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Voting Isn't Easy, Even if Cheating Is 260

The Open Voting Foundation's disclsosure that only one switch need be flipped to allow the machine to boot from an unverified external flash drive instead of the built-in, verified EEPROM drew more than 600 comments; some of the most interesting ones are below, in today's Backslash story summary.
Expressing a common sentiment, reader cmd finds nothing innocent about the inclusion of such a switch:

Diebold also builds automated teller machines (ATM), the definitive model for reliability and accountability.

The AccuVote machines are what they are, not due to poor design or unintentional mistake. They are the result of a deliberate intent to enable fraud on a massive scale. Viewed from this perspective, the AccuVote design is very good. The real problem comes when Diebold realizes that it needs to become better at obfuscation and makes it harder to detect the fraud.

"Electronic voting machines with no paper trail are an insult to democracy," writes pieterh. "That they come with switches to bypass even the dubious 'safeguards' provided is hardly a surprise."

Paper trails, of course, are only as good as the people guarding the paper; readers familar with more recent allegations of vote manipulation may be interested in the 1946 confrontation in Athens, Tennessee (pointed out by reader William J. Poser) between WWII veterans and the election officials.

Reader Soong, though, provides a conspiracy-free explanation for the presence of such a switch:

The ability to boot from different sources is a normal debugging feature, not in itself sinister. Should they have cleaned that up on the production model? Yeah, sure. But verifiability is ultimately a human concern anyway, not a tech one.

It all comes down to who you trust.

If you don't trust the polling place, make the voting machine tamper proof. But then you have to trust the guy who built the voting machine. You have to trust the guy who loaded the software on it at the factory or the elections office. You have to trust the guy who wrote the code. Even if you inspected the code, you have to trust him to give you a binary based on that and not pull a fast one. You have to trust his compiler to give him a binary without compiled in back doors. I feel like I probably haven't listed all the points where this voting machine chain of trust can break down.

Several readers pointed out that voters might better trust the machines as well as the process of electronic voting if regulation were more rigorous; as reader Animats puts it, "slot machine standards are much tighter":
The Nevada Gaming Control Board has technical standards for slot machines. They've had enough fraud over the years that they know what has to be done. Some highlights:
  • ... must resist forced illegal entry and must retain evidence of any entry until properly cleared or until a new play is initiated. A gaming device must have a protective cover over the circuit boards that contain programs and circuitry used in the random selection process and control of the gaming device, including any electrically alterable program storage media. The cover must be designed to permit installation of a security locking mechanism by the manufacturer or end user of the gaming device.
  • ... must exhibit total immunity to human body electrostatic discharges on all player-exposed areas. ...
  • A gaming device may exhibit temporary disruption when subjected to electrostatic discharges of 20,000 to 27,000 volts DC ... but must exhibit a capacity to recover and complete an interrupted play without loss or corruption of any stored or displayed information and without component failure. ...
  • Gaming device power supply filtering must be sufficient to prevent disruption of the device by repeated switching on and off of the AC power. ... must be impervious to influences from outside the device, including, but not limited to, electro-magnetic interference, electro-static interference, and radio frequency interference.
  • All gaming devices which have control programs residing in one or more Conventional ROM Devices must employ a mechanism approved by the chairman to verify control programs and data. The mechanism used must detect at least 99.99 percent of all possible media failures. If these programs and data are to operate out of volatile RAM, the program that loads the RAM must reside on and operate from a Conventional ROM Device.
  • All gaming devices having control programs or data stored on memory devices other than Conventional ROM Devices must:
    1. Employ a mechanism approved by the chairman which verifies that all control program components, including data and graphic information, are authentic copies of the approved components. The chairman may require tests to verify that components used by Nevada licensees are approved components. The verification mechanism must have an error rate of less than 1 in 10 to the 38th power and must prevent the execution of any control program component if any component is determined to be invalid. Any program component of the verification or initialization mechanism must be stored on a Conventional ROM Device that must be capable of being authenticated using a method approved by the chairman.
    2. Employ a mechanism approved by the chairman which tests unused or unallocated areas of any alterable media for unintended programs or data and tests the structure of the storage media for integrity. The mechanism must prevent further play of the gaming device if unexpected data or structural inconsistencies are found.
    3. Provide a mechanism for keeping a record, in a form approved by the chairman, anytime a control program component is added, removed, or altered on any alterable media. The record must contain a minimum of the last 10 modifications to the media and each record must contain the date and time of the action, identification of the component affected, the reason for the modification and any pertinent validation information.
    4. Provide, as a minimum, a two-stage mechanism for validating all program components on demand via a communication port and protocol approved by the chairman. The first stage of this mechanism must verify all control components. The second stage must be capable of completely authenticating all program components, including graphics and data components in a maximum of 20 minutes. The mechanism for extracting the authentication information must be stored on a Conventional ROM Device that must be capable of being authenticated by a method approved by the chairman.

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

The Gaming Control Board of Nevada was asked to take a look at Diebold, and Nevada rejected Diebold equipment as a result.

Voting machines need tough standards like that. They don't have them.

Even if e-voting machines had a spec list that would pass at the Gaming Commission, Midnight Thunder is puzzled that tamper-proofing techniques aren't more evident on the Diebold machines:

Given taxi meters and electricity meters both have tamper seals, you would have thought that these would have visible tamper seals as well. If in doubt you could even have two tamper seals: one from Diebold and another from the voting commission, in order to ensure that both parties are satisfied with the state of the machine.

Several readers are for canning electronic voting for U.S. elections completely. Reader Iamthefallen wants to know

Has anyone answered the question regarding need for automated vote counting in a satisfactory way?

Seems to me that manual counting of votes would be vastly more secure as it would take a huge conspiracy to affect the result either way.

Counting a hundred million votes is hard, counting a thousand votes in a hundred thousand locations is easy.

Similarly, slofstra writes

Sorry, I have never seen the point of these machines. Paper ballots are auditable, user friendly, and if electronics is put into the reporting system, can be counted in a few minutes and submitted. Voting machine are a perfect example of a technology fetish at work. It would make an interesting case study to examine the economic and sociological reasons why we sometimes buy technology that we don't need, don't want and further, serves no useful purpose.

(Augmenting electronic voting machines with a paper record is a frequently raised idea; reader megaditto, for one, asks "Is it that hard to put a thermal printer behind a glass shield?" A similar system is required in Nevada voting machines already.)

Paper ballots and electronic ones aren't the only options, though; lever-based voting machines have dominated recent American national elections. Mark Walling writes

My district switched to electronic- from lever-based. in 2004, at 7:15 when I voted on lever machines, there was no line, and just about as many signatures in the book. In 2005, the line was out the door and around the corner at the same time. The person in front of me took 5 minutes to use the electronic machine. People knew how to use the old machines, and they were reliable. These new things take the old people forever to use, and then they complain that they were hard to read ...

Reader WillAffleckUW suggests skipping in-person voting completely; absentee voting is a good idea, he argues, not only in light of the flaws (demonstrated or alleged) in electronic voting methods, but because

absentee voters get a paper ballot that is not only delivered by a trusted source (the U.S. Post Office) who have a verified date/time stamp — and that the ballots can be audited, traced, and verified — now that is a reason to register permanent absentee.

Not so fast, says reader JDAustin:

I suggest you take a look at the research into the recent Washington state elections done by SoundPolitics.com. They verified close to a 20% error rate in absentee balloting. The signature verification on absentee balloting is no verification at all due to non-verification being done by those who count the ballots. Additionally, the USPS is not a trusted source, they are just another government bureaucracy. The ballots themselves cannot necessarily be traced nor verified — and even when the signatures are completely different, they are still counted. Due to the nature of voter rolls, duplicate ballots are sent out all the time due to slight variation in a person's name, and the duplicate ballots counts are not caught until after the final tally has been done and the election finished. Finally, mischievous government officials can always delay sending the military their ballots so those serving overseas do not have time to get their vote in on time. This actually happened in 2004 in Washington state.

Permanent absentee is not the solution. Neither is electronic voting.

The true solution takes elements of the recent Mexican election to prevent fraud (voter ID cards, thumb inking, precinct-based monitoring and tallying) and combine them with the best paper-based voting machine.

Many thanks to the readers (especially those quoted above) whose comments informed this discussion.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Voting Isn't Easy, Even if Cheating Is

Comments Filter:
  • by xmas2003 ( 739875 ) * on Tuesday August 01, 2006 @04:04PM (#15827278) Homepage
    Nothing for you to see here. Please move along

    That's exactly what Diebold wants you to think...

    So which party/candidate would take advantage of this exploit first - the Democrats [uglydemocrats.com] or the Republicans [uglyrepublicans] - both are ugly!

    • by TheNoxx ( 412624 ) on Tuesday August 01, 2006 @04:26PM (#15827422) Homepage Journal
      Beyond the lines drawn for the public by the political parties, there are very few politicians that actually care about those ideals. Woe be it unto the citizen believer of his party that most of his elected officials are there to enact legislation on behalf of his beliefs; the vast majority will vote along party lines for the litmus-test issues (homosexual rights as people, abortion, etc.) as these issues do not affect the majority of elected officials. The majority of elected officials are very, very wealthy and therefore most laws do not affect them. Only flagrant disregard of the law will land a politician in jail, and in that respect, it's almost like crime: only the arrogant or idiotic find themselves in trouble, most of the time.

      Every non-partisan issue, mostly those concerning government contracts, business/industry legislation, and the budget rarely fall on party lines. The lines they do fall on are unseen and concern large sums of money and lobbying groups.
      Let me put it into the simplest terms: Washington is the evolutionary product of a pool of sharks that use camouflage and obfuscation as chief predatory tactics. Most everyone aside from those with political science majors and those who are very good with them will not have the slightest fucking clue as to 90% of what transpires on the grounds of the capitol. There is simply too much going on too often that is far too subtle for any investigative journalist to know what the fuck.

      Diebold machines are kept with those flaws, I suspect, so that both parties can weed out anyone seen as too keenly idealistic, anyone that might upset the corruption so deeply in place that keeps so many people so wealthy, so happy.
      On the other hand, one party might've been a bit to bold when they sensed they were losing power, and possibly overstepped the unspoken agreement of how far that fraud would go when during a certain election(s) for the highest office. Of course, the other party is left rather speechless and with no end to turn to, as it would mean a political suicide for all involved.

      Just some creative articulation... of course.
    • switch(vote){
      case 1: // republicans
      case 2: // democrats

      default: /* Losers */

      /* never give more than DEF_LOSERS votes, default 10% */
      if( sum_losers < DEF_LOSERS*( party[1] + party[2] + sum_losers ) ){
      party[vote]++; sum_losers++;
      } else {

      if(rand<0.5) { // otherwise share the dangerous votes evenly between winners.
    • by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Tuesday August 01, 2006 @05:35PM (#15827840) Journal
      Well, just look at what is happening in our area (south denver, where you and I live).
      • We have the republicans gerrymandering (of course, the democrats invented this back east).
      • The republicans pushed through that Colorado will be electronic, but then limited it to just 4 companies (all who push paperless, but support a paper; amazing since a company would make more profit off the paper than the machine).
      • Of course, Owens is good friends with O'Dell and a number of the districts elected to go with Diebold.
      And now the democrats are in control of 2 of 3 parts of Colorado congress and likely to get the gov as well. So, will they take advantage of all the openings that the republicans have created (i.e. re=district to kill tancredo's joke of a district (my old one) and create their version of it)? Or will they do the right thing and create laws to avoid these set-ups. Perhaps re-do the constitition to say that a neutral group will suggest the map and congres will do an up-down vote; turn over to judge after 3 plans.

      It will be interesting to see what happens.
  • by Billosaur ( 927319 ) * <`ten.enilnotpo' `ta' `rehtorgw'> on Tuesday August 01, 2006 @04:09PM (#15827317) Journal

    ...I'd rather scratch me 'X' on a piece of pay-pur!! Yaaaaarrrrrhhhhh!!!!

    This message brough to you by the Pirate Party!

    • ...I'd rather scratch me 'X' on a piece of pay-pur!! Yaaaaarrrrrhhhhh!!!!

      We don't talk like pirates in Canada eh...

      That's all we do. X on a piece of paper. Simple. Even the old people can understand it. Call me a bit conservative, but unless there's a paper backup of my electronic vote, I want no part of it.
    • > pay-pur

      I thought the Pirate Party was against pay-per play.
  • by andrewman327 ( 635952 ) on Tuesday August 01, 2006 @04:10PM (#15827319) Homepage Journal
    Again I say to the teeming masses of Slashdot: lever machines [si.edu] are the answer! They have been proven for almost 90 years! I know that many of us /.ers want a computer chip of some kind running Linux in absolutely everything, we need to learn that electronic is not always better.
    • I have heard that it is geting hard to find parts for them.
      • Then build more! I bet that if a senior engineering class at Purdue (not even MIT) put their minds to the task they could build a mechanical voting machine that would not create the same level of controversy as Diebold's machines. There are not enough parts because people are not building them. Compared to the cost of computerization, building spare levers and new machines is dirt cheap.
    • Well, if we let computers vote, they'll probably just re-elect Nixon [wikipedia.org].
    • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Tuesday August 01, 2006 @06:23PM (#15828144) Journal
      Again I say to the teeming masses of Slashdot: lever machines are the answer! They have been proven for almost 90 years!

      And have been hacked for much of that time.

      One hack consists of the election officials that set up the machine presetting the wheels for the guy you want to win to some additional number, and (if you think there will be a lot of votes) the guy you want to lose to the nines compliment of the number, then weakly gluing stickers with zeros on them over the counter wheels and locking the inner door.

      The poll watchers see the zeros and lock the outer door. First vote for each candidate knocks the stickers off, and they fall to the bottom of the machine. (If no votes for the candidate, the sticker remains visible saying "0000".) You send one of your own guys in to make sure your guy gets at least one vote if necessary.

      The outer door is unlocked and the numbers read. The inner door remains locked until opportunity for recount is over. The inner door is only unsealed and opened (probably by your guy WITHOUT poll watchers) when it's time to do maintainence and set it up for the next election, at which point he can sweep out the stickers.

      Downside: If your guy dies, is fired, or moves on, or misses a sticker that gets caught in the guts of the machine, the fact that the scam had been used might be discovered by some opposition functionary (or honest worker) at a later time. Such stickers HAVE been discovered in lever-type voting machines.
  • by Rotten168 ( 104565 ) on Tuesday August 01, 2006 @04:22PM (#15827391) Homepage
    C'mon, this is what got us into trouble last time. Remember hanging chads and butterfly ballots?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      The problem wasn't the paper ballots.... it was that voting was done by "machine" rather than letting people do their Xs by hand. There is also wayyyyyyyyy too many votes being cast together. Presedential vote should be separate from vote for the legislature, which should be separate from vote for the state legislature, which should be separate from vote for municipal functions. Putting an X in a box should be a valid option, and leaves no hanging chads. You DO need the verifiable paper trail (a printou
    • by soft_guy ( 534437 ) on Tuesday August 01, 2006 @04:44PM (#15827537)
      That was a problem with punch ballots and bad design. There are no similar problems with scan-tron type paper ballots.
      • Oh for f*cks sake, no more scantrons. I work in public ed and I can attest to the innacuracies associated with the "modern" scanning devices used in schools. THEY SUCK. The older models that companies stopped servicing were more reliable, had fewer moving parts and were made out of concrete (ok steel, but still.) The new ones are too fragile and sensitive to misalignment to give to a government employee, ESPECIALLY a volunteer employee.

        Please please please, no more half bubbles, or partial bubbles or era
      • Uniform PAPER ballots that are about as idiot proof as you get. any mark on the large 1" circle is a vote. They are counted by hand and people who count poorly can be held accountable.


        Exit polling for pointing out problems

        Uniform National Ballot (locals print in the names)

        Special Paper (like currency) with a serial number and barcode (or simply print digital signatures on normal paper)

        Account for where series of ballots are shipped (4 tracking problems at polling places)

        Each area's ballots are shuffled
    • There are more intelligent ways to mark a piece of paper than an easily detachable pre-punched hole.
    • This is "insightful"? The problems you mention are both very easy to fix.

      80% of the vote being counted electronically on insecure machines by Republican-supporting corporations with no paper trail... now THAT is dangerous, on a national scale.
  • Open Source (Score:5, Insightful)

    by anonymous_wombat ( 532191 ) on Tuesday August 01, 2006 @04:23PM (#15827395)
    It should be obvious to anyone on this site that only open source code should be used in electronic voting machines. Undoubtedly, the most distinguished security researchers would all examine the code, and a very high confidence level could be achieved.
    • Re:Open Source (Score:4, Insightful)

      by mi ( 197448 ) <slashdot-2017q4@virtual-estates.net> on Tuesday August 01, 2006 @04:29PM (#15827436) Homepage Journal

      But how will you know, the actual machine in front of you is running the software examined?

      Come on, people get fooled by spyware and "phishing" e-mails every day — at their own computer. You expect anyone to detect a problem on a system, they see for a minute or two once in two years?

      I really don't care, what kind of systems are used, as long as it is not the same system. And if it happens to be the same, I hope, there is not "central repository" of its results or anything. Because everything, that is centralized, also has a single "total failure" point...

      • by hackstraw ( 262471 ) * on Tuesday August 01, 2006 @04:43PM (#15827522)
        But how will you know, the actual machine in front of you is running the software examined?

        Of course it will have a sha1 signature (eg, d46b82a7f4dad427760124c777c0b56fe642afbc) of the binary similar to a BSOD error message so that every grandmother will clearly know that the same code was used.

        What did you think?!?

        Sarcasm aside, I'm a fan of either paper or lever systems. Simple, reliable, accountable, proven, inexpensive, and hard to hack.

        • Re:Open Source (Score:3, Interesting)

          by suwain_2 ( 260792 )
          I know you're kidding, but you bring up another good point.

          I used to grapple with how you could 'prove' that a machine was running the 'right' code, and displaying some sort of signature was the obvious solution.

          But really, how would I know whether the machine was running...

          I can't think of a way to allow a potentially compromised machine to prove that it's running the 'right' software, unless I'm allowed to analyze the ROM/disk in m
        • Simple, reliable, accountable, proven, inexpensive, and hard to hack.

          There were massive voting "irregularities" in the past (such as the fraud in Chicago). Whatever the system, with high enough corruption of local authorities it can be "hacked". If, however, the systems are all different and different people are supposed to oversee the elections and certify the results (such as with Presidential elections in USA), then the level of corruption, required to significantly alter the results, has to be so eno

    • by sterno ( 16320 ) on Tuesday August 01, 2006 @05:40PM (#15827881) Homepage
      Ultimately what this boils down to is a trust issue. If you do not have a physical record of your vote that is impervious to digital tampering, it does not matter how much security there is. With digital voting there will always be the perception that somebody could rig the vote.

      In a democracy, the perception of vote fraud is almost as dangerous as the actuality of vote fraud. If we all go into the booth and we all come out convinced that we've had our say and that it counted for something, then even when we lose, we can feel we were a part of the system. If we go into a booth and don't even have that basic reassurance, why go into the booth at all? Why work to change the system if you have reasonable suspicion that the system has been rigged against you in the first place? People in that mindset will either drop out of the system entirely, or seek to voice their feelings through alternative means (violence, etc).

      We've had two national elections in a row that were close and had an air of suspicion about them. There are countless anecdotes of votes getting switched on the computers, voting machines dissapearing overnight, etc. Even if there's not actual fraud going on, all of that adds up to a suspicion of the system itself. We can't afford to have that suspicion if we want to remain a democracy.

  • Too many hoops... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tinrobot ( 314936 ) on Tuesday August 01, 2006 @04:23PM (#15827402)
    After reading through some of these... it's very apparent that securing these machines is an uphill battle. Do we really want to double seal the machines, tamper-proof the ROMS and secure the machines against a 20,000 volt discharge? Why do we need to jump through all these hoops? it's insane.

    Good old-fashioned paper is the solution. It's cheap, it ensures a paper audit trail, and it's counted in public by thousands of real people who witness the count.

    Of course you knew that.
    • Paper is king (Score:3, Insightful)

      I'm a data manager in disease research.

      We use paper.

      We could have gone to electronic forms with laptops, but there are a number of reasons we don't.

      The primary one is user-readability, and verification of intent.

      The second one is programming limitations on error checking - what is a permissable response? When dealing with human subjects - and likewise, human voters, one notices they don't always do what you want, but what they want.

      Should we have electronic voting machines? Yes. For handicapped people, de
      • "I'm a data manager in disease research.

        We use paper.

        We could have gone to electronic forms with laptops, but there are a number of reasons we don't."

        I have a question.

        Don't take it wrong.

        Are disease research people also required to write very short paragraphs?

    • I think going with the Gaming machine guidelines are a great idea - you could pull the One Armed Bandit, and after the wheels spin, up pop the candidates for that election - you hit the blinking button below the candidate of your choice, and spin again!

      They could even have a sound effect from the old game show [wikipedia.org]: "joker, Joker... JOKER!"
    • I don't think you'd have to add all of that to have a secure a voting machine, you just need to mix paper trails with electronic tallying.

      Electronic tallying is useful because it can determine results fast. Very fast.

      So you apply some basic measures so that it would actually take a seasoned hacker or someone on the inside to make changes. Next, add a basic printer. Something that uses ink, and is only black and white. Once a person is done voting, the machine prints a page for the voter to look over. If the
      • by tinrobot ( 314936 ) on Tuesday August 01, 2006 @05:30PM (#15827816)
        Electronic tallying is useful because it can determine results fast. Very fast.

        I'd much rather have confidence in the results than a fast turnaround.

        Besides, hand counts don't take that much longer. Canada gets their results overnight.
        • Canada has about 32 million people [wikipedia.org], and the US has almost 300 million [google.com].

          I don't know what the turnouts are for Canada's elections, but assuming that the percentages are roughly the same between the two countries (quick googling puts both at about 60%), I'm not surprised that Canada can get comparatively fast results. Not that the U.S. can't get fast results if votes are tallied as they come in, but, all other things equal, human tallying is more error prone than computer tallying.
          • Canada has about 32 million people, and the US has almost 300 million.

            Sure we have more people... but we would also have more people counting. If the same percentage of citizens count the ballots, the results come in at the same rate for both countries, regardless of population.

            human tallying is more error prone than computer tallying.

            Not necessarily. One error in a computer tally can lose thousands of votes. In addition, one corrupt person with access to a tabulator can change the results of an entire e
          • Re:Too many hoops... (Score:4, Informative)

            by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Tuesday August 01, 2006 @06:45PM (#15828270) Homepage
            Counting votes isn't a serial process. Counting can be done in Parallel. In fact it can be highly parallelized. In Canada, everybody from a certain neighbourhood goes to a nearby school or community centre to vote. Then when the polls close, each school/community centre counts their votes and reports their totals. All the votes can be counted independantly of what's going on at some other polling station. Some polling station even post their results before others are even closed. This system scales perfectly well. It can work for a population of 3000, 3,000,000, 30,000,000, or 300,000,000. So the time to count votes is not dependant on how many votes their are, but only how finely you distribute the counting load.
        • You never have to wait overnight for the Canadian election. The ballots are tabulated in about the same time as in American elections. Just as in American elections it may take a day or more if a particular race is very tight and requires a recount. No Canadian election has ever been as close as 2000 (in Florida) so we don't know how long it would take to clean up that sort of mess.
          • The quebec referendum was pretty close. There was a lot of vote fraud going on there too. But it was the losers that were the ones stealing the votes, so the investigation into it wouldn't change the result, so it wasn't really wasn't a big story.
      • Electronic tallying is useful because it can determine results fast. Very fast.

        Why is that important? Seriously. What horrible things happen to our country even if it takes days or weeks to tally votes in an election for which none of the officeholders take office for several months anyway?

        This obsessive-compulsive need for us to know the election results IMMEDIATELY NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW 24 HOUR NEWS COVERAGE OF HOUR THREE OF NOT KNOWING is somewhat disturbing.

  • by lawpoop ( 604919 ) on Tuesday August 01, 2006 @04:25PM (#15827417) Homepage Journal
    Make some kind of open-source, secure voting system with an auditable paper trail? AFAICT, such a system would need:
    • A private, confidential paper receipt, for each vote, that has:
      • a voter-legible ballot that the voter verifies before leaving the vote,
      • a bar-code computer scannable version of the vote, and
      • some kind of code or a non-serial 'serial' number that will indicate any missing paper receipt, or blocks of paper reciepts. We don't want a true serial number so that the vote remains secret and no one can tell who voted for whom by the serial number. Perhaps hashes of hashes?
    • A secure, electronic, computer version of this receipt that has some kind of data integrity -- not just a tally of bits, but some binary sequence that has some kind of verifiable, tamper-evident integrity. Perhaps this digital ballot would have a hash stored in a seperate log.
    This is just a preliminary brainstorm. Perhaps encoded into each vote's serial number would be a running tally? That would be one method of tamper-evidence -- by going through the votes, we should be able to tell where and when exactly the fraud happened. The tally should be consistent all the way through, and by the time the polls are closed, we have tallies for each booth.
    • What you suggest sounds like this:

      Secret Ballot Receipts:
      http://crypto.csail.mit.edu/~rivest/voting/papers/ Chaum-SecretBallotReceiptsTrueVoterVerifiableElect ions.pdf [mit.edu]

      Really, really brilliant idea.
    • ... AFAICT, such a system would need:
      * A private, confidential paper receipt, for each vote ...
      * A secure, electronic, computer version of this receipt that has some kind of data integrity ...

      All you need is the human readable paper reciept. You just make THAT the official ballot. (You also have the machine produce a hardcopy of its count, or at least one of the total of the machine counts at the precinct.)

      Then the machines can count as insecurely
    • Solution v1.0 (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bussdriver ( 620565 )
      Solution version 1.0
      • Uniform national PAPER ballot booklets (locals print in the names)
      • 1 candidate per page or issue
      • 1" large circle where any ink or blood mark in the circle is a vote
      • Volunteer counted
      • Counters are cross checked for an error & 1% error rate is a felony
      • Exit polling for pointing out problems
      • Special Paper (like currency) with a serial number and barcode (or simply print digital signatures on normal paper)
      • Account for where series of ballots are shipped (4 tracking problems a
      • Re:Solution v1.1 (Score:3, Interesting)

        by bussdriver ( 620565 )
        Solution version 1.1
        • Districts are determined by census data
        • A Computer Alg determines districting and the alg is national and is open source
        • redistricting result, data, and implementation is publicly verifiable
        • Treason for redrawing lines in-between census (hello texas)
        • Treason for tampering with redistricting
        • No Electoral College
        • Courts decide if elections can be re-run due to corruption in an ALL or nothing decision
        • Courts are not allowed special 1 time only rulings that don't set precedence (20
  • by PhysicsPhil ( 880677 ) on Tuesday August 01, 2006 @04:41PM (#15827511)

    So we know that Diebold is capable of producing secure ATM systems, and that money is the root of all evil in politics, and that we have insufficient voter turnout. So here's my plan for a foolproof voting system. :)

    Each polling station will consist of one (1) secure Diebold ATM system, which is capable of accessing the bank accounts of the Republican and Democratic parties. Voters will walk into the voting booth, and withdraw $20 from the bank account of their favourite party. At the end of the election, the party that has received the most votes/withdrawals from their account wins. To cap it off, voters have a new incentive to participate in "the process."

    Alternately, the system can be turned upside-down, and people remove money from the account of their least favourite party. Not only does one side win, but the other side is bankrupt!

    • That is almost the system we have now. However, regardless of who you vote for, the money comes out of your account and into theirs. When our government didn't send that Alaskan piece of crap republican straight to jail for threatening to quit if his state didn't get Katrina relief funds so he could build the famous bridge to nowhere...it pretty much put it right out in the open. Some very simple changes to how federal dollars can be allocated would fix a great deal of our issues, allowing the states to
      • "When our government didn't send that Alaskan piece of crap republican straight to jail for threatening to quit if his state didn't get Katrina relief funds so he could build the famous bridge to nowhere..."

        Uh.. As much as I dislike Ted Stevens, he did not demand "Katrina relief funds", and the "bridge to nowhere" actually is the only thing connecting a tribal land to the 21st century (it being "nowhere" is a matter of opinion.)

        • It may have been Rep. Don Young who got the funding for the bridge in the first place, but according to the Washington Post [washingtonpost.com] Stevens blocked the proposal to cancel the bridge and use the money for reconstruction after Hurricane Katrina. And why exactly is this bridge needed? There is already a ferry service that takes only 15 minutes for a crossing.

    • The LOVE of money is the root of all evil.
    • I would like to make a small ammendment to your suggestion.

      Why not make it so that you remove money from the party you don't want to win, and the last party with money in the account gets the seat?

      That way, you have the advantage that the party can spend as much money on advertising as they wish, with the result that they have less "votes against" before they lose.

    • So we know that Diebold is capable of producing secure ATM systems

      This is a claim, incidentally, that has been made many times, but not substantiated. The banking industry is surprisingly clueless when it comes to security issues, and I don't think it's a safe assumption that Diebold makes ATMs which are significantly more secure.

      I suspect that ATMs simply haven't undergone the level of attention that voting machines have.
  • by Gannoc ( 210256 ) on Tuesday August 01, 2006 @04:42PM (#15827518)
    The verification mechanism must have an error rate of less than 1 in 10 to the 38th power


    Because requiring an error rate of less than 1 in 10^39 is simply unreasonable to ask. ...and 1 in 10^37???? Well, jeez, might as well just build it out of matchsticks and glue if you're going to be THAT lax.

  • by MikeRT ( 947531 ) on Tuesday August 01, 2006 @04:42PM (#15827520)
    (Disclaimer: I'm a libertarian, not a supporter of either major party and arguably am as amused by the Dems as I am bitterly spiteful toward the Republicans)

    There is a greater culture of voter fraud at work here. The Democrats in particular are quick to scream about voter fraud, voter disenfranchisement whenever an ID-less black person tries to vote and things like that, that go back well before Bush "stole the election." They even have been known to put in fraudulent votes in the names of dead people.

    Both major parties are bad about this. The Republicans now have leverage that can allow them to kick the Democrats squarely in the pants for all of the years of having to fight uphill against democratic-lead voter fraud. They aren't going to give up on Diebold lightly.

    As I have said before, I think that voter fraud by a normal voter should be a simple felony. Six months, permanent revocation of all voting rights, even with a pardon. However, any conspiracy should be legally classified as a conspiracy to overthrow an elected government because that is precisely what organized voter fraud is! It is trying to use the system to bring down an elected government.

    Take a bunch of these Republicrats, especially a few rich and powerful ones, out and give them a firing squad for attempting to overthrow the United States government. That will put a dent into voter fraud like this.
    • by Daniel_Staal ( 609844 ) <DStaal@usa.net> on Tuesday August 01, 2006 @05:00PM (#15827647)
      I like it all, except for 'revocation of voting rights' for normal voting fraud.

      I don't care if they are a felon, or a muderer, or a kiddnapper or anything else. They can be in jail on death row for all I care. They still get to vote, as long as they are an adult.

      Otherwise we have created a way to create classes, 'true citizens' and 'partial citizens.' Which is an enabler of discrimination.

      There is no good reason to deny votes to any possible voter. No matter what.
      • Did you know felons can't vote?

        I do agree with you 100%.

        Now, if companies caught in voter fraud could no longer donate to campaigns, we might be onto something!
        • Actually, I did know that. (Though I think it might depend on the state.)

          I think it is a shame... (And why should only companies caught in voter fraud be disallowed from donating? One of the purposes of government in my view is to be the voice of people to companies.)
        • Did you know felons can't vote?

          It varies state to state; some states you can vote as soon as you are released from prison and re-register. Others, you can't vote until you are off supervised release. Others, it's a permanent lifetime ban. I'm not aware of any that allow voting from in prison for felons, but I don't know for sure.

          Many felons have their "rights fully restored" upon completion of their sentences.
          • Did you know felons can't vote?
            It varies state to state; some states you can vote as soon as you are released from prison and re-register. Others, you can't vote until you are off supervised release. Others, it's a permanent lifetime ban.

            I always found the differences to be amusing. Convicted felon in state A, lifetime loss of voting. Until you move ten miles to state B, all voting rights restored. Only three states -- Florida, Virginia, and Kentucky -- have a lifetime ban. In Florida, thi

      • I don't care if they are a felon, or a muderer, or a kiddnapper or anything else. They can be in jail on death row for all I care. They still get to vote, as long as they are an adult. Otherwise we have created a way to create classes, 'true citizens' and 'partial citizens.' Which is an enabler of discrimination.

        This has the possibility of making certain districts in the US top heavy with incarcerated voters. A lot of prisons (federal, state and local) are grouped together in close proximity such as near

        • Allowing criminals to vote is an important negative feedback mechanism against bad lawmakers.

          One of the classic techniques for a minority to gain control over the law-making system
          is to pass laws that prevent criminals from voting (why should criminals get to vote?),
          then turn around and pass laws which they can use to disenfranchise the parts of the
          society that might not go along with their legislative agenda.

          Think about it: if your legal system basically seems common-sensical to the general
          populace, then y
          • More importantly, you're in a situation where the prison guards control everything and the inmates have no privacy. Would I be willing to vote in such circumstances? Would I be allowed to vote against the nearest guard's party?
    • by jkauzlar ( 596349 ) on Tuesday August 01, 2006 @06:23PM (#15828148) Homepage

      (Disclaimer: I'm a long-time libertarian candidate. You've never heard of me, but then neither has anybody else.)

      First of all, regarding your statement, The Democrats in particular are quick to scream about voter fraud, voter disenfranchisement whenever an ID-less black person blah blah blah, the Democrats have long been the party to defend minority rights. If they weren't quick to scream about voter disenfranchisement they wouldn't be sticking to their platform. It's true that they have a personal interest for doing so, but you can't separate the fact into two separate agendas and treat the Democrats as though they're just scrounging for votes.

      Second of all, Rep John Conyers (D-MI) wrote What Went Wrong In Ohio, describing mountains of evidence for vote tampering and voter disenfranchisement within the Ohio election system by ES&S, Diebold, and Secretary of the State of Ohio Kenneth Blackwell (election supervisor, who will be supervising his own election for governor this year; he was also the chair of Ohio's re-election campaign for GWB). Thousands of complaints were filed by Ohioans (Ohioese?) for the difficulty they'd found in trying to vote.

      To say that both parties are guilty is a serious mistake. I really don't think there is a 'conspiracy' leading up to the Bush administration, but the Republicans, lets face it, have had a culture of corruption leading at least as far back as Eisenhower, McCarthy & J Edgar Hoover. Read the history books, or the nightly news.

      Of course, that's not your entire point. How do you expect to get the government to produce and enforce a law regulating itself? As someone else had said, with an incumbancy rate so high (80-95%?), congress likes things just the way they are. And given the amount of well-documented evidence of vote tampering in Ohio in '04, the federal election officials obviously aren't going to lift a finger to investigate anything. Unless more people start asking questions instead of mockingly crying 'sure, a conspiracy! right!' everytime somebody criticises the gov't, there's not going to be a change. Corruption starts from money, the Republicans have the vast majority of corporate support, the corporations don't care about *you* only your money, yet these cowards, willfully standing up for the power to get robbed by corporate america, still stand up for the republicans when there's evidence of tampering with the election system.

      • Democrats especially are worried about Republicans hacking the digital voting systems.

        Republicans especially are worried about votes by ineligible voters (such as illegal immigrants and felons), multiple voting, and fake voters.

        Of course if there IS such corruption, neither side wants to unilaterally disarm. But perhaps a simultaneous disarmament would work.

        Would you support a compromise bill like this?

        For all federal elections:

        1: Electronic voting machines must produce a paper trail, printing a voted bal
  • by $RANDOMLUSER ( 804576 ) on Tuesday August 01, 2006 @04:50PM (#15827578)
    Voting is easy. Do it early and often.
  • Go forth with the electronic machines, they're fine and we need to move forward eventually. However, there needs to be a paper trail. It's important enough that each vote be represented with an anonymous piece of paper that spits out of the back of each voting machine after each vote is counted.

    Then, count the votes efficiently by downloading the results from each of the electronic machines. But make it easy for anyone to calculate a checksum from the stack of ballots by visually inspecting them, to

    • First of all, why do we need to "move forward eventually"? What's the rush? There is no problem with taking a few days to hand count votes.
      Secondly, if the paper coming out the back does not match what is in the machine which do you believe? They both came out of the same machine. Did the machine count wrong in the first place or did it just print wrong? How do we know the machine didn't print wrong numbers AND count wrong numbers?
  • Clearly we need EAL7 certified open source voting machines.


    We need hand counted paper ballots.

    Let's vote on it. ;-)
    • OK we'll vote using the current system whether to change to the new system.


      It just came out 51% in favour of keeping the diebold machines. Looks like we're not changing.
  • by metoc ( 224422 ) on Tuesday August 01, 2006 @05:22PM (#15827765)
    In Canada we count our ballots manually and generally have results in under two hours after polls close. The USA has more polling stations (with 10 times the population) but not necessarily more people per station. In practice, a manual counting system could be implemented with only a modest increase in people. It could probably pay for itself in time and resources saved not installing/testing/servicing voting machines, and the inevitable audit trail (does anyone still count handing chads)?.
    • The beauty of the manual counting system is verification:

      There is no machine invisibly doing things. Instead the polling official (someone from the local area hired just for the election) counts, while a representative of each party (that cares enough to send a rep.) counts along with them. The official must show each ballot to the reps, and if there's any question the ballot is set aside and examined at the end, the official deciding ultimately if its spoiled or not.

      This way there's none of this "countin
    • Our electoral system is different from the American one. Unless you plan to streamline their elections to match ours, manual counting might not be practical for them. Our most complicated ballots are typically from municipal elections, and those likely wouldn't match the complexity of their minor elections.

      Now, I've never experienced an American election at a ballot station, so I can't say from first hand experience. However, you'd have to think that if there was a way to use a superior counting system, t

  • Diebold should take a lesson from the casino industry. All the modern-day slot machines, video poker machines, etc. that you see in casinos undergo rigorous certifcation testing by the state gaming commissions. First of all, these games would never have the ability to boot from flash, secondary eprom, etc. like the voting machines can. Beyond that, they will lock themselves out if they detect any sort of tampering, from bad checksums when booting up to the device being physically opened. The only way to
  • The most vtelling point by far is that standards for electronic slot machines are so much more stringant. The message waiting just below the surface is that the many various election commissions who should have the deepest possible respect for democracy place a much lower value on it than Vegas puts on a few thousand dollars.

    Would you want to continue employing a night watchman who said (of your property) "It's just a bunch of crap, who cares?"

    Considering the cost of these machines, I find it hard to be

  • The voting machines can be assembled in a fool-proof unopenable casing at the main station, and returned to the main station after the elections.
    And building physically tamper-proof packages is relatively easy.
  • Why not dual-count? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by LinuxDon ( 925232 ) on Tuesday August 01, 2006 @06:01PM (#15828011)
    Isn't the most safe option to have 3 separate company's develop -one- machine?

    - One company develops the casing and only uses old fashioned electronic push buttons.
    - The other two other company's each develop a counter module which are both connected to the same buttons.

    This way, the final results should match.
    If they do not match, the device is broken, or one of the two company's are attempting fraud.
    By keeping the push button system simple, the connections to the counter modules can easily be veryfied by looking at them.

    If the whole thing would be sealed and shielded by a glass plate and the wires would be clearly marked, everyone could in theory check the correctness of the machine.

    This way, for fraud to be commited, the three company's would have to work together which is more unlikely.
    Also, it is possible to prevent the company's from getting in touch with eachother.

    A very important point here is: Keep it stupid simple.
  • Paper Ballots (Score:4, Interesting)

    by rjstanford ( 69735 ) on Tuesday August 01, 2006 @06:19PM (#15828118) Homepage Journal
    So all you really need is for an electronic voting machine to generate a very clear unambiguous paper ballot which gets posted just like a traditional ballot - but without any hanging chads and with everything spelled out (ie: no mention of people you didn't vote for). If the voter doesn't agree with it, they throw it away and redo it... or feed it back into the machine to get another vote, to avoid potential overvotes. When they're happy with it, they walk it over to a sealed box and deposit it.

    On the paper, they have a nice 2D barcode that has all of the votes encoded within it. However, it has a plain English description of those votes as well. Boxes can be opened after the election and very easily (and foolproofly) scanned, incredibly quickly. Some small percentage of them are also hand-counted (there shouldn't be much disagreement in reading the English printout) and the totals compared to the scan-counted totals. Any discrepency forces a full recount.

    So its the best of both worlds. Fast scoring, full paper trail, and no significant chance of fraud. Where's the catch?
    • There really isn't any. The only one Diebold &co have come up with is "The printers aren't reliable enough.". My answer to that is "When was the last time you saw an ATM that couldn't print a receipt? ATMs have to operate 24x365 with irregular maintenance and every random passer-by banging on them. Voting machines only have to operate for 12 hours at a time 4-5 times a year max, with somewhat-trained people right there to feed them paper and ribbons and other consumables and make sure nobody beats on th

    • Re:Paper Ballots (Score:2, Insightful)

      by mOdQuArK! ( 87332 )
      The idea of printing a readable ballot is good, but you don't want a barcode & the readable ballot since the user can't verify that the barcode says the same thing as the readable text.

      OCR has gotten good enough, especially when reading computer-printed output, that the counting machine could read the text part of the ballot without needing some sort of encoding.
  • No simple solution (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jd ( 1658 ) <{moc.oohay} {ta} {kapimi}> on Tuesday August 01, 2006 @06:20PM (#15828121) Homepage Journal
    Paper votes can easily be altered. Simply make sure the ballot boxes "go missing", or in the case of the Mexican election, simply don't provide ballot papers in the areas you don't want voting.

    The best solution I can think of with electronic votes is to use some form of public key encryption with an authenticating block encryption mode. One half of the keys would be provided on a TOTALLY random basis along with the voter card. The decrypting keys would be kept in a tamper-proof computer that is designed to be write-only with the sole exception of the count at the end.

    The voter comes along and enters their vote. The vote is encrypted with their key. As nobody (at this point) has the decryption key, or another copy of the encryption key, it is impossible for the vote to be altered. A copy could then be printed out for backup purposes and placed in a regular ballot box.

    So far, doesn't sound much different from anyone else's electronic system, right? Except that we're not tallying yet. Well, read on. The votes are collected in their encrypted form and kept in some secure system OTHER than the one doing the counting. They are then fed into the counting machine. The counting machine knows what keys are allocated to a given precinct, so tests each potential key against each vote from that precinct. Once a key is used, it is deleted.

    If a vote has no valid decryption key, the vote is invalid and is rejected. This will include duplicate votes (the key has been deleted) as well as votes for which no key has ever existed. The (still encrypted) vote would then be output as a reject.

    The votes are kept seperate and tallied. The output will be the tallies, the votes that comprise that tally, and the grand totals involved. The grand totals should be the same, provided the counters are working correctly.

    Now, what basic checks can we perform, using this sort of system? First, let us say there is a recount. The recount would be of the votes placed into the ballot box. There should be exactly one such ballot box vote that is not spoiled or a duplicate for each and every valid vote printed by the tallying machine and the totals should match exactly. There should ALSO be exactly one spoiled or bogus ballot paper for every rejected vote, although further comparison would be impossible as the rejects are encrypted and the spoiled ballots aren't.

    Ok, how do we know the software is valid? Well, we know that the vote that the user put in the ballot box matched the one they entered in the computer, and we know that there's a 1:1 between the results in the box and the results in the computer, so we know that the computer has to be producing valid data.

    Then what happens when there is a discrepency? With two sources, how do we know which is the one that has the valid data and which does not? The votes are encrypted in a way that is essentially tamper-proof, the ballot boxes are not. The only way to resolve this is to make the ballot boxes reasonably tamper-proof. I'd suggest a wooden or metallic ballot box that has a lid that can be attached with spring-loaded bolts, where the only way to open the box is to cut it open. You want unique non-sequential numbers on RFID tags, to ensure that boxes don't go missing anyway.

    After all that, you will have a more honest system than you do at the moment. You might even discourage those who would cheat the system from even being a part of it. However, ultimately, politicians are professional liars and the extremely rich will always be power brokers. The best system in the world can't clean up the human race, it can only clean up one very small part of the feedback loop. Which is better than nothing, but should not be assumed to be everything.

  • A good voting system should allow every individual to check that their vote was recorded correctly, so I propose the following:

    Every time there is an election, a computer uses a randon number generator and some cryptographic one way cipher along with a individual's SSID to generate a unique voting 'key' - this key is then sent out to the voter with a computer readable and human readable (OCE) number.

    Internet voting and voting at a polling station are no different, except that at a polling station, there is
  • So, if there were an open standard way of doing a "voting receipt" so that you could get:
    • Your Voter record number
    • Your Voter ID
    • Your Votes as cast

    It would seem that you could have a Web site, or a third party at the exit that could scan your receipt and have you validate your choices. It should be implemented by another vendor than Diebold (due to it being an open standard) and work like a Credit Card machine. The print-out could be in three pieces (cut 99% of the way allowing you to tear off the fina

    • Fatally Flawed (Score:3, Insightful)

      by CrayDrygu ( 56003 )
      So I'm sent home with a barcode that -- from anywhere with internet access -- enables me to confirm my vote.

      This same system allows anyone else to, from anywhere, force me to verify my vote to them. Your system is open to a different and entirely easier form of voting fraud -- paying off or otherwise coercing voters. Imagine if I offer to give you money if you come back with your barcode, and I can verify you voted for Bush III. Or, I threaten to break your knees if you *don't* come back with said proof.
    • Giving you a "keeper" reciept is illegal.

      If you could use it to prove to YOURSELF that your vote was counted as cast in a particular way, you could use it to prove to SOMEONE ELSE that your vote was cast in a particular way.

      This enables vote-buying schemes.

      As a result, such reciepts are generally banned by law.
  • by Oriumpor ( 446718 ) on Tuesday August 01, 2006 @07:39PM (#15828498) Homepage Journal
    Look, the honest truth is people cheat to gain advantage, so we must expect this, and mitigate it whenever we (as engineers) can. So, as such the perfect Nevada Gaming Comission approved paper trail keeping, encrypted output, design would still be vulnerable to fraudulent paper ballot injection. One candidate (be they crooked or not) would demand a recount, (thinking the equipment faulty) and the paper votes would return a slightly different result in their favor.

    You can't trust a citizen to be non-political completely if the vote will affect them in any way. So, essentially you need to pay someone to be your referee. And it would have to be someone who wouldn't be affected at all by the result of the vote.

    So by those qualifiers we can't guarantee, ever, that every element of the existing paper vote is secure.

    Two copies of your vote, one right after the other, printed and spewed into two different physical ballot boxes. The second box would contain tamper proof seals and would only be opened in the case of a full manual recount by a third party. As well as two digital copies, signed with a hash which was printed on a receipt (and mailed to an email if you like) you could verify against the other copy sent to the national voting database. Might be marginally better.

    That way you can count all the votes all night and as the final results are tallied any innacuracies between the national and local databases would have to be rectified before any results were accepted from the precinct with invalid data.
  • Let's move on to a system of voting that the majority of American's can understand...

    To vote for candidate #1 call 1-900-ILIKE01 or send the text message "VOTE" to 9901 on your Cingular phone. Phone lines are open now...

  • Ok, I've by no means thought this out thoroughly. But here's my thoughts on a system for electronic voting that could work and be uncomplicated. In other words, one whose security can be apparent to the average person without needing a lengthy explanation.

    As I see it, the system needs to provide these features:

    • An accurate electronic record of votes, with adequate protection from tampering.
    • An anonmymous paper representation of said votes which can be verified by the voter before leaving the booth.
    • On thinking deeper about what I wrote, I'm not sure that the "secret number" and its second hash -- one of those ideas I had while in the middle of writing -- actually provides any benefit at all. I'm sure someone else will post an explanation of why, if they even understand my intent behind it in the first place. Which, by the way, was:

      If an attacker alters a record, he can -- knowing the hash algorithm -- accurately calculate a new hash. Even if the next record's hash is based on the current record's h

"The number of Unix installations has grown to 10, with more expected." -- The Unix Programmer's Manual, 2nd Edition, June, 1972