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Broken Ballots
October 15, 2012 6:33 PM   Subscribe

Computer scientist and past president of the ACM Barbara Simons recently spent 15 minutes chatting with Charlie Rose [no transcript available yet] about the insecurity of electronic voting machines, ranging from Direct-recording Electronic systems (such as the Diebold systems which were shown to be insecure in the excellent Hacking Democracy [1h21m, also on Google Video and Hulu]) to optical scanning machines. Add into her expressed uncertainty and frustrations Virginia's wireless vote-tally reporting, Florida's problems with demonstrated voting machine hacking (and again) (not to mention a case in FL with outright wrong machine-tallied results), questions being raised in Chicago about the accuracy of electronic voting, a Utah election recount being halted after being found to be incorrect, possible appearance of impropriety about e-voting machines in Ohio, and a picture starts to be painted wherein the veracity of election outcomes is cast into doubt. Verified Voting gives information about which state uses what kind of voting, and provides a lot of numbers.
posted by hippybear (72 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite

 
I remain amazed that a basic machine with open source, verifiable hardware and software doesn't exist -- or, perhaps more accurately, hasn't been deployed. It's too bad the whole area got stuck in the world of proprietary contracting. Finding out that, say, hotel minibar keys could open some voting machines would be funny if it weren't true. (Ed Felten had to update the post about his discovery to affirm that he wasn't kidding.)
posted by zittrain at 6:53 PM on October 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


I normally despise the rhetoric of violent revolution and hyperbolic statements, but part of me wants to shoot some people over crap like this. Do they not have a clue what even the perception of tainted election outcomes could do to the stability of our country?
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:55 PM on October 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


I remain amazed that a basic machine with open source, verifiable hardware and software doesn't exist -- or, perhaps more accurately, hasn't been deployed.

Let me refer you, then, to Ken Thompson's Reflections On Trusting Trust, and just say that this is a hard problem.
posted by mhoye at 6:59 PM on October 15, 2012 [13 favorites]


I wish I knew how I could advocate for the abolishment of electronic voting without sounding like a conspiratorial lunatic. No one wants to believe that the mechanism by which the people select their government could be so thoroughly and easily tampered with.

Yet voter-ID laws are passed.

Hum.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:00 PM on October 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


I wish I knew how I could advocate for the abolishment of electronic voting without sounding like a conspiratorial lunatic.

It's not paranoia when they really are out to get you.
posted by mhoye at 7:03 PM on October 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


The stupidity really makes me grind my face into my palm:

“Looking at those hanging chads, we felt that anything was better than that,” said Mary Whipple, a former state senator, who initially supported the adoption of the WinVote touch-screen system in 2003. She added that those devices also seemed far easier for some disabled people to use, which is an important component of HAVA.

Soooo... faced with a simple mechanical problem of paper not quite being fully punched out, you decide to go with the first whizbang shiny technology gizmo to demonstrate to other morons how forward-thinking you are, and meanwhile you've gone from something almost anybody can understand (a paper ballot) to something so complex that almost nobody understands and is full of opportunities for mistakes. Presumably since she felt "anything" was better than punch cards, she could have supported, I dunno, marking boxes with pens, but somehow that didn't happen.
posted by indubitable at 7:09 PM on October 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


It's not paranoia when they really are out to get you.

Well, sure, but try telling your friends that.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:11 PM on October 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Come on now, we all know the real threat to democracy is rampant unchecked voter fraud perpetrated by hordes of id-less pinko poor people.
posted by ian1977 at 7:17 PM on October 15, 2012 [8 favorites]


When I voted in California for the 2004 primaries we used ink stamps. The ballot was kept beneath a stencil that kept only the legit voting options stampable.

Seemed nice.
posted by LogicalDash at 7:17 PM on October 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


I would like a pen and paper. I blogged about this when my county switched.

My county elections commissioner, who picked the electronic system that is like a particularly fucking demented iPod interface that I can only imagine is a nightmare for old people, sought me out at a bar night to tell me I was incorrect, I did not prefer pen and paper, I preferred electronic machines, and he told me all the reasons that I preferred the hard-to-use, clearly hackable electronic machine.

I still prefer pen and paper. I also prefer to do my social drinking without county election commissioners bitching about my preference for secure voting methods.

Scantron would be acceptable.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:17 PM on October 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


You might be interested in the Securing Digital Democracy course on coursera.org. It spends a good amount of time on electronic voting. The course only recently ended, but I think the videos will continue to be available. I didn't do the coursework, but the video lectures were completely fascinating.
posted by DarkForest at 7:20 PM on October 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ken Thomson's essay on trust is great, and certainly applicable here, but the whole situation would be rather a lot better if there were more substantial efforts made to rectify known security vulnerabilities, if perhaps there were persisting responsibilities held by the vendors of these devices, or better still, if they were federally produced and openly engineered.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 7:27 PM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


LogicalDash - that's still the way I vote in Santa Monica. It seems very well organized and efficient; I see no reason to change it, and I hope they don't!
posted by flaterik at 7:27 PM on October 15, 2012


Eyebrows, at the time Santa Clara county switched, the woman at the registrars office bitched at me when I got an absentee ballot (along with I guess half the software engineers in the county). You engineers, do you think we didn't test this at all? I kind of wanted to tell her that if the people who implement such systems for a living don't trust the first 5-10 iterations maybe she should think about that, but there was a line behind me.
posted by BrotherCaine at 7:27 PM on October 15, 2012 [15 favorites]


An electronic voting machine that prints out an optical scan ballot is harder to hack. The voter reviews the paper ballot, then runs it through a scanner to record the vote, and the paper ballot is kept in a lockbox.

It's fast, the ballots are clean and accurate, and they can be recounted by hand. It removes the ability to subvert the voting counts in the voting machine software.
posted by jjj606 at 7:29 PM on October 15, 2012 [17 favorites]


FWIW our county uses a system similar to this, where you mark the ballot with an ink marker. It's not perfect, but it's dead simple, you can easily see visually that you have marked a vote, and it's generally a hell of a lot better than any electronic voting system I've seen.

I'm not sure why, in a populace that uses computers daily for all sorts of work, it's not easy for us to understand that there are million different ways that computerized systems can go wrong and another million ways to tamper with them in an undetectable way. 'Cause that's all you need to know to eliminate electronic voting machines as a viable, secure option.
posted by flug at 7:31 PM on October 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Voting machine fraud is a problem, but it's one that I have a very hard time getting worked up about.

If two sides of a coin are both heads, is it really a problem if the coin is weighted?
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 7:33 PM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


On this, (at least) you and Chuck Norris agree
posted by Fupped Duck at 7:35 PM on October 15, 2012


A lot of America's truly jaw-dropping problems with voting would be at least substantially ameliorated - in my opinion - if you guys had an independent, national, electoral commission.

The Australian Electoral Commission is considered one of the best in the world, and they manage all local, state and national elections. They have done such a good job, you will find a number of AEC employees in places like Afghanistan, Cote-D'Ivoire, Cyprus, etc, working on elections there on behalf of the UN.

What you guys have is, I'm sorry to say, an absolute joke. It's bad enough when politicians get to decide on voting laws, getting them to decide on administration is a disaster.
posted by smoke at 7:36 PM on October 15, 2012 [25 favorites]


Chuck Norris is the star of more than 20 films and the long-running TV series "Walker, Texas Ranger." His latest book is entitled The Official Chuck Norris Fact Book." Learn more about his life and ministry at his official website, ChuckNorris.com.

and ministry? I had no idea...
posted by hippybear at 7:37 PM on October 15, 2012


...questions being raised in Chicago about the accuracy of electronic voting...

The word I'm looking for is not tautology, but what do you call something so self-evident that it defies any proof?
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:38 PM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


If two sides of a coin are both heads, is it really a problem if the coin is weighted?

Yes.

More importantly, the ability, desire, and infrastructure to pull off voter fraud may not be equally distributed along party lines. This is not to cast conservatives or liberal as more likely to try it, or more capable were they to try. My point is that it's very much an unproven, unsupported assertion that acts of electronic voter fraud will cancel out in any meaningful manner.
posted by jsturgill at 7:38 PM on October 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I have always prided myself on being a sane centrist, immune to anything even hinting of conspiracy theory, unwilling to think the worst of my political opponents...

But the thing is that the GOP already showed that it was willing to steal a presidential election in 2000. They seem to have not quite stolen it only because they seem to have gotten more votes (if we ignore a fair number and variety of other shenanigans.) But they were like someone who sneaks into your office to take your books only to accidentally steal something they happen to already own. The willingness to steal was there. just think back to the patently sophistical arguments they used to prevent the ballots from being counted.

And look at the rampant dishonesty and downright delusion that is the bloody norm in today's GOP. Jesus, they are currently trying to disenfranchise people in order to win! No one with an ounce of respect for democracy would do that. And they know damn good and well that that's what they are doing. They are already trying to steal the election. There is no reason to think that there are not other means that they would employ.

This is the kind of problem, however, that no one will get angry enough to really try to solve unless/until an election is actually and provably stolen.

Oh and...does anyone think that there would be any way to wrest the presidency away from the Republicans if they had even the thinnest pretense of having actually won it? They accused Gore of staging a coup for simply suggesting that the ballots be counted in 2000.

This is a catastrophe waiting to happen, and it makes no bloody sense at all that people are not protesting in the streets about it. This is the kind of problem which we simply cannot hope to solve once a real election hangs in the balance. At that point, it will be too late.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 7:38 PM on October 15, 2012 [12 favorites]


Up here in Canada when I vote, I go to a local school (or some such) that is staffed by a veritable army of helpful volunteers. They mark my name off a list and then I go into a little cardboard "booth" (a folded cardboard screen on a table) and mark my paper ballot with an X using a pencil. Then I stuff my ballot in a box and the delightful volunteers count my vote later. Seems to work pretty well. I still truly do not understand all this electronic voting machine nonsense. Why such complex and easily manipulated expensive machinery to do the job of pencil and paper?
posted by Go Banana at 7:39 PM on October 15, 2012 [15 favorites]


Voting machine fraud is a problem, but it's one that I have a very hard time getting worked up about.

If two sides of a coin are both heads, is it really a problem if the coin is weighted?


May I be the first to say, as someone who has deep reservations about our two-party system: fuck that noise.
posted by odinsdream at 7:40 PM on October 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


"I wish I knew how I could advocate for the abolishment of electronic voting without sounding like a conspiratorial lunatic. No one wants to believe that the mechanism by which the people select their government could be so thoroughly and easily tampered with."

If Diebold was owned by, let's say George Soros, I guarantee you there would dozens of laws prohibiting electronic voting.
posted by Kevin Street at 7:43 PM on October 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


If two sides of a coin are both heads, is it really a problem if the coin is weighted?

Such thoughts were obviously nonsense in 2000, and they are obviously nonsense now.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 7:43 PM on October 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


And did I mention that there's rarely a line? And by line, I mean two or three people ahead of me? I am baffled by these U.S. voting shenanigans every election season.
posted by Go Banana at 7:46 PM on October 15, 2012


Both sides of the coin are only the same to people whose rights are not actively threatened by one side. So yes, fuck that noise indeed.
posted by Phire at 7:46 PM on October 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


...open source, verifiable hardware...

Please describe any way in which such a system could exist. Keep in mind the given system almost certainly contains microprocessors that are completely opaque and uninspectable, even if you managed to find an electron microscope and someone who knew what he was looking through it (yet didn't work for the company that produced the device in the first place).
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:08 PM on October 15, 2012


Why such complex and easily manipulated expensive machinery to do the job of pencil and paper?

Because you only have to mark one X. The absentee ballot I just mailed in had 28 different items on it.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 8:09 PM on October 15, 2012


This stuff is the death of governments and all the civil strife that comes with it. If the public can't trust the government, then it has no legitimacy.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:16 PM on October 15, 2012


Because you only have to mark one X. The absentee ballot I just mailed in had 28 different items on it.

How about not voting for President and Dog Catcher on the same sheet of paper?
posted by dobbs at 8:21 PM on October 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Optical scan ballots are the superior system and should be mandatory nationwide.

When scanned, ballots with overvotes are rejected and the voter can fix the problem before leaving. Results are counted quickly and accurately. Paper ballots remain in the event of a recount. Ballots are marked in a clear and transparent way to the voter.

There should be nothing else. And while we're at it, extend polling hours and in-person absentee voting. The solution to transparent, accessible elections is in extended hours into evenings that allow as many people to vote in person as possible.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 8:25 PM on October 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


Please describe any way in which such a system could exist. Keep in mind the given system almost certainly contains microprocessors that are completely opaque and uninspectable, even if you managed to find an electron microscope and someone who knew what he was looking through it (yet didn't work for the company that produced the device in the first place).

Such a system could exist. You don't need to examine every single voting machine. You just design a sampling system that is likely to find corrupt systems.

Thousands of companies across the country do this everyday in their manufacturing processes. Pick a random sample of elements from a manufacturing batch, reject the batch if a certain amount of widgets fail your test.

You could even do something more complex than a simple random sampling of the entire population of voting machines. A stratified sample or one focusing on districts that polls have shown to likely be close, you might choose more samples from those critical areas.

Then you have a non-partisan group supervise the dis-assembly of the machine and ship the component parts to experts in the field. How you choose experts could be based on any variety of methods. Maybe it's a citizenship requirement similar to jury duty. Maybe you send to another non-partisan governmental research group. Hell, maybe you just scan with an electron microscope and post the images online. There are thousands of hardware experts out there who could take part. Crowdsource that shit.

It's a better solution than the opaque system where we have no visibility into the process or system.
posted by formless at 8:25 PM on October 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Because you only have to mark one X. The absentee ballot I just mailed in had 28 different items on it.

Presuming that you had to make 28 decisions there, I don't think you're really saving noticeable effort using a machine, rather than a pencil, for the note-taking - and I say this as someone who habitually votes below the line for the Australian Senate (ie: mark your preferences from one to sixty).
posted by pompomtom at 8:27 PM on October 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


This image makes some good points.
posted by knave at 8:28 PM on October 15, 2012 [12 favorites]


Scantron would be acceptable.

That's essentially what I have voted with the last several elections. You sit at a table and color in a black bar next to the person/thing you're voting for. If I lived somewhere with electronic voting machines, I'd do the mail-in ballot.
posted by oneirodynia at 8:30 PM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


How about not voting for President and Dog Catcher on the same sheet of paper?

I'm not sure how the Canadian system, where you get to vote for neither, is objectively better.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 8:34 PM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Up here in Canada when I vote, I go to a local school (or some such) that is staffed by a veritable army of helpful volunteers.

We're glad you find us helpful and delightful and all, but you should know we (Elections Canada staff) do get paid for the day's work! I've worked the last several elections and I highly recommend it to anyone, especially university students. You end up with a nice little paycheque and a tip jar full of civic pride.

How about not voting for President and Dog Catcher on the same sheet of paper?

I'm not sure how the Canadian system, where you get to vote for neither, is objectively better.


We don't have presidents or federally-elected dog catchers, but if you're referring to the fact that you become Prime Minister by leading the party that wins the most federal districts, to me that sounds kind of functionally similar to the Electoral College.
posted by saturday_morning at 8:40 PM on October 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


While I also prefer the idea of optical scanner voting over direct register electronic voting, the story about the Utah election recount linked in the FPP is a pretty good example of how that kind of counting system may also not be reliable.

Whatever happened to the old flip the tabs and pull the lever voting machines? There never seemed to be these kinds of questions with those that I remember hearing...
posted by hippybear at 8:44 PM on October 15, 2012


Please describe any way in which such a system could exist

You just need something like DOD orange book standards or The newer ISO 15408 international Common Criteria. Maybe not those in particular but the military and government in genral has been requiring different types of certs for a long time now.There are approved labs that can certify stuff.

I think the main problem is eVoting stuff was put together in a rush with no special eye towads accountability. People wanted that government cash so we ended up with hack jobs.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:48 PM on October 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


We don't have presidents or federally-elected dog catchers, but if you're referring to the fact that you become Prime Minister by leading the party that wins the most federal districts, to me that sounds kind of functionally similar to the Electoral College.

Right, and sometimes you end up voting to block a particular party from getting a majority. And sometimes, you get a prime minister or premier that you can't vote for unless you're at the leadership convention because the previous one resigned. And that prime minster or premier, who you may or may not have voted for, gets to appoint everyone from finance minister to dogcatcher.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 8:50 PM on October 15, 2012


I don't think you're really saving noticeable effort using a machine, rather than a pencil, for the note-taking - and I say this as someone who habitually votes below the line for the Australian Senate (ie: mark your preferences from one to sixty).

It's not just the effort or size of the ballot. The major US elections that have had recounts in recent years have shown pretty conclusively that there are lots (thousands at least) of voters out there who are filling out ballots incorrectly and having their votes counted incorrectly or not at all as a result. Properly done voting machines wouldn't necessarily solve all of those problems, but they could have prevented hundreds of mistaken votes for Pat Buchanan in Florida in 2000 and the ballot-by-ballot guessing of voters' intentions that happened in Minnesota with the Franken/Coleman recount in 2008.
posted by Copronymus at 8:52 PM on October 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have never understood why the Democrats don't do more about this. I mean, it's a sinister conservative tactic, invariably used to conservative ends... It does not benefit the Democrats in any way. I don't think there's even a conspiracy theory you could spin where the Democrats secretly benefit from it somehow. It's not just bad for America, it's bad for them. So why don't they shut this crap down? Why didn't Obama jump on this on day one of his administration?
posted by Ursula Hitler at 8:57 PM on October 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


Right, and sometimes you end up voting to block a particular party from getting a majority...

Sure, definitely, I think there are ups and downs to both systems. At the very least it's much harder to hack a ballot that's just a piece of paper with an X on it.
posted by saturday_morning at 8:59 PM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's not just the effort or size of the ballot.

The comment I was replying to was certainly about the size of the ballot.

The major US elections that have had recounts in recent years have shown pretty conclusively that there are lots (thousands at least) of voters out there who are filling out ballots incorrectly and having their votes counted incorrectly or not at all as a result

...and this will be solved by a novel interface?

Properly done voting machines

Ah, I get it. No TRUE electronic voting system would be as absurd as, well, as all the contenders the US has seen thus far.
posted by pompomtom at 8:59 PM on October 15, 2012


Please describe any way in which such a system could exist. Keep in mind the given system almost certainly contains microprocessors that are completely opaque and uninspectable,

Stop right now, you're going into crazy talk.

Yes, it's difficult to create a completely secure voting system. But the system right now is terminally bad - so bad it seems to me at least that it was created precisely to be insecure, and to be undetectably manipulated.

It's like we have no front door at all, and you're talking about why all doors are a waste of time because of locksmiths.

The only way to create such a system is to get out and do it - make it open source so the best minds in computer science can beat on it and come up with attacks that we can close up. The status quo is not sustainable - once people stop believing in the legitimacy of the voting system it all falls apart.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:14 PM on October 15, 2012


The US has a third-world elections infrastructure. This is just a symptom of that. Every other English-speaking democracy has a federal, non-partisan, well-funded elections bureaucracy. For a country that talks so much about democracy the US is borderline incapable of administering one.
posted by GuyZero at 9:19 PM on October 15, 2012 [8 favorites]


That is true. I just wondering what it would take to outsource the whole thing to india.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:24 PM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


You know I often forget that India is indeed in the set of "modern, English-speaking democracies". Mostly because I forget that English is the (a?) official language of government.

Anyway, indeed, I'm sure the Election Commission of India would be happy to help. You can't say they don't know how to deal with the problem of having a lot of voters.

http://eci.nic.in/eci_main1/index.aspx
posted by GuyZero at 9:27 PM on October 15, 2012


Yep, I'm not talking about having them stay current with US events and actually decide for us yet. I mean have them manage the Infrastructure. If that works out maybe in a while we can just say fuck it, you guys pick.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:31 PM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


By the way, people who are saying "pencil" in this thread really mean "pen", right? The idea of an erasable ballot marking makes me cringe.

There is another use to the optical scanners.

One would be astonished at how terrible voters are at marking their ballots correctly. Since an actual human election official can't verify whether someone has followed the myriad "vote for no more than 3" or "vote only for 1" rules without spoiling ballot secrecy, the scanner's ability to check those rules before casting is very useful.

A voter who has overvoted on an optical scan ballot can fix their mistake when the ballot is spit back out, a voter who has overvoted on a "mark an X" ballot is out the door and gone before anyone cracks open the ballot box to look.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 9:33 PM on October 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Last election I was at in Canada it was all pencils. The worst thing you can do is ruin the ballots - the ballots are basically newsprint and nothing can be erased from them.
posted by GuyZero at 9:36 PM on October 15, 2012


I don't think you're really saving noticeable effort using a machine, rather than a pencil, for the note-taking

I don't know what you mean by "note-taking;" it's not a phrase remotely connected to voting in US English (and I can't turn up quick references in Australian English either).

If you mean counting votes, that's just crazy talk. Machines are real good at boring, repetitive tasks like counting.

If you mean the act of voting itself, either way. But you should know that most Americans vote by using a pen to mark a piece of paper; it's then fed into a scanner.

...and this will be solved by a novel interface?

Direct recording machines, what we usually think of as "electronic voting," really could have notable advantages over paper ballots. All of these are in principle; I don't know that any DRE machines actually do any of these except the first.

(1) By presenting only one question or office at a time, they can reduce voter confusion. It becomes simply impossible to make a mark believing that you are voting for one office when you are actually voting for the office next-door on the ballot.
(2) Voting machines can alert voters to overvotes and send the voter back to the screen to either fix the problem or push an "I know, I really do want to spoil my ballot" button.
(3) Voting machines can remind voters about undervotes -- "You didn't vote for the following offices or questions [LIST], was that your intent?"
(4) All the ballots are in large print for folks with vision problems. And also not in large print. And all ballots are available in any language the ballot was translated into.

...but I will always have a soft spot for the big old mechanical KACHUNKA-CHUNKA! machines where you had the little curtain close over you like you were watching the world's filthiest porn.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:41 PM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I remain amazed that a basic machine with open source, verifiable hardware and software doesn't exist

I used to wonder the same thing, but I'm pretty sure I know the reason: because there isn't a need for one. I've not seen an analysis that shows that "direct register" machines have significant benefits. If you remove the lock-in profit motive by going open source, then there is no remaining motive for electronic voting. (Paper with electronic validation is nearly ideal for most voters, and the verifiable-voting style of machine that jjj606 mentions can be available for the fraction of people for whom it isn't.)
posted by hattifattener at 9:54 PM on October 15, 2012


I don't know what you mean by "note-taking;" it's not a phrase remotely connected to voting in US English (and I can't turn up quick references in Australian English either).

I mean marking your 'x' (or preference number, in sensible systems), as oppose to the (ideally) more challenging task of deciding where to put said 'x' (or or preference numbers, in sensible systems).
posted by pompomtom at 9:56 PM on October 15, 2012


guys i had the greatest idea, lets vote by ipad
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 10:08 PM on October 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


My point is that it's very much an unproven, unsupported assertion that acts of electronic voter fraud will cancel out in any meaningful manner.
Perhaps I wasn't clear. I don't mean to say that all voter fraud will magically cancel itself out since everyone is doing it. Rather, I mean that there is no meaningful choice between the two major parties.
Both sides of the coin are only the same to people whose rights are not actively threatened by one side. So yes, fuck that noise indeed.
Yeah, ok. Is it Obama or Romney that is standing up for due process, habeas corpus and/or just not flat out murdering citizens with drones? Get back to me on that.

Also, I like to be concerned for other people's welfare, as well. Iranians, Palestinians, Afghans... again, not much of an appreciable difference between the candidates on policy wrt those countries. It's not just all about my or your rights (although those are important, to be sure).
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 10:12 PM on October 15, 2012


By the way, people who are saying "pencil" in this thread really mean "pen", right?
"The AEC has found from experience that pencils are the most reliable implements for marking ballot papers. Pencils are practical because they don't run out and the polling staff check and sharpen pencils as necessary throughout election day. Pencils can be stored between elections and they work better in tropical areas. The security of your vote is guaranteed as the storage and counting of ballots is tightly scrutinised."
posted by unliteral at 10:13 PM on October 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I still truly do not understand all this electronic voting machine nonsense. Why such complex and easily manipulated expensive machinery to do the job of pencil and paper?

A determined engineer could build a voting machine in an afternoon. Not a good one.

Given 100 business people, at least one would be able to hire people to build such a system, and make it sound like it was worth 100 million. Of course, having worked with government I realize how incredibly incompetent they are at understanding technology.
posted by niccolo at 10:22 PM on October 15, 2012


Rather, I mean that there is no meaningful choice between the two major parties.

Oh, bullshit. I'm so tired of that shitty rhetoric. Obama is not All That, but as a woman, a person of color, and a lesbian, if you think I couldn't possibly see the difference between a Romney/Ryan presidency and an Obama/Biden one, I've got a wicked nice bridge to sell you.

Re: pencils and ballots: That's what I used to vote when I lived in Maine! If you made a mistake you asked for a new ballot, because trying to erase anything just made giant smudges and/or holes.
posted by rtha at 10:55 PM on October 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


ROU_Xenophobe: All of these are in principle; I don't know that any DRE machines actually do any of these except the first.

The electronic voting machines used in my county (Hart InterCivic eSlate) provide a summary screen at the end of the ballot, before casting of the ballot, that indicates under or over voted races and allows easy correction of these errors (items 2 an 3 on your list). They also provide language selection and display options (item 4 on your list). However, the onscreen layout for the races is up the the local registrar of voters and locally they seem to prefer multiple races per screen, so we don't get item 1 on your list.

These voting machines also provide a big benefit for blind voters; they have an audio interface that allows the visually impaired to use the machine to cast their ballot without the aid of a sighted person and without having to sacrifice the secrecy of their ballot.
posted by RichardP at 12:41 AM on October 16, 2012


There's something else that really bothers me about electronic voting. In their zeal to prevent voting mistakes, I wonder if these electronic solutions permit spoiled ballots and/or voting refusals.

For example, if the voter accidentally selects one of the radio buttons for the candidates for federal dogcatcher, is there a mechanism to unselect all of the choices and leave that choice entirely blank again, or has the voter now been forced to pick one of the candidates for that race? Is there a "none of the above" radio button for leaving that race blank?

Spoiled ballots not only include simple unintentional mistakes like over voting, but crazy people who doodle all over their ballot, write in Mickey Mouse for president, or sign their name (making it invalid since it is no longer secret ballot); these are probably worth minimizing and having the booth warn the voter about when they happen. However I do like the idea that there are certain...displays of incoherence?...that are filtered out of the official voting. If someone decides to just color on their paper ballot for a while, it's declared spoiled and not counted. If it were an electronic ballot, would votes be counted for whichever candidate buttons happened to be pressed first?

Refused ballots are an important protest vote. With all of the hurdles towards voting today -- registration, bringing Id, getting the time off work, etc -- someone who decides to go through all of that, show up at the polling place, and submit an entirely blank ballot is making a strong statement about the unsuitability of all the presented candidates. In a real democratic system, this is respected and counted separately from spoiled votes. There might not be actual law for what happens if refused ballots "win" the election, but it's a powerful message from the electorate that could be completely lost in an electronic system that doesn't allow for it.

In a real democratic vote, spoiled ballots and refused ballots are just as important as the votes for any candidate. Removing them are literally restrictions on voting freedom, yet I rarely see anyone discuss it.
posted by ceribus peribus at 12:42 AM on October 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


(1) By presenting only one question or office at a time, they can reduce voter confusion. It becomes simply impossible to make a mark believing that you are voting for one office when you are actually voting for the office next-door on the ballot.
(2) Voting machines can alert voters to overvotes and send the voter back to the screen to either fix the problem or push an "I know, I really do want to spoil my ballot" button.
(3) Voting machines can remind voters about undervotes -- "You didn't vote for the following offices or questions [LIST], was that your intent?"
(4) All the ballots are in large print for folks with vision problems. And also not in large print. And all ballots are available in any language the ballot was translated into.


The inkavote system some of us has mentioned above has advantages #1, #2, and #3 all built in. Plus it has the advantage of being dead simple and everyone can visually verify, but looking at the ink blotch they made, that they have voted.

As to #4, inkavote also has a system for visually impaired and other handicapped users that works fine. The ballots can be created in various languages just as easily for inkavote as the computer.

And having done a bit of software testing in my lifetime, and married to someone whose career is software testing, I can tell you that the large/small font changes and language changes, combined with all the other programmable aspects of the electronic voting machines are exactly where you run into the kinds of trouble that have been reported with electronic voting machines--not registering the correct vote, touch-screens not registering properly and all the rest.

So you've got a machine that will display in 4 different languages, and large/small font for each, and read the answers for the blind, and you have 237 different voting precincts in your county.

Great. Have you tested each and every one of those combinations together with every other?

'Cause if you haven't, you're going to have the large-print Hmong-speaking voter on precinct 192 where they happen to have 9 candidates for school board (more than any other district) and that is going to cause candidate #9 to scroll off the end of the screen or whatever and you won't be able to select that candidate.

And you're only going to discover it on election day when one of the 17 visually impaired Hmong speakers in District 192 shows up and then they are not even going to realize something is wrong because for some reason they didn't have the entire candidate list memorized. And so then what are you going to do?

And that is not even getting into the issues of counting and recounts, both of which are disasters for voting machines.

Paper. It's simple, it works, it's verifiable.
posted by flug at 12:55 AM on October 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


Ceribus, the machines used in my local elections (which I mention above) do indeed support leaving races blank as well as permitting one to "unselect" a choice. They don't, however, have any sort of "incoherence" detection. Local policy is to err on the side of accepting ballots, even if incomplete, when possible. For example, if you start voting, and then walk off, abandoning a possibly incomplete ballot by leaving the polling place without either pressing the big red "cast my ballot" button or canceling your ballot, your ballot is treated as having been cast. Ballots are only spoiled at the explicit request of a voter.
posted by RichardP at 12:59 AM on October 16, 2012


A lot of America's truly jaw-dropping problems with voting would be at least substantially ameliorated - in my opinion - if you guys had an independent, national, electoral commission.

Which would, wholly through random chance, be staffed entirely by Republicans while Democrats whinged feebly about it.

It would be a great idea, though, in a country less deliberately broken.
posted by winna at 4:35 AM on October 16, 2012


It's not just all about my or your rights (although those are important, to be sure).

Apparently not, since you're basically willing to ignore the last 50 years of progress because there's no meaningful choice between the two major parties.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:33 AM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Good news from Ohio:

Supreme Court Turns Down Ohio Early Voting Case
The Supreme Court has turned aside a request from the state of Ohio to take up an appeal of federal court decision which prevented the state from stopping early voting during the three day period before the election. The decision is a victory for the Obama campaign, which had successfully argued that Ohio could not allow military and overseas voters to vote during the three day period unless that opportunity was available to all voters.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:51 AM on October 16, 2012


Which would, wholly through random chance, be staffed entirely by Republicans while Democrats whinged feebly about it.

It would be a great idea, though, in a country less deliberately broken.


Not really. Some of the more corrupt political 'machines' in the past (meaning organization not a literal machine) such as chicago, new york, all of the former confederate states were all democratic and pretty much corrupt to the core with voting shenanigans galore.

This things ebb and flow (and the ebbing and flowing is done by concerned involved citizens demanding change and becoming part of the system).

Our country is not divided into 50 different administrative regions. It is divided into 50 separate and very different autonomous little countries that get herded together in the same direction by the federal government. Voting rights are very much, and constitutionally mandated i believe, the right of the states. This is why a central election authority would require a constitutional amendment, not just a decision by the federal government. This was designed in the system to spread out power and keep the federal government from becoming too powerful. This is also just about at the heart of every thing people here on the blue complain about being dysfunctional about the government. That dysfunction is a feature, not a bug that was designed to prevent tyranny, and of the majority mostly.

Unfortunately that same feature appears to be failing victim to people with no sense of what made this country great and have learned to game the system to their own short term gain.

Just for the record I think paper and pencil is the way to go and probably a switch to the australian IRV ballot would be great. Hi tech is not always the answer.
posted by bartonlong at 11:04 AM on October 16, 2012


Paper. It's simple, it works, it's verifiable.

As a professional in the software field, this should be screamed on every rooftop, on billboards, in PSAs, whatever it takes. I will opt for paper as long as I possibly can. There's no fucking way I'd trust a touchscreen general-purpose computer system like we have in the US. Even the kind of dedicated system India uses has serious flaws. It all boils down to attack surface. Paper has a very well-mapped attack surface, and we've developed very elegant ways to track and authenticate paper. As soon as you introduce electromagnetic components you've opened a huge range of attack vectors. Consider the recent case of a milspec FPGA chip revealed to contain a hidden backdoor that perhaps even the manufacturer wasn't aware of. This backdoor functionally ruined the whole encryption function of the chip. Slip a couple of these design specs into the supply chain of whomever is making your election hardware and you've got an entirely corrupted system without even requiring the complicity of either the hardware or software manufacturers.

People falsely assume a stolen election would require tons of people. Hardly.

The onlylegitimate justification for even considering a non-paper process is the rapidity with which we can calculate the results, and that itself is driven by our completely insane media-political complex that demands instant results. I don't know of a way to solve this.
posted by odinsdream at 1:46 PM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Romney-linked voting machine company to count votes in Ohio: The company counting critical votes in Ohio and Colorado has extensive connections to the Romney camp
posted by homunculus at 10:39 PM on October 23, 2012


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