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From the Trenches of Electronic Voting 37

Avi Rubin, an expert on electronic voting systems, worked as a judge in two elections in 2004, and he worked the chaotic Maryland primary election yesterday. His blog article about a day spent with Diebold voting machines gives impressions from the trenches of electronic voting. From the article: "The least pleasant part of the day was a nagging concern that something would go terribly wrong, and that we would have no way to recover. I believe that fully electronic systems, such as the precinct we had today, are too fragile. The smallest thing can lead to a disaster... I can't imagine basing the success of an election on something so fragile as these terrible, buggy machines... As far as I'm concerned, the 'tamper tape' does very little in the way of actual security... I hope that we got it right in my precinct, but I know that there is no way to know for sure. We cannot do recounts."
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From the Trenches of Electronic Voting

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  • I hope that we got it right in my precinct, but I know that there is no way to know for sure. We cannot do recounts."

    Ok, correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't such a system keep a master table of every vote that was recorded, at what time, on what electronic ballot, what location, and by whom? Therefore, in truth, they could in some manner confirm every voters vote with the voter themself? I know they're not going to do it, but wouldn't that data be available, therefore recounts are possible by confirmi
    • You're wrong. One of the basic tenets of our democracy is that voting should be anonymous.
    • Re:Re-Count? (Score:5, Informative)

      by rfc1394 ( 155777 ) <Paul@paul-robinson.us> on Wednesday September 13, 2006 @10:14AM (#16096359) Homepage Journal
      Ok, correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't such a system keep a master table of every vote that was recorded, at what time, on what electronic ballot, what location, and by whom? Therefore, in truth, they could in some manner confirm every voters vote with the voter themself? I know they're not going to do it, but wouldn't that data be available, therefore recounts are possible by confirming each voters vote with the actual voter?
      Okay, you're wrong. :) They do not do this, and it would probably be illegal if they did. Such a log would violate some state laws and state constitutions requiring that voters be able to vote in secret (which would include being anonymous as a result of what they voted). A log that showed who voted for whom would provide way too much loss of privacy and make it too likely that how a person voted could be tracked and discovered.

      There is a very simple, much more inexpensive and reliable method of providing secret ballots with anonymous voting. It's called using a printed ballot. Most precincts have a few hundred people voting, it can't take that long to count X's on a page. And having been a polling officer at a local election - twice - I know of what I speak. And yeah, we use electronic machines at our polling place. I'm not sure if they are accurate or not, but we do.

      The simplest answer would be for the machine to issue a slip with each ballot that is dropped into a hopper after the vote. The slip would only display the vote, not who did. And to make sure it was anonymous, the hopper could be rotated regularly to mix the slips.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by killmenow ( 184444 )
      Supposedly, No. The design is such that it is supposed to prevent mapping precisely who voted for whom. This is a basic part of voting in the US (if not the world over). If it is easy for the powers to be to figure out precisely who each and every one of us votes for, it plays into the hands of a horrible form of corruption. It enables retaliation, even the threat of which is sufficient cause for some people to change their vote. That type of vote manipulation is not supposed to be possible.

      Still, I
    • Re:Re-Count? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by smooth wombat ( 796938 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2006 @10:15AM (#16096368) Journal
      Ok, correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't such a system keep a master table of every vote that was recorded, at what time, on what electronic ballot, what location, and by whom?


      You're kidding, right? The whole purpose of our election system is so no one knows how you voted. What you're questioning is the complete opposite of the way things are (supposed to be).

      Therefore, in truth, they could in some manner confirm every voters vote with the voter themself?

      See above. No, you cannot confirm with a voter how they voted. It's supposed to be a secret.

      I know they're not going to do it, but wouldn't that data be available, therefore recounts are possible by confirming each voters vote with the actual voter? Example: The master record says you John Doe voted for Patty Sue, is this correct?

      For the third time, NO! We DO NOT record the name of a voter with a vote. All that is recorded is a vote.

      However, what Avi is saying is completely correct because even when we are told they can recount the votes cast, there is no way, currently, to verify if the votes were recorded correctly when cast. For all we know there is code somewhere which takes every fourth vote for one candidate and records it for the opposite candidate.

      This is why a paper trail is absolutely, positively, 100% needed if we are going to be forced to use electronic voting machines.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ArmyLT ( 995763 )
      Yes, in theory you could contact everyone. Why didn't they just do that in Florida? (that's mean, I'm sorry)

      Without a physcial paper trail, which I hope could be verified by the voter, recounts would take a VERY long time.

      Furthermore, even if you could reliably contact each person, who is to say they are going to tell you the truth? They may have voted for X, but once questioned can't remember and just say Y. That is why you have one chance to vote, no take-backs.

      Finally, without a physcial, voter-ver
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      The characteristics of a successful election are anonyminity and correctness. This is why electronic voting machines cannot be made like ATMs where a transaction record is kept that ties each transaction to an account and if anomalies are found, all changes can be backed out. In an election, the only thing that can be recorded is that someone voted, not who they voted for. Otherwise intimidation can be used against people willing to vote for an unpopular candidate. "Don't vote for Kerry/Edwards, WE'LL KN
    • by sakusha ( 441986 )
      My understanding of the theory of voting systems is that some of your ideas would be illegal. Specifically, it would be illegal to keep records of which voter used a specific e-ballot. This would allow precinct staff to track a single vote to a single voter. This is specifically illegal, as it would allow "pay for vote" scams where a politician (perhaps in collusion with precinct staff) would pay voters upon proof they voted for him.

      For more explanation of the theory of voting systems, I highly recommend Co
      • There are rational reasons for some of the obscure aspects of our voting system, all of them could be solved by scrapping the high-tech crap and just using paper ballots.

        A lot of those mechanisms were designed _specifically_ because of problems that have occurred historically with corruption in voting schemes. All of this (voting screwup) is a direct application of the adage "those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it".

        All election supervisors & staff members should be absolutely requ

        • by sakusha ( 441986 )
          Yes, that is precisely my point. Doug Jones' site is full of papers with the history of voting systems. The current US system (well, in theory) is the result of a long history of evolution of voting systems, as they changed to eliminate corruption. Most of the corruption seemed to come from officials bent on subverting the vote, and operated at precinct levels, a corrupt election official could only corrupt the voting results in one precinct, and since precincts were never controlled universally by one part
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      I've worked with these systems on three elections and I can only speak for how we did it in my county, but I can say that there that the way that the system is set up, it'd difficult to impossible to link a voter to a vote.

      After you sign in and are verified as someone is registered in the precinct (in California you can still vote a Provisional ballot even if you aren't registered, but it's a paper ballot), you are given an access card that has been activated by one of the polling place workers that allow

    • Ok, correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't such a system keep a master table of every vote that was recorded, at what time, on what electronic ballot, what location, and by whom?

      We have secret elections for a number of important reasons. One of the most important is that your vote can't be used against you. There are a lot of people who would like to be able to see how you voted and would buy an illegal copy of the database you propose. A crooked politician might use voting records of people whose votes

  • PEBTSAU (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 13, 2006 @11:09AM (#16096594)
    Problem Exists Between Touch-Screen and User

    I was one of those 'disinfranchized' in the Maryland primary last night. Being a junior, I share the same name as my father except for the title. I heard some of the horror stories from my parents when they voted at their polling place, located just inside Baltimore City. After I got up to the judges to get my card to vote, I learned that I was 'Cancelled'. They let me do a provisional, however.

    Chatting with my father, talking with a third election judge that was assisting everyone, and my own observations revealed a startling fact. Basically, the two judges manning the touch screens and the voter rosters are F-in' idiots. They had no idea how the touch screens worked. They didn't know you could scroll to see more names, so how many people were turned away, with them saying a voter wasn't in the system? My father had to point out and explain how to use the system. And he is NOT a judge, nor affiliated with the voting system other than by being a normal citizen voter. And that other judge 'politely' informed me of the other judges general intelligence as he was helping to set me up at another booth with the provisinal.

    Most likely, the two geniuses knocked my name out when they were dicking around earlier, leading to my provisional ballot. Thankfully, as a Republican (in a heavily-Democratic Balt. City), this was only a primary. Having my ballot lost here wouldn't be as bad as in the general election. I'm definately worried about the general election, however.

    I'm also curious as the the density of these 'voting irregularities', including the political makeup of the regions they are located. I'm not saying it's politically motivated; I'm just curious if the old addage about "Republicans have no heart, and Democrats have no brains" has any truth to it. :D

    • I'm just curious if the old addage about "Republicans have no heart, and Democrats have no brains" has any truth to it. :D

      I won't offer my opinion on the adage, but something is seriously wrong with these two parties. I would love to be able to vote from my computer, right here, without having to go somewhere. If I had to go somewhere, it would be gee-whiz cool if there was a nice computerized system for me to use. But if either of these options came at the cost of losing the integrity, or even just p
      • Maybe in 20 years the tech will get there, but it ain't there yet and I think it's absurd that we're basically experimenting with the integrity of the voting system during a time of great political tension.

        With the possible exceptions of a few weeks after WWI, WWII, and 09/11, there has never been a time that we weren't in "a time of great political tension".

        But that's okay. Political tension is a sign of a healthy democracy, in which people are willing to speak and push for their cause. Compare this to

        • With the possible exceptions of a few weeks after WWI, WWII, and 09/11, there has never been a time that we weren't in "a time of great political tension".

          Let me get this straight.... you don't think there is greater political tension in this country now that we are occupying a foreign country that we invaded on false pretenses, under the command of a president whose previous elections were called into question by irregularities at the polls, a president who has laid claim to powers of the judicial bran
    • I'm just curious if the old addage about "Republicans have no heart, and Democrats have no brains" has any truth to it. :D

      From my perspective as an independent, it seems more like the Republican leadership has no heart(compassion), Republican followers have no brains (or refuse to use them), and the Democrats have no self-discipline or sense of cooperation (which leads to irrelevancy of having either brains and/or hearts). Not quite as catchy as the original, but it fits more of the behavior from both part

    • by curunir ( 98273 ) *

      I'm just curious if the old addage about "Republicans have no heart, and Democrats have no brains" has any truth to it.

      The way I've heard the adage is:
      "If you're not a Democrat when you're in your 20's, you have no heart. And if you're not a Republican when you're in your 40's you have no brain."

      Though I would put it (with apologies for mixing adages):
      "If you're ever a Democrat or a Republican, you're one of those people who's doomed to repeat the mistakes of others."

  • Hope (Score:3, Insightful)

    by truthsearch ( 249536 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2006 @11:21AM (#16096699) Homepage Journal
    I hope that we got it right in my precinct, but I know that there is no way to know for sure.

    Then you didn't get it right. There can be no "hope" in voting records. Either it's right and verifiable, or the voting system is a failure.
  • With this mad push to electronic voting the part of Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon keeps coming to mind, where some "gnomes" trigger an electromagnetic pulse from the street and fry everything in a building. How hard would it be to disable huge geographic areas with something like that, if and when such a thing is put into practice? It's a high-tech spanner in the works.

    At least when I voted yesterday I marked a paper ballot which was then read by an optical reader. Even if you fried the reader I could sti
  • From the blog: Diebold must be held accountable for hiring people who know nothing about the machines and it appears, elections.

    At least Diebold is consistent....it doesn't know anything about voting machines and elections either.
  • by SpaceLifeForm ( 228190 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2006 @12:55PM (#16097624)
    Disregarding the issues with insecure electronic voting machines, the main reason in my mind to not rely upon them is the possibility of a power failure.

    Besides the fact that voters could be disenfranchised due to a power outage, you also have the problem of hardware failure due to power outages or brownouts or spikes, which could result in the loss of the voting tallys that had been accumulated to that point.

    Paper and pencil are power-failure tolerant.

    For that reason alone, all voting should be paper and pencil based.

  • The current difficulties with touch-screen voting are really just a 21st-Century continuation of the fine, American tradition of rigging elections. It's been going on for most of the time the United States has existed; the only difference being that it is much harder to be able to prove it's been happening and even harder to get a court to hear the matter. To paraphrase Joseph Stalin: "It's not who votes that matters, it's who counts the votes that matters". The argument over voting goes all the way back
  • by Anonymous Coward
    We're being set up again. This time, whether through incompetence or fraud or a combination of the two, many elections will be found to be invalid. With that being given, the Supreme Court will have little choice but to declare that the encumbents, "fairly selected" in a prior election, must continue to serve until the law suits are settled. That might be for one or possibly several more terms. Be prepared for several more years of shenanigans by the usual suspects.

    I wonder if this could backfire on the

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