ease of social engineering attacks.
  • by TheDullBlade ( 28998 ) on Friday November 10, 2000 @11:19AM (#632084)
    Is this a joke? I thought it was funny, until I saw the "+5 insightful" and the serious replies. It seemed like fairly amusing mockery of the braindead illogic surrounding the American election.

    * Small states and areas with low population density are not ignored

    How so? Electoral college votes are still directly proportional to population, they just lump the whole state together when one candidate gets ahead of the others. The electoral college makes the state of residence of each voter relevant, so the candidates campaign on a state-by-state basis, rather than a voter-by-voter basis.

    Unless the race for electoral college votes is very close, the small states are virtually ignored. More importantly, once a candidate gets over 50% of the vote in one state, he can ignore all the other voters in that state; they can neither harm him nor help him.

    * In the case that something awful happens (the president-elect turns out to be psycho after the election, we've elected the Anti-Christ, or god forbid they die in a plane crash, etc...) the electors don't HAVE to go with the people's vote... they can break ranks and vote whichever way they want to. Remember, a candidate needs 50% of the electoral college to win, or else it goes to the House of Representatives - so in the case of a close election, a few defecting electors can change the process drastically. Not what we want to happen in a normal election, but it's there as a safety.

    There is only a short span of time between the popular vote and the electoral vote. Electors are carefully selected for their party loyalty. The electors never have and never will change their votes when it makes a difference. In the case that something truly awful happens (the president starts committing crimes), the Congress will kick the president out.

    Besides, valid or not, this argument amounts to "Thanks to the wonders of the electoral college system, the votes of an entire state may be completely ignored when a relatively minor functionary disagrees with their choice! Isn't that great?"

    * It turns out that each person's vote is more powerful that way. You vote for a small portion of the big vote, but you have a much bigger contribution to your portion of the vote compared to if you just had a general popular election.

    Nice doublethink. The total power of all votes is constant: they select a President. The only way for a vote to become more powerful is for it to take power from another vote. So, you're arguing that unequal distribution of the value of votes is a good thing?

    * Finally, it's the only thing that prevents the presidential election from being a full-blown popularity contest. Basically, if we go to a direct-election system, we might as well change the position's title from "president" to "homecoming king".

    Wow, this is almost profound in its utterbaselessness. What on Earth makes an electoral college system less about popularity?

    Folks, the success of the Electoral College is PROVEN by this election ... In an election this close, between two candidates that are both unsatisfactory, it's probably best that something random and meaningless decides it

    If serious, this is quite possibly the most moronic political comment I've ever read. The Electoral College strongly contributed to the two-party lock-in that forces you to choose "between two candidates that are both unsatisfactory" (remember "A vote for Nader is a vote against Gore!"?). This was a freak election, for both the popular and electoral votes to be so close. With so many states at 48%-52%, it could easily have turned out that one side had a strong majority (over 60% or even 70%) of electoral college votes, though the other had a slight majority in the popular vote.

    If nothing else, consider that even with a "two party" system, a candidate can be elected with just over a quarter of the popular vote: just over half of the population in only those states needed to get just over half the E.C. votes.

    Such strong pressure to keep to a 2-party system is natural because it gets so much worse with more parties. The formula for the fraction of the popular vote just less than what is needed to win (where V is the votes needed and N is the number of parties) is: V = 1/(2N)

    So if there were 4 strong parties (let's say that Green and Libertarian came forward), one could win with only an eighth of the voting population behind him, if his supporters are well-distributed. If a dozen parties were seriously considered and everyone "votes their conscience", some crackpot with a well-distributed 5% of the population behind him could get a clear electoral vote majority, even though another candidate gets over 50% of the popular vote.

    So if the majority of any state chose anything but support of the 2-party system, they are giving up a decent probability of having the electoral vote reflect the popular vote in favor of a completely random result based on distribution, not quantity, of support.

    Now try and tell me that the Electoral College isn't at the root of the 2-party system, and the necessity of choosing the lesser of two evils.

  • by twisty ( 179219 ) on Friday November 10, 2000 @07:50AM (#632107) Homepage Journal
    Since we're already using computers in the regards that we punch mechanically tallied cards, it's time we started using computers right!

    Authentication Issues
    Passwords are one of the flimsiest forms available. At least with a signature there is a little real-time originality. It seems to me it is necessary that people shuld still physically visit the polls:
    1. There is the opportunity to eye-witness the actions of the voter as (s)he presents ID, signs hte book, and proceeds to the booth.
    2. There is no question as to what transpired at the poll, whereas a vote from the privacy of your own home invites the danger of mistakes (or accusations of mistakes) where no eye witnesses can verify anything.
    3. Issues of equipment failure, verification of choices, answers for questions, are all kept public. Likewise, any imposters or similar frauds would have played out their actions before witnesses, making detection and reaction easier.

    Computers used Right
    1. Photo-confirmation of the Presidential-pick is a great idea. Those punchholes in Palm Beach couldn't be an issue, even if the choices exceed the ten that Florida dealt with.
    2. Weighted Votes would be great: Rank the picks from top to bottom. The Computer could summarize your top pick, but also distribute the weighted results of the popular vote (i.e. Checking Nader, then Gore, then telling the others to smegg off). ;-)
    3. We could view the web results not only by county, but by district. If a district htinks they have been misrepresented, they could check with their neighbors and contest the results.

    That last one has a funny tie-in with this Florida thang... Even though two-thirds of America [] would like to disban the Electoral College, it was the very thing that drew the attention to Florida's irregularities. Ironic. Yet, we can only guess how much of this goes on in the other 49 states and D.C.

  • by tylerh ( 137246 ) on Friday November 10, 2000 @09:54AM (#632125)
    From today's Wall Street Journal:

    A tied 1997 mayoral race in Honduras was settled by a law allowing ties to be broken by games of chance. The two candidates in San Juan de Opoa settled on soccer penalty kicks.
  • by NMerriam ( 15122 ) <> on Friday November 10, 2000 @11:32AM (#632127) Homepage
    If you can dictate under what terms I can contract my vote, then I don't own it, you own it and are just extending me a privilege to use it.

    You're right -- you don't own your vote. And you can't sell it. And no one is extending the privlege to use it -- it is not yours to "use", or to transfer or sell or loan or otherwise dispose of as personal property. It is yours to vote with, or not, as you see fit. But no other choice exists -- you vote, or not.

    It's not a car for christ sake, it's the method by which we participate in society, and the underlying principle to this method is that each citizen has exactly ONE vote, no more no less, to be used by themselves and themselves only, no matter how rich or poor they may be.

  • by thesparkle ( 174382 ) on Friday November 10, 2000 @07:52AM (#632138) Homepage
    On ABC this morning they asked roughly the same question "Why don't we have a national standard for voting?".

    The election official cited gave two reasons:
    1) Different systems in different states and counties ensures that the vote cannot be tampered with at a national level. A single system runs into the possibility of a single means to affect the vote by tampering with the single system.

    2) Money. As stated, local governments have to pay for the systems themselves. They do the best they can with the money they have but even well off large areas (such as NYC) as still using 40 year old voting booths because nobody wants to spend the money.

    Slashdot aside, there are still large numbers of Americans who have little or no faith in computer systems - especially after this years' number of DOS attacks. The conspiracy theories regarding the "real winner" of a computer tabulated race would abound. Consider this: the punch card system, such as used in Florida, was first used in the US in 1892; the voting machine, (push the handle to the right of the candidate), was first used in 1896. We obviously adapt to new technology slowly in the world of elections.

  • ...the rest of the country can to, sheesh, compared to most county's favorite passtime (road building) it's possitively cheap!

    Here in Story County, Iowa we have what I would consider to be the minimum standard for voting equipment.

    You get a sheet of names (in large print) with an oval right next to the name which you darken with a marker. But more importantly, as I found out from the guy right in front of me, if you mismark your ballot (say by marking 2 presidential slates) the machine will not accept the ballot. The election official voided his ballot and gave him a new one.

    I would add one additional feature by adding 'abstain' as an option for each contest/question -- this would prevent people missing one or more votes (for example, by forgetting to turn it over and mark the back).

  • by On Lawn ( 1073 ) on Friday November 10, 2000 @07:56AM (#632174) Journal
    Nope, this is a tired argument. Any one can get a new one and start over.

    Its the immediate permenance of the mark that is valuable to the process. Its what makes recounts valid, and tampering easy to find.

    You know what, we should have it so that every party that wants to has to okay the interface used. Then no matter what the interface, both parties can make sure their best interests are served by the ballots. It was sooo unfair of that Democrat who made those ballots so unreadable in Palm Beach, if only they had okayed the ballot before the election then they would have nothing to complain about... (warning, sarcasm at work here.)
  • by TheDullBlade ( 28998 ) on Friday November 10, 2000 @01:10PM (#632238)
    No, they are not. Wyoming has less than 450,000 people and gets 3 electors, while California has over 30,000,000 people and gets 54 electors. I leave the math as an exercise to the reader because I'm too lazy.

    Yes, each state gets an extra 2 votes, which does make smaller states more important. I forgot that. Nonetheless, the electoral college system makes whole regions irrelevant in the larger states, if they are in the minority: their vote is cast with the majority whether they like it or not. At the very least it would make more sense for every state to split up their votes at the congressional district level.

    So by this system, at times the smaller states have influence far out of proportion to their populations, and at other times they are made completely irrelevant because one candidate can get over 50% support in a small number of populous states.

    If anything, this just makes the results more random and unfair.

    Arguably, the Electorial college is made up of well educated, intelligent people who can comprehend the instructions on a ballot.

    But they are selected for loyalty by the party they are supposed to be voting for. Who they are voting for is a foregone conclusion, and in reality they are nothing more than minor functionaries in a vote-pooling system. Any argument for this system based on them changing their votes against what they promised is ridiculous and should be ignored.

  • by plastickiwi ( 170800 ) on Friday November 10, 2000 @08:03AM (#632272)
    The problem with eliminating physical ballots is that it leaves us with no recourse when an error occurs.

    Look at the mess in Florida, and imagine that the voting there had been done 100% by electronic means. How would you deal with people who claim to have voted for the wrong candidate because the ballot was confusing?

    Even worse, how would you deal with a hacked voting station? Security only goes so far; eventually a precinct would be hacked. With e-voting, there'd be no way to recount the ballots, no way to sort "good" ballots from "bad" ones, no way to identify which votes were bogus -- because there wouldn't be votes, just data.

    Now, look at the precincts in Florida who finished their recounts within a few hours. What did they use? Good old fill-it-out-with-a-#2-pencil OPSCAN forms, just like you use with the SATs. Sure, the ballots are counted by machine, but there are ballots to be counted.

    Food for thought.

  • by seebs ( 15766 ) on Friday November 10, 2000 @08:03AM (#632300) Homepage
    The current system, for all its flaws, is a lot safer than anything running over the net.

    I would love to see punchcard ballots replaced, but we want to be sure we replace them with something *actually* more reliable, not just something that might well be more reliable.

    On the other "modernization" issue: The electoral college is a good thing, because without it, no one outside of CA, NY, FL, PA, and TX matters.
  • What if the government published a DVD-ROM with all of the votes cast in the whole country, so that you could run open software to verify the count, and verify that your vote was counted correctly?

    I've wanted something like that for years. (Actually, I wanted the raw punchcard data to go onto the net as a downloadable file.) Just raw card images in the order the cards hit the reader. Then you could:
    - check that a ballot voted exactly your way appeared.
    - get together with other supporters of your candidate and check that you all got counted
    - check that the software crunching up the official tally followed the rules
    - look for anomalies that might suggest voter fraud (such as a long run of identical ballots)
    - look for anomalies that might suggest handling error (such as a repeated run of cards, suggesting that one deck went in the reader twice and another was missed)
    and so on.

    I have heard that there may be legal problems with getting this data published. Apparently this has been blocked by courts or legislation in the past, in an attempt to impeed vote-buying. (The raw data can be used by vote buyers to check that the sellers kept their part of the bargain.)

    But it seems to me that concerned citizens wishing to determine that computer-aided vote fraud is absent would have an overriding interest in the open publication of the data. And that argument might be used to overturn any previous impediments.

    FOIA, anyone? B-)
  • by mangu ( 126918 ) on Friday November 10, 2000 @01:34PM (#632310)
    I was drafted for election work here in Brazil in 1998.

    The ballot box was a Pentium PC with an LCD display, a numeric keypad, flashcard, and battery backup power. The voter punched the candidate's number and the name appeared on the screen, along with the candidate's picture and party name. Then the voter pressed a green key to confirm the vote or orange to erase and start again. There was also a white key for a blank vote. The "section president" (me) enabled the computer for each vote using a separate keypad.

    Votes were stored to the flashcard immediately. After the voting closed, the PC printed in a built-in thermal printer the results, and print-outs were given to any party representatives who were present. Another copy of the result was pasted to the precinct door. I then delivered the PC, with the flash card containing the result, to a Justice officer from the electoral court.

    Spare PCs were available for cases of hardware failure, and old fashioned paper ballots were also available, for cases of prolonged power outages.

    This method was used in all Brazil this year. In some places the ballot boxes were delivered to the voting precincts carried in dug-out canoes.

    Perhaps the system in USA would be more advanced if they hadn't been the first to adopt electronic counting. Seeing those people carrying punched cards in the TV brought me some deja-vu feelings. Last time I saw a punched card being used for computer input was in 1979.

The last thing one knows in constructing a work is what to put first. -- Blaise Pascal