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Government United States Technology Politics

NYU Study: America's Voting Machines Are Rapidly Aging Out 263

Presto Vivace passes on a link to a report at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU's law school which says that many of the vote-counting machines set to be used in the 2016 U.S. general election will be past their prime by the time of the election, if not long before. From the report: Technology has changed dramatically in the last decade, but America's voting machines are rapidly aging out. In 2016, for example, 43 states will use electronic voting machines that are at least 10 years old, perilously close to the end of most systems' expected lifespan. Old voting equipment increases the risk of failures and crashes — which can lead to long lines and lost votes on Election Day — and problems only get worse the longer we wait.
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NYU Study: America's Voting Machines Are Rapidly Aging Out

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  • by houghi ( 78078 ) on Tuesday September 15, 2015 @11:01AM (#50525153)

    The first person at each machine at the next election will take some time, because he will be asked to update to Windows 10 first.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Let's purchase one less F-35 fighter and instead replace every voting machine in America. If people get butthurt, we can make the first vote on the new machines whether or not to purchase that single fighter plane or not.
    • by rickb928 ( 945187 ) on Tuesday September 15, 2015 @11:25AM (#50525349) Homepage Journal

      Let's not try to automate voting beyond OCR scanners until we can secure it. We can't now. No. We cannot.

      Thanks.

      • Let's not try to automate voting beyond OCR scanners until we can secure it. We can't now. No. We cannot.

        This actually isn't true any more. It definitely was true a decade ago, and I was making this same argument up to about a year ago. However, another slashdotter pointed me to several research papers describing not just electronic but Internet voting systems with rather outstanding properties, properties that I would have said were impossible. The schemes provide for guaranteed voter anonymity (including receipt-freeness, for some level of coercion resistance), universal verifiability (any voter can verify t

        • The main reason I remain somewhat skeptical is that I'm concerned that complex systems of this sort, even if the math is beautiful and the proofs are rock solid and the implementation is bulletproof (though note that these systems do not rely on perfect implementation for their security proofs) may not actually engender as much vote confidence as simpler systems which are vastly more vulnerable to manipulation.

          Oh, I forgot to point out the obvious counterargument here: Americans seem, by and large, to be fine with using voting machines that are excessively complex and have been proven to suck in all sorts of ways and for which there's even non-trivial evidence that they've been used to manipulate actual national election outcomes.

          So, yeah, there's that.

        • by sims 2 ( 994794 )

          I would be interested to see how much online voting affected voter turnout. As of now non voters are still the majority.

        • 0. Implementation is as important as design. Both must be flawless. If not, why change from paper?

          1. Ranking system are intended to gain consensus. Majority elections are intended to reach decisions. Big difference.

      • But even if we could, why? It's hard to beat pen on paper for what it does. Matching that level of accountability is not its own reason for change.

        The only thing I can think of is a voter that is too disabled to use a pen, but could touch the giant square button on a touch screen. Putting aside how narrow of a demographic that is, we've already had that covered forever. All those old people volunteers hanging around the voting place; that is what they are there for. They can and will go into the booth with

      • Fuck OCR. A simple scantron ballot like this example one from the Minnesota 2012 election [state.mn.us] is good enough. Why over complicate things
    • wow are you going against the American military complex? Hey NSA this person does not speak for me. Let it be known. I don't know this guy. He's obviously delusional.

      Hail to the bomb baby.

  • Old voting equipment increases the risk of failures and crashes â" which can lead to long lines and lost votes on Election Day â" and problems only get worse the longer we wait.

    Best news we've had all week.

    • I don't understand why. I was recently asked to interface with a 30 year old DOS based system. It's running just fine in its intended environment. Why should there be a risk of either crash or failure on a single tasking, single use machine?

  • Aging Out (Score:5, Insightful)

    by doconnor ( 134648 ) on Tuesday September 15, 2015 @11:10AM (#50525235) Homepage

    In Canada our voting systems have a design lifespan of one day, because they are made out of paper and cardboard. Still a lot more secure and reliable then the US system.

    • by overshoot ( 39700 ) on Tuesday September 15, 2015 @11:13AM (#50525253)
      The trouble with your old systems is that they don't reliably get the right results.
    • Why stay with a simple and proven technology, when you can replace it with something complicated and unreliable?

      So what happens in Canada before an election? The voting authorities buy a few cardboard boxes, and print a few ballots? Where is the potential for expensive pork contracts for voting machines there? And how do the palms of voting authorities get greased with goodies, if the contracts are only for inexpensive boxes and paper ballots?

      We Americans might be able to learn something, if we took so

    • by tuxgeek ( 872962 )
      We have the same system in Alaska.
      Unfortunately there seems to be a bug of some sort, in the functioning of the pencil component, as we still get a lot of already-corrupted republicans voted in.

      Although we DID vote in legalized cannibus last go-round so the universe does seem to self-correct from time to time.

  • by fustakrakich ( 1673220 ) on Tuesday September 15, 2015 @11:16AM (#50525267) Journal

    And let's not forget fraud...The black boxes are not trustworthy. I find it hard to believe that some of these crackpots are actually winning the vote. We need to go back to paper. It's easier to verify and very low maintenance.

    • by afidel ( 530433 ) on Tuesday September 15, 2015 @11:27AM (#50525357)

      Or do what Ohio did after the 2004 election disaster, go to scantron style ballots. Everyone has used them, they can easily be retallied by industry standard equipment or by hand and the error rate is low. As far as reliability, schools with almost zero budget manage to keep them working through much higher workloads then a few elections a year so the equipment is obviously robust enough and the likelyhood that it will become outdated is zero.

      • Yes, this. It's a solved problem. The fact that it hasn't been solved indicates to me that certain people don't want it solved.

        Or should I just go back and meditate on Hanlon's Razor again?

      • As far as reliability, schools with almost zero budget manage to keep them working through much higher workloads then a few elections a year so the equipment is obviously robust enough and the likelyhood that it will become outdated is zero.

        I think that one of the states I lived in actually rented the school's machines for the election - the ballots were the same as the scanning sheets the school used.

  • As if it matters (Score:3, Informative)

    by allquixotic ( 1659805 ) on Tuesday September 15, 2015 @11:17AM (#50525269)

    The elections are rigged, anyway. The preponderance of the masses are too busy, sick, or lazy (or all of the above) to vote, and those who do are told who to vote for by the mass media. Even if an unprecedentedly huge 5% of the population were actually informed on the issues and voted for a candidate who'd actually make things better (or die trying), it wouldn't make enough of a difference in the election to tip the scales.

    We don't like to admit it because we think we're "freer" than other countries that run faux democracies like Russia and India, but in reality, we're no freer than they are, and our elections are just as rigged, if not moreso.

    • Even if an unprecedentedly huge 5% of the population were actually informed on the issues and voted for a candidate who'd actually make things better (or die trying), it wouldn't make enough of a difference in the election to tip the scales.

      Is there evidence that informed voters (or more widely, an informed electorate) produces better outcomes? In other words, informed people can pick terrible politicians and vice versa. Is there any data to suggest that informed voters pick better candidates who perform better?

    • My idea was to replace the voting machines with slot machines from Vegas. Given a choice between Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump . . . letting a slot machine decide doesn't look like a very bad idea.

      Oh, and you have the added thrill of maybe winning a few quarters.

  • In Canada... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 15, 2015 @11:17AM (#50525271)

    When we arrive to vote there are at least three volunteers there to manage everything. They first validate our voter registration card sent to us in the mail or government issued ID against a list of registered voters for that polling station. Next they cross us off the list and hand us a paper ballot and some other piece of paper with our name and other information on it.

    We then go to a private booth which has pens and instructions that clearly show how to mark the ballot and how not to mark it. When finished we return to the desk of volunteers and clearly show them that we are placing only one ballot in the box. They control access to the slot. Finally we give them the other piece of paper that they gave us earlier and they pass it through a machine that looks like a shredder but it has digital counters on it. I guess it is counting the number of votes and might even be recording who voted. I'm not sure about the who part or if that information is shared across all polling stations to ensure you only vote once. Regardless, it is separate from the paper ballot. The machine looks like it could last decades because it's not a Windows computer with a spinning disk etc.

    At the end of the night the three volunteers count the ballots and report the results. We have three major political parties in Canada and I wonder if the volunteers represent each of the parties to ensure no cheating. I'll ask at our next election in October.

    • by Presto Vivace ( 882157 ) <marshall@prestovivace.biz> on Tuesday September 15, 2015 @11:29AM (#50525379) Homepage Journal
      must be nice to live in a country which counts the votes, I hear the health care system is nice too.
    • I'm in the states and where I live we do the exact same thing. It works wonderfully, and because you don't need any expensive voting machines there are no shortage of voting locations. It's never taken me more than 20 minutes to vote, and that includes the time spent walking to the polling place and back.

  • We have seen for some time now that the more affluent your voting district, the better chances are of having well-maintained, functional, and plentiful voting machines. Yeah there are lots of ageing voting machines, but they likely don't reside in areas that elected politicians and their cronies are concerned about.
  • https://upload.wikimedia.org/w... [wikimedia.org]

    Anyway that's what I started voting on. Probably still works, harder to hack than something updating an MDB file. Had lasted at least 40-50 years when I used it.

    • Bad accessibility for the disabled, no paper trail and high susceptibility to manipulation (not harder to hack than updating an MDB file). Yeah, that's a good idea. As bad as they are, the crappy electronic voting machines were an upgrade over the mechanical lever machines.

  • Vote by Mail (Score:5, Interesting)

    by michael_cain ( 66650 ) on Tuesday September 15, 2015 @11:42AM (#50525457) Journal
    Related is the voting revolution happening in the western US -- vote by mail, with scanned paper ballots. Colorado, Oregon, and Washington already send a mail-in ballot to every registered voter. Arizona and California are clearly heading in that direction. Once those "big five" western states have adopted, the smaller ones -- some of which already have permanent no-excuse absentee ballots -- are likely to follow along. I admit to being biased; I love that my polling place is my kitchen table.

    One of the interesting things I've noticed is when I raise the subject with friends, the ones who are opposed almost always grew up east of the Mississippi, and are terrified that large-scale fraud will occur. There's a PhD dissertation for a sociologist or political scientist in there somewhere.
    • One of the interesting things I've noticed is when I raise the subject with friends, the ones who are opposed almost always grew up east of the Mississippi, and are terrified that large-scale fraud will occur. There's a PhD dissertation for a sociologist or political scientist in there somewhere.

      And what makes you think they are wrong?

      You honestly trust the voting system as it stands? Really?

      • Re:Vote by Mail (Score:4, Informative)

        by Nkwe ( 604125 ) on Tuesday September 15, 2015 @12:40PM (#50525855)

        One of the interesting things I've noticed is when I raise the subject with friends, the ones who are opposed almost always grew up east of the Mississippi, and are terrified that large-scale fraud will occur. There's a PhD dissertation for a sociologist or political scientist in there somewhere.

        And what makes you think they are wrong?

        You honestly trust the voting system as it stands? Really?

        I do. Here in Oregon, the vote by mail system has reasonable checks and balances. You receive your ballot, which is a "fill in the bubble" optical scan form, in the mail. You mark your ballot and place it in a "secrecy envelope" and then inside a different "mailing envelope" that contains your voter ID. You sign the mailing envelope. You mail your ballot back, or hand deliver it to a near by drop off station. Upon receipt, one election official hand verifies your signature against the one on file when you registered to vote and adds you to the list of people that have voted. If a signature doesn't match or there is a duplicate vote, someone investigates and contacts the voter. Next the inner "secrecy envelope" is placed in a box of votes to be counted. A different set of election officials opens the secrecy envelopes and feeds the ballots into the optical scanning machine. Members of the public are welcome to personally observe both processes. If a recount is necessary the forms can be re-scanned or manually counted.

  • It is not going to be a big deal. People are disgusted and have stopped voting anyway.
  • I know why (Score:5, Informative)

    by HotNeedleOfInquiry ( 598897 ) on Tuesday September 15, 2015 @11:55AM (#50525545)
    I worked designing ballot reading machines back in the late 80's. I enjoyed the work and we made some great equipment. Then the "hanging chad" incident came along and the Federal Elections Commission issued strict certification standards for ballot counting equipment. Once my company certified the machines that they sold, they ended all R&D and new product development. It was not possible to make incremental improvements without a massive retest and recertification, and the company (correctly) surmised that the certification costs would limit the playing field to the existing players. So, no incentive to build better machines.
  • by BitZtream ( 692029 ) on Tuesday September 15, 2015 @11:58AM (#50525567)

    Voting really hasn't changed in thousands of years, so I'm not really sure why the voting machines can be 'past their prime'.

    What exactly do you upgrade on a voting machine? Its electronic or its not. If its electronic, you're already fucking stupid so I'm going to ignore you. If its not electronic, then just put a new sticker on the faceplate and move on because functionally theres no reason what so ever to upgrade, use it until it breaks, THEN upgrade.

    If its electronic, and you need to update it, then you do, but you update it with another company that can make voting machines that don't suck ass instead of continuing to pay the company that sold you broken machines and can't be bothered to write software properly. You don't need a new voting machine because theres a new version of windows, you don't need a new version of windows, you don't need a new 'theme' for your voting machine.

    There are pretty much zero reasons to upgrade a voting machine that isn't broken.

    You don't have to upgrade just because there is a new version, and its really fucking stupid to do so if you do. When a machine is performing properly, use it until it doesn't.

    If you have to 'upgrade' to get a functioning machine because the company refuses to fix its existing one, you just ban that company from doing any government business and you ban every single person above middle management from ever doing any business with the government or any business they work for from doing any business with the government. You make it impossible for those greedy manipulative pricks to ever be involved with tax payer money again. If that means they can't find a job and starve to death ... well, its good to throw some chlorine in the gene pool regularly, maybe they type of person will become a little less common.

    • by NostalgiaForInfinity ( 4001831 ) on Tuesday September 15, 2015 @12:13PM (#50525681)

      Voting really hasn't changed in thousands of years, so I'm not really sure why the voting machines can be 'past their prime'.

      Actually, voting has changed. It used to be done by tokens placed into urns or people raising their hands in a town square. Then by marks made on paper.

      Only fairly recently has it started being done by "machine" (punch cards, levers, or digital computers), and it's unclear why a "machine" is needed: it's expensive, difficult to audit, and easy to manipulate.

  • pen and paper (Score:4, Insightful)

    by NostalgiaForInfinity ( 4001831 ) on Tuesday September 15, 2015 @12:09PM (#50525647)

    I think we should go back to pen-and-paper voting, with ballot boxes and manual counting. No practical purpose is served by introducing technology into the process of voting.

  • Whenever a machine fails there's a risk of lost votes. More importantly these machines are just insecure. We need voting machines with open source hardware, open source software, and encrypted, hashed, anonymous publicly available vote records. Ask for a password. Hash the password, the vote, the polling booth's number, and the time (in 15 minute increments) and make that immediately publicly available.

    Each voter can then go to a publicly accessible website and enter where and when he voted and what passw
  • Scantron sheets (Score:5, Insightful)

    by acoustix ( 123925 ) on Tuesday September 15, 2015 @12:25PM (#50525765) Homepage

    My voting precincts use scantron sheets for all elections. Simple, anonymous, secure. I mark my ballot, walk to the scantron machine and enter my ballot. If there's a problem with my ballot there's an error message. If the sheet is destroyed by the scanner I can fill out another sheet.

    Why is this so hard for everyone else? I don't want online voting. It complicates a very easy task.

  • Or everyone could switch to the Oregon way of voting and use mail-in ballots. I've lived in places where I had to take my time to stand in line at voting centers. Hopefully never again. Being able to leisurely fill out my ballot in my home and then quickly dropping it off in a ballot box at the library or other such places is so convenient that I'm astonished everyone else doesn't follow this same model. It just works.
    • Mail-in ballots have a huge downside: they enable vote buying and coercion. If you don't show me your ballot, filled out the way I told you, and then give it to me to mail for you, I'll break your kneecaps. If you do it the right way, I'll give you $50. My (perhaps cynical) belief is that the only reason this hasn't proven to be a problem is that those who want to manipulate election results have easier/cheaper options available.

      • Sure, that is possible. I've never heard of it happening in Oregon but it probably has a few times. Overall though I think the benefits far far far outweigh the potential downsides. Though Oregon is a fairly laid back place. Perhaps in someplace like Illinois they would have more issues.
  • (That's my first interrobang of the day.)

    So, a system, vital not only to a process but to a nation's entire constitution and fundamental to its very sense of right and wrong, and the basis for its existence and the reason it's at war with other nations, is ten years old, and you want to replace it?

    Here are the HUGE problems.

    First, it's used, what, once every 4 years? So you want to replace the system with something new basically every third time. So the first is the test to see if it works, and the second

  • And of course, those of us who prefer humans make basic marks on physical media are right about all of this and talked about the expense and untrustworthy nature of voting machines.

    Here in Oregon, we vote by mail, and are joined by WA and CO now, with some other pockets here and there in various states. It's awesome, works, can be trusted, is difficult to fraud on a scale that would impact anything, and turnout is generally higher than the poll methods in use most everywhere else today.

    We can actually manu

  • the ONLY reason we have to have "electronic" voting AT ALL, is because the TV news media wants the results before voting has even ended.

    Paper ballots require that they be actually COUNTED. But with electronic systems, you can see where the voting is headed before the polls have even closed.

    Which is great for TV media, because they get to turn the entire thing into a horse race, and keep you on the edge of your seat, eating popcorn, watching their holograms and pie charts, and of course their commercials, so

    • Well the media could actually go out and conduct some exist polls but that would require paying some people to go to some polling stations and question some people.
  • ...if voting machines did anything, they'd be illegal.

    Between the pre-loaded Diebold machines and the amazing "counting errors" they exhibit, you might as well be playing one of those carnival games where it's stacked a billion to one against you.

  • What's the problem? Our felt tipped pens get replaced at (almost) every election.

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