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Unauditable Voting Machines 343

CustomDesigned writes "AP news has a story on how the new proprietary voting machines for Palm County, FL are working (or not). It seems that voters are complaining that their votes weren't taken. The company claims that the machines are "self auditing", but won't say how they are "audited". The loser of a mayoral race is suing for a review of now the machines work. But doing so voids the warranty, so the election supervisor won't allow it. So, nobody knows how the machines work, but as long as we don't try to find out, the company "guarantees" that they do - whether they seem to or not. I don't expect are problems this fall, do you?" After the debacle, there was lot of noise about electronic voting systems, even ones which use open-source software and were thus completely auditable. Absolutely none of that talk has made it into practice.
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Unauditable Voting Machines

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  • Holy moly! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MaxVlast ( 103795 ) <maxim&sla,to> on Saturday July 20, 2002 @08:28AM (#3921940) Homepage
    Who's responsible for these things? And how much of the taxpayers' money did they cost? I hope the voters pay attention in November.

    I'd really like to know why private business has so much sway over government in these sorts of things. I'm quite certain that this county's contract is one of the largest orders that the company has ever gotten. How come the county, as the consumer, doesn't realize that it has the power in the situation, and instead of acting out of fear of the company, should act to protect the interests of its residents.
    • Don't open them, or you void the warranty, but we promise that none of our employees have secret backdoors installed that let them modify the poll results.
      Why don't I trust these things?
    • Re:Holy moly! (Score:2, Flamebait)

      by isdnip ( 49656 )
      Who's responsible? The article points out that the decisions are being made by none other than Theresa LaPore. She's the genius behind 2000's Butterfly Ballot. No, it didn't conform to Florida law, but Jeb was willing to let it slide so long as it benefitted his family. Now there's a voting machine with no real recount possible? Sounds like Jeb must have recommended it.
    • Re:Holy moly! (Score:5, Informative)

      by JamieF ( 16832 ) on Saturday July 20, 2002 @12:08PM (#3922692) Homepage
      >I'd really like to know why private business has so much
      >sway over government in these sorts of things.

      See, there's this thing called "bribery". It'a a major factor in this other thing called "corruption". Since you're apparently not aware of either, you should look into these new concepts right away. It'll give you a better understanding of why this "campaign finance reform" thing keeps coming up.

      P.S. it's spelled "Holy Moley" in the Captain Marvel comics where (as far as I know) that phrase originated.
      • Re:Holy moly! (Score:2, Insightful)

        by dubl-u ( 51156 )
        I'd really like to know why private business has so much sway over government in these sorts of things.
        See, there's this thing called "bribery". It'a a major factor in this other thing called "corruption".

        You're forgetting Hanlon's Razor []. Having done some contracts for government, the truth is often simpler.

        Consider the typical bureaucrat, a lifer whose main skills are political. You've got a person who is risk-averse, ignorant of the outside world, and in charge of something important. They write up a nice request for proposal (RFP), and three months later they get back a bunch of proposals. They immediately throw out all the ones from small or new outfits, because even if they are innovative, they might not be around long enough. Then they pick the safest, shiniest one and send them a big ol' check.

        If the bureaucrat is smart, dedicated, and careful, this system works pretty well. And honestly, a surprising fraction of them are. But generally a good marketroid can run rings around the bureaucrats.

        To my mind the main problem is that bureaucrats say, "Gosh, I am a smart and broadly educated person; I can understand all this." But they don't, and so they get suckered.

        Note that geeks are not immune to this. During the 2000 Election foofaraw, I can't count the number of people who said, "Gosh, I could hack together something much better than this paper ballot thingy." But electronic voting has a metric shitload of subtle, unresolved issues; some pretty [] smart [] people [] say it's either impossible or just very, very hard to do right.

        So look it as a combination of naive geeks and naive bureaucrats, with some pretty ordinary businesspeople in between. The result is the same, with no bribery needed.
    • Each year they hold a referendum on whether to:
      1. Keep the machines
      2. Replace them with new machines from another company
      3. Replace them with new machines from the same company
      Guess which one the voters keep unanimously choosing? Pure democracy at its finest.
  • by __aadhrk6380 ( 585073 ) on Saturday July 20, 2002 @08:33AM (#3921947) Journal
    As long as you don't open the box, it is alive. I love to see solid sciences adapted for use by the general public.

  • I hope that the recent corporate scandals (Enron, Arthur Anderson, Worldcom, Johnson'n'Johnson) will force people to realize that they can't assume everyone will always follow the rules. There needs to be a reliable & convenient means of verifying that rules are followed or people will break them, hoping they won't be caught. If these 4 giant multinationals could get away with accounting malpractice of such magnitude for this long, there are bound to be others doing the same who haven't been exposed yet.

    Similarly, unless it can be proven to the voting population that the election process works as advertised, they should not accept any claims that it does so at face value. Doing so is just begging to be scammed by people willing to take the small risk of being found out, especially when the prize is, in many cases, a great deal of political power.
  • Brazil (Score:2, Informative)

    by lay ( 519543 )

    That's where they should take a lesson from.

    They have had electronic voting systems for ages, and I've never heard bad stuff about it. Maybe they have something to teach here, in terms of audits, standard procedures and transparency.

    Brazilian people will know what I'm talking about when I say that everyone takes corruption and influence traffic as something that does exist there, so one would have to be at least a bit carefull when implementing a system that doesn't give you phisical voting cards that you can actualy grab with your hands and show them. People will rightfully be wary of electronic voting systems if things are not transparent.

    It basicaly gets down to a matter of convenience. In large countries like China, Canada, USA or Brazil, you'll take a substantial amount of time to know the results of an election in traditional voting systems. Electronic voting solves that. Brazilians know who their next president is going to be a couple of hours after the ballots have closed.

    OTOH, it introduces the problem of easy tampering. With voting cards, there needs to be a guy (or a gang of them) that steals the votes while nobody's watching and replaces the same number of votes with the result he wishes, and besides being risky, it does not guarantee a result that he wants. With electronic voting, you can add a couple of zeros here and truncate a couple of zeros there.

    How can such a system can be implemented without spartan audits, is beyond me...

    • How can such a system can be implemented without spartan audits, is beyond me...
      That's exactly how you do it. I briefly described the procedure long long ago in a /. comment far far away, but smart cards and digital signatures can be used to give each user a certified copy of their own ballot and allow them to verify that their counted and posted ballot are the same as the voted ballot.

      Every voter would be issued a smart card containing a private key and a serial number, signed by the election authority. All cards would be accounted for. The voter's identity and the matching public key would be recorded in the voter registry. At the close of registration and before the election, the list of valid ballot numbers would be published.

      At polling time, the user would insert the smart card into a voting terminal and make their choices. The smart card would generate a pseudonymous key pair which never leaves the card. The choices and a ballot number, signed by the ballot machine key and the election authority key, would be sent to the smart card, where a copy is recorded and a pseudonymous signature applied. The double-signed ballot would be returned to the machine and stored in bulk. For confidentiality, the voting machine would not record the identity of the voter's key. As far as we know, 512 bit RSA is still resistant to attack in the necessary window of a few weeks, and the strength used can easily increase given sufficient smartcard and bulk storage.

      At the close of the election, the results would be posted in their entirety (200 million * 200 bytes = 40GB uncompressed, possibly collated by the last few digits of the voting machine key) so that a voter could look up their own ballot number and confirm that their choices were as they selected and that the signatures on the ballot and on the card match. Anonymity would be preserved through the pseudo-key arrangement. All unregistered cards would be read out to ensure they were not voted and are accounted for.

      Ballots must be secure against addition, change, or deletion. The system is somewhat resistant to addition because the voting machine would verify the card is on the list of issued and thus votable cards, and refuse to work if the card is not. Cards can also be compared to the valid card list post-vote. It may be possible to issue false cards before registration closes and to vote them later, but the same problem exists with paper ballots and tighter inventory control can help. Losing ballots could happen if an entire voting machine "falls off the back of a truck", or more likely malfunctions, but many if not all such ballots could be recovered when people verifying their own ballot notice their ballots not present in the results.

      Ballots are secured against post-vote malicious editing by being publicized. Pre-vote, a voting machine could ask the card to sign a ballot other than the voter voted. This could be prevented by allowing the voter to compose their ballot on a separate machine than stores the ballot, allowing a user to confirm their vote on a third machine if desired before it is recorded. Alternately, the user, given appropriate equipment, could compose their vote at home before going to the polling place.

      Any possible attacks I forgot here that don't involve subverting the entire system end-to-end?

      So with open-source auditing, a fair and accurate vote can be held. The problem is that the powers that be don't want that. It's far more important at the present time, IMHO, to change the voting system so that voters can more expressively state their preferences and so that races can handle more than two candidates.


  • Well (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RetiefUnwound ( 472931 ) on Saturday July 20, 2002 @08:40AM (#3921961)
    The obvious question is:

    How can voters be expected to trust a voting mechanism when there is no accountability? I don't give two sh*ts about the machine being proprietary. If the machine's method cannot be audited publicly it has NO business being used for any public business.

    Whoever orchestrated the purchase of these machines: a) has no business in office, and b) probably got a kickback from the manufacturer.

    (Yeah I'm cynical. It's a hobby.)
    • Re:Well (Score:2, Informative)

      by p3d0 ( 42270 )
      What amazes me is that this is not totally obvious to everyone.
    • Re:Well (Score:3, Insightful)

      Whoever orchestrated the purchase of these machines: a) has no business in office, and b) probably got a kickback from the manufacturer.

      Why bother with a kickback? In this case, the manufacturer had something much more valuable than a mere kickback to give to the decision maker. Namely, the promise that from now on, he will win every election in his town...

    • Re:Well (Score:2, Insightful)

      by theMightyE ( 579317 )
      Q:How can voters be expected to trust a voting mechanism when there is no accountability?

      A:They shouldn't

      Having a company 'guarantee' that it's voting machines are working sets up an entirely wrong set of incentives. To illustrate this a bit, suppse you work at VotingMachines Inc., it's the day after an election, and you find a bug in the code that could have affected the results. Assuming nobody else has ever been allowed to see the code, is it in your best interest to (A) quietly fix the bug for next time and not say anything, or (B) go public with the problem and have CNN show up on your doorstep the next day asking why your products suck so much and why anyone should ever buy one again. Ideally, people would be honest and go public, but realistically, we've all been in situations where we've had to make this kind of choice (OK, maybe not at this magnitude of importance) and have at least felt tempted to go the quiet route

      Contrast this situation to the case of an open system. As a programmer for this kind of machine, your incentive is to fix bugs as soon as they are found and it would be impossible to hide the fact that a bug may have skewed the vote. Also, it would be possible to figure out if any given bug would have been likely to actually affect the vote count significantly enough to change the result of the election.

      In my mind at least, it's clear that the open system sets a much stronger standard for public trust in the system, and given that vote fraud has been going on as long as people have been voting, ensuring that the public can trust a given voting system is as important a part of democratic action as the vote itself.

  • by satanami69 ( 209636 ) on Saturday July 20, 2002 @08:43AM (#3921965) Homepage
    The parent company subcontracts out the makers of the devices is called Penultimate Inc. They are a shady company that buys off politicians so no one asks questions when things go wrong. The Miami Herald [] has stories about them a lot:

    Penultimate, Inc., which equipped a Florida jail with automatic garage-opener gates that accidentally freed prisoners in a lightning storm.

    They are building a parking garage at Miami Inrt Airport, which is three years behind schedule and 5 times the cost.
    • I'm not sure how apparent it was in the parent post, but the description is (I'm fairly certain) from a fictional novel by Dave Barry. From the review of "Big Trouble" []:

      Dave Barry, the only newsman to win a Pulitzer for exemplary use of words like booger, will please humor and crime-fiction fans alike with this racy debut novel. The scene is Miami. In ritzy Coconut Grove, the teen son of Eliot, a newsman turned adman, sneaks up to spritz a cute girl with a Squirtmaster 9000 to win a high school game called Killer. Meanwhile, two hit men sneak up to kill the girl's abusive stepdad, Arthur. Arthur cheated his bosses at corrupt Penultimate, Inc., which equipped a Florida jail with automatic garage-opener gates that accidentally freed prisoners in a lightning storm.
      • It sounds like the parent post believed it. Maybe the Miami paper has Dave Barry's column in there regularly and the person didn't realize it was satire? (Dave Barry is one of the best satirical writers that is currently alive. I used one of his pieces for a speech competition a few years back, and it worked rather well for me =] )
  • by Krapangor ( 533950 ) on Saturday July 20, 2002 @08:43AM (#3921966) Homepage
    I suppose they don't want the inner workings the box disclosed because they fear that the competitors steal their design.
    But if they had a patent on this stuff they could agree to the disclosure without problems.
    You see a good example would patent would come in handy and everybody would profit.
    But they seem to be always at the wrong places.
    • The home page for Sequoia Voting Systems, who make these machines is here []

      You can have a go with an interactive demo here [] and view an automatic demo (with a picture of the machine) here []. These may not be the actual machines used in Florida, but are likely similar.

      As you can see it is a simple text-based touch-screen menu system (although elsewhere on the site they talk about showing pictures of candidates). A patent is (or at least should be) only applicable when there is something novel. They might have novel auditing stuff on the back-end, but there doesn't seem to be anything new here.

      • The advanced features of this application require the use of a modern browser such as:

        Internet Explorer 5.x - 6.x

        Please log in again using one of these browsers.

        Does this mean that if ever Bill Gates runs for President, they will only count votes cast for a "modern" candidate? Scary stuff!

        • Yuck. Got the same thing (using Mozilla). And if you go to their home page, they resize your window for no apparent reason.

          Just fired off an email to, ending with

          Either way, until your site is fixed I will be asking my representatives to avoid your products. Call it the thin end of the wedge - if you're willing to force people who just want information to use security-impaired proprietry (and hence unauditable) products, what does that say about what you'll be forcing on voters?
          I know this'll probably get modded down (-1, Browser Activism) but this type of thing isn't acceptable. It's one thing to not put the effort into testing with every possible browser combination, quite another to deliberately and maliciously block people who use browsers other than a narrow set of proprietry security-hole-ridden, not even giving them the chance, especially when, however minor, the issue is information about a proposed component to a democratic system.
  • by Yousef ( 66495 ) on Saturday July 20, 2002 @08:45AM (#3921968)
    Why not get Anderson's to do the Auditing... :-)
  • >>"...information the plaintiffs are seeking is filed with the state Division of Elections...she couldn't provide it because it includes trade secrets of Sequoia Voting Systems Inc., which manufactures the machines."

    Doesn't the right to vote take precedence over a perceived obligation to protect "trade secrets"?
  • Ok, let's get this straight, because some users of the machines think they should get a paper reciept confirming their vote we are worried that the machines do not work? Maybe it's because these things look like an ATM that people think it should function like an ATM - but typically in balloting you are not supposed to get a receipt. If you do, you can prove how you voted, which makes it easier to sell your vote (someone could sit outside a voting locations and pay money for receipts for their candidate).

    I am sure the damned machines work fine. I think the company that makes the machines is being unneccessarily cagey about how the ballot machines function - it's not like this stuff is rocket science. I can't see their intellectual property being all that valuable - but hey, it's theirs to protect.

    It also seems that the people who were responsible for make the purchase decicison for the ballot machines were privy to the details of their inner workings - but were required to agree to some sort of NDA. So I really don't see a problem here. Just seems like the normal whining that always accompany major changes to the public's interface with the government.


    • Even if the actual voter doesn't recieve a reciept, there should be some hard data trail for use in lawsuits and such. "It's true because I say so" will only get you so far in a court of law, or in public opinion.

      So what if the public wants to whine about changes in the way they interface with the government they elected to represent them? In a democracy the government is responsible to us, not the other way around. Large changes like this should be able to stand up to any public scrutiny and prove its reliability and accountability.

      It's not like anyone would even THINK of altering the software in these machines so they automatically chose the winner based on whichever party has paid off the manufacturer the most. Nah, such underhanded tactics wouldn't get past the high ethical standards that our elected officials and business executives in the US are known for.
    • I am sure the damned machines work fine.
      Did you read the article?
      "The problem with self-auditing voting machines is if it's broken, how can you tell that it's broken?"
      But you, I, and and voters will never know that, will we? Equipment purchased for public benefit, in a state where a major voting debacle decided the last presidential election, should be open and accountable. How can there be trust without publicly verifiable accountability? How else will anyone ever know? Companies and politicians lie! As seen on the TV!

      Frankly I'm tired of elected officials (and appointed! most gov't workers are appointed or hired!) telling us we should trust them. Open Source Government Now!
    • Blockquoth the poster:
      but typically in balloting you are not supposed to get a receipt.
      Well, I haven't voted in the multi-thousands of electoral districts, so far be it from me to say what is "typical". But I have voted in four different states and in each one I received a receipt. It doesn't show how you voted but it at least shows a record of voting. If you read the article, some people feel their votes were just dropped, lost in the bit bucket. A receipt at least indicates that something went on.
    • or the system could do something novel, like print the users vote on a piece of paper which the voter can see through a window until they confirm their vote, then into a bin it drops. then if Jenna Bush claims she didn't win the 2028 election, there's a machine-generated easy-to-audit pile of paper, in addition to the electronic methods of auditing.

      this system is about as trustworthy as dating advice from slashdot.

    • It goes a bit further than that.

      If the machines cannot be audited, what is keeping the manufacturer from electronically altering the outcome? Also, auditing must an ongoing affair, perhaps the machines delivered by the company are not the ones inspected by those responsible for the purchase decision?

      All steps of the voting process must be transparent, orr fraud will occur. With paper ballots, overseers cannot see who I vote for but they see me with one valid ballot paper, and see me put it in the locked container. There are people overseeing the counting, and others overseeing the overseers. It is very hard to commit fraud in a paper ballot if the group perpetrating the fraud is small, and the overseers chosen at random, as is the case in most democratic countries

      Since the votes are cast truly invisible in ballot machines, the tallying in electronic ballot machines is harder to oversee by humans. For that reason, the inner workings of such machines must be audited on an ongoing basis, and done on each individual machine, by a broad and ever changing group of auditors.
    • I am sure the damned machines work fine. I think the company that makes the machines is being unneccessarily cagey about how the ballot machines function - it's not like this stuff is rocket science. I can't see their intellectual property being all that valuable - but hey, it's theirs to protect.

      I don't know if I blame the company, or the morons in the government who agreed to such an arrangement. Public voting HAS to be auditable. It's not an option.
  • I worked on an electronic voting machine for a few years. We did the reporting system and the ballot creation system - another company actually did the device and firmware.

    There was no means with which to tell the user what they just voted for, but the system to audit votes (in case of a recount or whatever) was very good. The device itself had triple-redundant everything, and gobs of anti-tamper features. Neat device.

    The project was cancelled for two reasons. First, no one could sell an electronic voting machine very well around '99. Local election officials want paper ballots. Then TPTB decided "there's no future in electronic balloting". They cancelled the project.

    I just laughed and laughed when I saw them on TV testifying in the Florida election debacle hearings.
  • Like the problem is that there is a real issue with the machines, as much as two other things.

    1)voters who claim their vote wasnt taken (how do they know? Did the machine go :ding: "you smell.. Im not taking your vote! No vote for you!" or something? Remember.. these people were too stupid in a lot of cases to understand how to poke a hole in a butterfly ballot or to follow a line to a persons name.. you expect them to make a bilingual computer screen work?

    2) SOmeone who wanted to get elected did not get elected, and knowing the machines were under an NDA or were otherwise inauditable at the moment (even though they apparently passed all their initial tests with flying colors) started screaming ITS THE MACHINES FAULT!
    Great tradition we have started here.. "The people did not elect me by their votes.. I must challenge and challenge until I win!"

    Cant we just go back to the days of dropping small rocks into boxes for votes?

    • 1). The adverage IQ is 100 that means half of the people who can vote have below adverage IQ however you measure IQ, thats just the way it is, who's to say you vote is better than somone elses.

      2). They should really have thaught about this first, don't forget polititians have an adverage IQ of 90,

      anyhow i think there should only be numbers on the ballot and any campains so that you have to know what your voting for!.
      • 1). The adverage IQ is 100 that means half of the people who can vote have below adverage IQ however you measure IQ, thats just the way it is, who's to say you vote is better than somone elses.

        Oh.. no doubt. And I'm not saying anyones vote is "better" than anyone elses.. but I am saying that you have to take into account the fact that a lot of politicians drum up support from sectors of society who cannot figure out how to work a VCR.. and do it intentionally, because they know large *OTHER* sectors of society cant be bothered to go out and vote, because they feel above the system, or are so distrustful of politics in general that they dont trust ANYONE in the office.
        Sheep *can* be good for something other than tight sweaters on cute girlys, it appears.

        ). They should really have thaught about this first, don't forget polititians have an adverage IQ of 90,

        I think they *did* think about this. I think they went for the "simplest" and "best" (read, hardest to "misinterpret") method they could find, and it STILL leaves people in the dust as far as satisfaction of voting experience goes.
        Bear in mind, that that election (bush-gore) changed the political face of society. From now on it will be accepted that people are going to complain if they lose the election, demand recounts until the end of time, and demand re-votes because they THINK they should have won. Get used to it, because it will keep happening. Sore losers are nothing new to politics, but they are now a dominant force, I am afraid. I can understand recounts and revotes when it comes down to 1 or 10 votes.. but I think it is going to be way out of hand from now on.

        anyhow i think there should only be numbers on the ballot and any campains so that you have to know what your voting for!.

        Hehehe.. yeah. I agree.. but then, I also think voting should be conducted in english only. See.. maybe I'm an elitist prick, but I figure if you love this country enough to choose the people who run it, you at *LEAST* oughtta learn the national language while you are at it.

        (ah hell.. I have karma to burn.. mod as troll if'n ya want, its just my personal opinion)


        • I think you're missing the ENTIRE DAMN POINT, which is not that some people may or may not have lost votes, but that there's NO WAY to tell if they do or not, because the company won't allow you to audit them. Essentially, this means that the entire electoral process is governed by a single corporate entity. They could be the most perfect machines in existence, with a 0% failure rate and 100% easy to use and it would STILL be wrong. This has nothing to do with whiny politicians or stupid voters (I enjoy how you assume that any voter who complains must be stupid, by the way, I'm sure that makes you feel better abour yourself), although it may have taken a "whiny politician" to bring the case into the public eye. You certainly like to throw around alot of armchair patriotism - I wonder how serious it actually is and how much you TRULY uphold the ideals that the country was founded on. Hint - it's not bullshit about "damn immigrants need to learn english".

          You actually have a decent (albeit obvious) point about changes in political reality, although I don't think it's as extreme as you claim, considering the ENOURMOUS backlash Gore got for it. However, in such a climate, having a voting machine that you can actually verify and audit would seem essential, eh?

      • 1). The adverage IQ is 100 that means half of the people who can vote have below adverage IQ however you measure IQ, thats just the way it is, who's to say you vote is better than somone elses.

        Sorry to be nitpicking, but you seem to confuse median and average here. Just imagine a collection of 10 people, one with an IQ of 10, and the 9 others of 110. Average will be 100, but there's only one person below.

    • You know what? It doesn't matter what the motivation of the people is for complaining. The fact of the matter is, the system is intrinsically unaccountable -- and that's true whether or not Joe won the election. Sure, they might simply be whining. But how would you know? For democracy to work, it is vital that people believe in the integrity of the election process. These machines -- by being unauditable and hence not even in principle accountable to third parties -- undermine that legitimacy.

      We tend to forget how often it is someone's "whining" that throws a real problem into sharp relief.

  • by Lord Bitman ( 95493 ) on Saturday July 20, 2002 @09:07AM (#3922007) Homepage

    That "Nigger: Yes/No" before voting

    Asking if you want to recieve important voter product information in your mailbox

    Uses CyberAge for verification

    You have to agree to a long EVLA which basically states that your Voter Registration Card is property of Sequoia Voting Systems Inc.

    Some say that the popup ads for republican candidates violates the 500-yards rule, though advertisers insist that this being a digital medium, the 700-yard long EVLA should be counted in the measurement

    Voting System always seems to hang on important issues

    Text-feild for write-ins has 3 character limit

    Can't really get through the voting proccess without going out and downloading 17 VBRun dll files

    Many voters complained of a lack of MP3 support

    No confirmation message saying that your vote has been recieved.

  • Works well pretty much everywhere else. Clearly written numbers, or ticks, are unambiguous (no "chads") and leave a concrete paper trail that can be audited with ease.
    • Blockquoth the poster:
      Clearly written numbers, or ticks, are unambiguous
      Of course. That's what makes them "clearly written". By the same token, "clearly punched holes" are unambiguous, too. The furor is on the in-betweens, and written marks have as much chance for ambiguity as punched holes.

      No voting technology will ever be perfect. That's why auditability and accountability are key, no matter what system is used.

      • By the same token, "clearly punched holes" are unambiguous, too

        But writing numbers is something everyone does all the time. Punching holes in paper, on the other hand, they find unreasonably difficult.

        • But writing numbers is something everyone does all the time. Punching holes in paper, on the other hand, they find unreasonably difficult.

          Perhaps we do it all the time, but we also misread numbers all the time. The most common confusion is between a handwritten 1, 7, or 9. Sometimes 4 and 9 (depending on handwriting), with all other digits being confused about equally, which is why your bank prefers it if you write out numbers two different ways.

  • by Elias Israel ( 182882 ) <> on Saturday July 20, 2002 @09:18AM (#3922031)

    The bottom line: all voting systems have the potential for inaccuracy and abuse, and nearly all of them experience inaccuracy and abuse every time they are used. We have faith in the outcomes mostly because the overall result usually does not differ very much from our shared sense of who really "won."

    As the Massachusetts state chair of the Libertarian Party, and a two-time candidate for public office, I have had an exposure to the voting process and the people who conduct it that many other voters have not had. Here's what I can tell you:

    At every Libertarian primary, we collect stories of votes not counted, votes incorrectly counted, and voters confused or abused by the system.

    In one case, some of our voters reported that they were actually asked to sign their ballots!

    In others cases, five people in a precinct will swear they've voted in the primary, but only three votes will show in the official tally.

    Then there's the actual abuse.

    A fellow who used to work with another party once explained to me how unscrupulous operatives routinely abuse the system by taking advantage of the fact that Massachusetts law does not require voters to present identification when they vote.

    I don't wish to give unnecessary detail, but suffice it to say that I do believe that some small level of vote fraud is present in most elections, even here in the United States.

    It is interesting to note, however, that when one Massachusetts town tried to mitigate the problem by requiring voters to show ID, the Democrats successfully fought the practice in federal court by alleging that requiring identification is an unfair burden on the indigent.

    For the most part, these issues arise not because people are malicious (although some inevitably are), but primarily because poll workers are well-meaning, underpaid, undertrained, and perfectly normal, fallible human beings.

    These problems are usually too small to notice against the bulk of legitimately cast and properly counted votes, except when the total number of votes cast is small (like in a small precinct) or when the overall result is very close (as in Florida in 2000).

    In general, it is not possible to get a "perfect" result from any voting system. The best that we can do is accept our imperfect knowledge and stand behind the result that most reasonably appears to be true.

    That's not always easy. But if you want to make sure the result means something, the best thing to do about it is help to ensure that the result is not small or close by going out and casting your ballot for the candidates you like best.

    • Requiring ID is a problem. How would homeless people vote? I always liked how the voter registration cards said "if you don't have a permanent residence, please draw a map of where you usually sleep."
      • Even if they've never ever been in a car nor tried to get a license, even if they don't have their Social Security and Selective Service cards (admittedly non-photo, but that's /something/ with a name on it), they should at least be able to get a passport or other form of ID without much effort. Hell, US passports are valid for ten years...

        It's hardly an excessive requirement, given the people's overwhelming interest in checking that people are who they say they are to make sure that they vote only once, and only where they're registered. Otherwise, they're simply walking, breathing props for election fraud.
        • What about those who refuse to be photographed for religious reasons?

          What about those who were promised that there would never be a national/ID card--or requirement to have a state ID card?

          What about those of us who believe in the idea that a person is innocent before being guilty, and that the requirement to show ID reverses that maxim such that a person is now guilty of being no one (or alterntively, guilty of claiming to be someone they are not) until they themselves prove that they are someone (or the right person?)

          I simply do not want to live in a jurisdiction which requires ID's to vote. As someone who has worked the polls in my home state, I think it's unnecessary and sets bad precedence.

          "So you don't wanna see my ID to vote?"
          "No, How do i know it isn't fake?"

          "I guess you don't. All you can do is believe me that it is real."
          "Well why don't we stop arguing over cheap plastic cards, and I'll just believe who you say you are the first time round."

    • Having worked in a few Swedish elections I feel pretty confident saying that there are very few, if any, errors.

      Every vote is hand counted three times by independent teams. All the ballots are also available for inspection by any member of the public. I can't recall a single case of miscounting, though there probably are some.

      In Sweden, the government keeps track of where you live. That may have its problems, but it also makes things like this work much safer and simpler. There is no voter registration phase, since they already know exactly who lives where and has a right to vote in which election. When you go to vote they have a printout of every voter in that district, and just check you off a list.

      You probably have to ID, don't remember.
      The only form of fraud you hear of is how party representatives go through institutions for senile elderly and cajole them into signing absentee ballot paper work.

      I could go on, but it gets boring. My point is that if you actually try, you can devise a near perfect system. That you haven't seen or heard of one probably tells us more about the US, than about the inherent problems of counting votes.
  • UK (Score:2, Funny)

    by saphena ( 322272 )
    Here in the UK electoral law is such that the methods and controls of the voting procedure are laid down in black and white in various legal instruments and the electoral returning officer (a civil servant) must certify that the election was held in full accordance with the rules.

    I know little about US law but I would have thought that a similar set of conditions must apply. If so, the elections department *must* have taken steps to satisfy themselves that use of the machines would fully comply otherwise they would not be able to certify the election.

    Assuming that US civil servants are upright honest citizens, we must conclude that the machines do infallibly work correctly.
  • Without open, clear auditability, these machines cannot even be defined as voting machines. It's horrifying that the public officials in charge of purchasing the devices didn't know of auditability being an absolute requirement. Now, Palm Beach County really has no choice but to open the black box!

  • Isn't this a similar circumstance to making microsoft divulge their source code to a third party. This third party would have to sign a non-disclosure agreement, but what's the damage there.

    I guess htey cannot guarantee there machines secure if someone knows how they work as then that person could find the backdoor. But still is this really security?
  • Let's see, I create this voting machine and no one can see how it works.

    Happily, I go into the booth to vote. I want Biff Emerson to win the election, so by hitting keys in a certain sequence it transfers 4% of the votes from other candidates to my candidate! After all, my candidat is all for voting machine contracts!

    What's to stop it? Where is the public auditability of the system? Should we allow this type of potential in our voting? It sounds like a parallel to the old Enron/Author Andersen deal.

  • This is just a small example of how business interests are over-ruling that of "the people."

    Questions to ponder:

    "Is this a good thing?" "Is this a bad thing?"

    It's good in the sense that there are forces that can keep government in check. It's bad in the sense that they aren't being used that way... they only serve their own interests.

    So what is preventing people from getting more involved in more civil liberties unions anyay? I was about to suggest the creation of entities that can have more pull with both business and government interests and then I realized they exist! There's EFF, ACLU and a lot others that do not immediately come to mind.

    Maybe it's my age showing in that I see better where things are going and that it's not good. What I see is only natural when "the people" don't care about what's going on.

    It's not out of control. It's not beyond our control and never will be. The question is only in how bloody the revolution will be. The more our government points guns at "the people" the worse it all becomes. Get active and make your voice heard and it never has to get "too bad" or too bloody.

    Finally, public interest should ALWAYS come before business interests when it comes to "proprietary technology." A government should NEVER find itself in a position such as the one depicted by Robocop2 where the huge corporation literally forecloses on a major city in the U.S. Companies should not be able to hold the interests of the public hostage...and especially not their data.

    This is the purpose of open standards. Open standards are best because there is no proprietary scheme which allows everyone to participate. Open standards are best because the public can 'trust' more in the sense that they know the contents and capabilities they are working with. Imagine there being some hidden code in a word processor document, unknown to anyone but the company that created the format, that upon a triggered event that license compliance is found to be too far out of compliance that important documents become inaccessible or destroyed as a result? Such situations could bring government to a hault at times. Do "the people" then take weeks, months and years in court to resolve the problem?

    Sure, this is just a voting booth. The next time it's something even more significant.
  • A paper trail (Score:5, Informative)

    by steveha ( 103154 ) on Saturday July 20, 2002 @09:54AM (#3922149) Homepage
    For voting, it is very important to have a way to re-count the votes. I think a literal paper trail is best.

    I cannot imagine a better scheme than what Washington state is using now:

    When you go to vote, you get a piece of heavy paper (or maybe it's light cardstock) pre-printed with the ballot. Next to each item you can vote for is a bubble. They loan you a fine-point permanent marker (a Sharpie) and to vote you just fill in the bubble.

    When you are done, you take the ballot over to the counting machine. You feed the ballot into the slot. (If this is too technically advanced for you, the nice person watching the machine helps you.)

    The counting machine makes sure you didn't make any conflicting votes: for example, voting for both Bush and Gore for President. If there are any conflicting votes, it refuses the ballot and spits it back out the slot. Then you get a fresh ballot and start over.

    Assuming all is well, it counts up all the votes, and then drops the ballot into a bag. The bags are locked up and stored, so the actual paper ballots are available for a recount if necessary.

    At the end of the day, the counting machine is plugged into a phone jack. It calls in to a computer and reports the votes it had counted all day. The votes can then be quickly summed and you find out how the election went quickly.

    You only need one counting machine per voting location, and the voting booths are simple desks with privacy screens; the Florida voting machines cost $3500 each and you need one per voting booth.

    The system now used in Washington state is easy to use, not expensive or difficult to implement, gives results quickly, and allows for recounts.


    • Okay, I just put an X through the bubble of a candidate. Will that count as a vote for them?

      Perhaps the machine will see that and spit it out. Now, what if I fill in the bubble for Bush, but put a cross through the bubble for Gore?

      This is just to show that it is very difficult to make this kind of system infalliable.
      • I happen to know, from experience, that a slight smudge across a bubble is enough to make the machine count it. If you put an X through Gore and fill in the bubble for Bush, it will consider this a double vote and will kick the ballot out.

        If you make any mark you don't like, your only option is to ask for another blank ballot.

        I never claimed it is infallible, but it does work very well. I have not found it difficult to correctly fill in just the bubbles I wanted to fill in.

    • too complicated and prone for errors. Why not vote *on the computer* and let the computer print the vote on a piece of papers for you to verify.

      If the printout is ok, click on "confirm", otherwise start over. Then fold the paper and hand it to the clerk to be stored away. If you voted twice because of a mistake, the clerk will ask you to give hime two pieces of papers, to be put in separate bins (one for the "wrong" votes).
      • Re:A paper trail (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Pig Hogger ( 10379 )
        too complicated and prone for errors. Why not vote *on the computer* and let the computer print the vote on a piece of papers for you to verify.
        And then, you give the receipt to the candidate you voted for, and he hands you $10.

        This trick is as old as secret ballot voting; it's called a "telegram":

        • You're given a filled-out ballot, which you pocket.
        • You go to the poll, whereas you're handed a blank ballot.
        • You pocket the blank ballot, pull out the "properly" filled one, which you drop in the box.
        • Then, you bring back the blank ballot to the candidate.
        • Rinse, repeat as necessary.
    • This sounds exactly like the system used in San Francisco, except in the last election they added two additional steps:
      - move all the ballot boxes in the middle of the night for 'security reasons' (remember this was 2 months after 9/11)
      - throw some of them in the bay.


    • A very interesting proposal.

      My question focusses on the part about "plugging it into a phone jack." What's to stop an Evildoer (tm) from using his computer at home from uploading other results?

      The "paper trail" will only be used if a manual recount is forced -- and given the time and expense involved in that, it would only be done if they believed that there might be tampering. A clever hacker would possibly sway the results, but not throw in so many votes as to get noticed.

      I suppose some sort of public-key signing mechanism needs to be used, or other form of encryption. It'd be interesting to know the protocol that would fit this best.
      • A very interesting proposal.

        It's not a proposal. It's in use. I have voted using this system several times now.

        What's to stop an Evildoer (tm) from using his computer at home from uploading other results?

        Hey, I don't work for Washington state's voting department, so I don't know. But I'd guess, probably a password or two, and probably a semi-secret protocol. And you know you expect exactly N vote-counting machines to phone in; extra phone calls are suspicious. And you have human beings guarding the actual vote-counting machines.

        Subvert some humans inside the system, and you might be able to commit some fraud. But that is hardly unique to this system.

  • Ugh Here It Comes (Score:2, Interesting)

    by NetGyver ( 201322 )
    I really pitty the poor folks down in Palm Beach, first they get embarressed to hell and back in the 2000 presidental elections, now the taxpayers pay for machines that can't be audited without voiding the warrenty? WTF?

    First off, the article doesn't say how the votes on these machines are counted. I mean, it has to spit out results somehow and somewhere.

    Second, these machines were developed by a corp. Now-a-days when scandels are a dime a dozen, do we really need MORE CORPERATIONS digging their hands into politcs?

    Third, These are digitalized machines. They have the potential to be hacked, crash, and lose data.
    And since it's digital that means all three can happen at once or in any combination. I mean yeah it does have a coolness factor, but simplicity is key. It needs to be something that just *works*

    Hey, i dunno bout those guys but i can *still* vote with our local lever machine even when the power is out.

    If our lever-machine breaks, you'd be the first to know when you can't pull the lever down. Plus, even if it mechanically breaks, you still will always have the votes that have been cast inside prior to the breakage. And if you ever saw one, their monsterous and built like tanks.

    If your gonna go digital with voting machines, do it RIGHT. Give the elderly something tangable that assures them that their vote counted, such as a watermarked printout. I mean their gonna expect this now since alot of floridians were so unsure if their votes counted under the old system.

    They can't even get an independent review of the voting system's software and security features.

    I'd like to know who's bright idea it was to purchase machines with these kind of restuctions and decided to buy them anyway....Oh the the conspiracy theroies one can weave.

    Now floridians are going to see every tom, dick, and hairy who loses an election, bitching because the system was flawed, broken, malfunctioned..lets have a recount...a re-re-count, what's that? a hanging system? On to the supreme court!

    If I were the people who had to use this machine, i'd demand my representives to get a refund and find a system that's more open. flexable and tailored to the people's choices and expectations.

    But I guess that would require their local government listening to *them* instead of *cough*COMPANIES*cough*

    I hope they get on the ball with this.

    I may not make much sense, but maybe I can make some change.
  • I don't get it (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jeti ( 105266 ) on Saturday July 20, 2002 @10:14AM (#3922203) Homepage
    Over in Germany, we have something that works flawlessly. Paper and pen. The forms are counted manually and the results are faxed from the local offices.

    And how long does it take to get the results? We can usually vote till 6PM and get the results by 11PM on the same day. There are only 70 million Germans, but I don't see why this shouldn't scale up.
  • Despite strong standing in the community of an intelligent, technically educated constituency, the enormous political clout of voting manufacturers essentially hypnotized the politically defensive bureaucrats to freeze us out. At the end of the day, this too must result in debacle. If not now, later. The problem with chad was poor rules, poor technology and reliance on case law addressing a much older technology (hand-written ballots).

    But the problem was not lack of accountability for absence of evidence -- most of it was there. It was simply a dispute over what it meant, and whether to look at it -- the stuff of which a political or legal decision can be made. Yes, it was a debacle, but the solution is worse than the problem.

    There must be auditable physical evidence of a vote if the result is ever to have credibility -- and the public must believe in the technology. The virtue of paper ballots is its comprehensibility to the public. Having a machine with a "he-said," "she-said" dispute (and no physical proofs) of its fairness and the results is a recipe for chaos. Absolute chaos.

    The way to begin was simple, routine engineering processes: define and agree on requirements; produce and RFP; accept only conforming solutions and iterate as necessary if requirements change over time.

    Instead, Florida, for the most part, went with pre-made and cheap. The public never had any stomach to spend money to vote well, and took whatever was being sold. At the end of the day, these machines weren't even cheap. (And truth to tell, the total cost of ownership has yet to be measured or validated either.)

    The public was frozen out of the decision in favor of "blue-ribbon" committees of non-engineers. For shame, all of us. Fool us once ...
  • From one of their FAQs [] about the advantages of electronic ballots:

    4. The voter is prevented from voting for the wrong party...


  • I think everyone here knows that Buchanan is little removed in his beliefs from the Nazis, but I have to give him credit. When he won a whole bunch of votes from counties in Florida during the 2000 election that were predominantly composed of elderly retired Jewish people, even he came out and said something was wrong with the voting system in Florida, that he should not have gotten those votes. A system that is so bad even a Fascist can see it is not something that will be fixed simply with new voting machines. There has to be a new institutional attitude that voting errors ARE NOT ACCEPTABLE, and this seems to be lacking in Florida.
    • Blockquoth the poster:
      There has to be a new institutional attitude that voting errors ARE NOT ACCEPTABLE
      Amen! And while we're at, I don't like the way the tide rushes in. And why does snow have to be cold and wet? Let's change that, too. By the way, I think pi should be exactly 3 and only a terrorist would disagree!

      Seriously, in an undertaking involving literally millions of people, there will be errors made and they cannot be legislated out of existence. What we can do is minimize the errors and build in correction mechanisms. The first step towards that would be auditable, accountable voting machines.

  • Killian's (Score:3, Funny)

    by MicroBerto ( 91055 ) on Saturday July 20, 2002 @11:42AM (#3922572)
    You know you drank too much last night when you read the title as "Unavoidable Vomiting Machines" :)
  • How difficult is to have a computerized system like this that *also* prints the votes on hardcopy? The voter checks that the printout is ok, stuffs it in a box, the box is sealed and reopened in case of litigation.
    • Hooray!

      Though I'd skip the part where the voter verifies it, because you'd have people wandering off with the votes in their pockets, screwing up the recount.

      Have the vote tabulated on a log in a locked box, maybe with a window so the current voter can see their tabulation and has an opportunity to report an error. The tabulation falls away from the window when the voter confirms it is correct.
  • Check out the title on the linked article. Naw, don't bother, here it is:

    Stuff like that tends to look unprofessional.

  • Conspiracy theory. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BitGeek ( 19506 ) on Saturday July 20, 2002 @01:50PM (#3923138) Homepage
    The reason nothings being done... hmm... could it be that democrats cook elections just as much as republicans? And the two parties have a vested interest in the status quo? No?

    Back in 2000 MIT demonstrated a secure, verifiable voting mechanism that would allow any citizen to audit the results in a few minutes without giving up the anonymity of the voters. The technology is there.

    The fact that it hasn't been adopted is yet another in a long string of failures to perform their duty on the part of our government.

    These failures are unacceptable to me, but most people just go about their lives believing what they're told and in denial.

    How can you have liberty in a land of sheep? All it takes is a few wolves to convince the sheep that its for thier own good. (which is why we still have the income tax system-- the sheep said "OK" to it to pay for WWI, but the wolves didn't keep their word.)

    Its a shame, really.
  • ... elections have nothing to do with the physical means in which you vote... it has to do with who counts them.
  • In Canada, we use this incredible invention called the "Pencil" and another called "Paper" to conduct our elections. These wonderous inventions are then counted by "hand." Amazingly, we can count 15 000 000 votes in under 4 hours, and there is rarely, if ever, a recount. You see folks, sometimes the low-tech solution works best.
  • by rnturn ( 11092 ) on Sunday July 21, 2002 @01:14PM (#3926326)

    If the law allows for a candidate to ask for a recall, and the machines do not alow it, then the voting machines should be declared illegal.

    So this voting machine manufacturer thinks their warranty supercedes the rights of the voters or the local laws where the machines are used. Seems like a judge ought to be getting these machines thrown out and the local government ought to be firing the bozo who authorized thier purchase in the first place. And perhaps the government's lawyers ought to be getting some serious looking into as well. They should have seen the potential for a firestorm in purchasing a machine with this warranty.

  • by aebrain ( 184502 ) <> on Sunday July 21, 2002 @08:08PM (#3927548) Homepage Journal

    A Fully Tested Open Source E-Voting GPL'd system is available on the web.

    It was developed within 27 weeks [] for about $100,000 US. Multi-language, using standard COTS hardware and OS. (The compiler and OS had to be open-source too of course - Debian and gcc). It has been used in a state election in the Australian Capital Territory [], the equivalent of the District of Columbia. There's an Executive Summary [] of how well it did, warts and all. A PDF of the full report [] is also available.

    /. readers will be most interested in the technical description. [] Oh yes, the code's available as a Zip file here [].

    The whole point about e-voting software is that it has to be open-source. The hardware has to be available for inspection at any time too, along with the OS source and the compiler source as well. The situation as described in the original article has a strong piscine aroma.

    Disclaimer I work for the mob that did the Aussie system - though I was busy making spaceflight avionics software rather than election software at the time, it was another team. They Did Good.

Competence, like truth, beauty, and contact lenses, is in the eye of the beholder. -- Dr. Laurence J. Peter