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Who did your voting machine vote for?
November 5, 2012 2:05 PM   Subscribe

How to rig an election, and why anomalous exit poll data will no longer arouse suspicions of electronic vote flipping.
posted by Huplescat (96 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
I was reading about Benford's Law the other day, and I found a few recent papers that discuss its potentials and problems in use to expose electoral fraud. It would be interesting to see a "before/after" picture of vote count distributions over the course of various presidential and off-year elections.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:16 PM on November 5, 2012


The key to stopping this is everyone shows up at the polls. This and electoral intimidation really works by discouraging votes. The more of your people show at the polls, the harder it is to rig. The more confirmed votes, the harder it becomes because you have to do more to reverse a result you don't want.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:19 PM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


The key to stopping this is having people mark their votes on pieces of paper which are then manually counted with scrutineers from all parties watching.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:24 PM on November 5, 2012 [69 favorites]


It seems easy enough for us to unite and legally require a paper trail. We can get our senators to sponsor a bill that requires two printed receipts: one for the voter and one to be kept at the machine. We could require printing to occur behind a transparent plastic part for the voter to manually verify its accuracy.
posted by spiderskull at 2:24 PM on November 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is why it's so important that the media not buy into the "it's too close to call" bullshit for months in advance of the election. Every time someone on CNN says the election is a toss-up it gives people like Jon Husted and Rick Scott a little more cover to discourage, disenfranchise and ultimately rig elections.
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:24 PM on November 5, 2012 [32 favorites]


That was the Democratic party rationale for pretending the problem doesn't exist, Ironmouth. They think that if people know the machines are rigged they won't come out to vote. They stuck to this strategy of ignoring the problem for the past four years.

Here's a list of rigged results in the past, and info on patches administered to machines in Ohio this week. Many of the machines in Ohio are owned by a company in which Romney has considerable investment.
posted by clarknova at 2:27 PM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


...The key is to establish an independent electoral commission and prosecute the vote-riggers for treason.

The answer to cheating isn't "win by a wider margin," it's "stop the cheating."
posted by Orange Pamplemousse at 2:27 PM on November 5, 2012 [28 favorites]


Spiderskull, giving the voter a receipt of their vote choice is a really bad idea. It opens the door to buying votes via money or threats.
posted by Static Vagabond at 2:28 PM on November 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thought I kinda miss the communal act of going to the polls, I've been impressed with how vote by mail has been implemented here in WA state. Ballots have to be postmarked by election day (which means we may not know results of some closes races until end of week), and you can log on to a website to verify that your ballot was received, your signature verified, and your ballot is ready for counting. The projection is for >80% voter 'turnout'.
posted by donovan at 2:28 PM on November 5, 2012 [18 favorites]


There are voting systems that guarantee votes cannot be flipped (Farnel voting). Basically, the polling place provides a receipt that is designed so that you can prove that your vote was counted, but you can't prove that you voted for any particular candidate (so it's impossible to sell your vote).

This can be done entirely on paper. We could have done it in 1792 if people were smart enough back then.

The fact that we don't do it now, with the billions of dollars available for fancy electronic voting machines, is sheer idiocy.
posted by miyabo at 2:29 PM on November 5, 2012 [13 favorites]


How to Rig an Election. Don´t worry Florida has this covered.
posted by adamvasco at 2:29 PM on November 5, 2012


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Connell


Always Ohio, I guess.

http://www.tnr.com/article/109623/buckeye-hate#


posted by C.A.S. at 2:46 PM on November 5, 2012


Spiderskull, giving the voter a receipt of their vote choice is a really bad idea. It opens the door to buying votes via money or threats.

I've made this point before, but this is an obsolete argument. I've lost count of how many pictures I've seen on Instagram already of people's (marked) ballots this year—and that's (obviously) just from early voting. In a world of ubiquitous cell-phone cameras, if you want to prove to a hypothetical vote-buyer how you voted, it is trivial to do so regardless of whether a paper receipt is issued.
posted by enn at 2:47 PM on November 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


and why anomalous exit poll data will no longer arouse suspicions of electronic vote flipping

If you follow the links trail, you quickly discover that of the 19 states where exit polling has been canceled, every single one of them is solidly Romney or solidly Obama and has been for weeks if not months (if not years). Sorry to get in the way of the article's sensationalistic framing, but no, I'm gonna say that not doing exit-polling here in Rhode Island really is just about saving some money and not about "stealing elections". And if someone decides to try to steal the election by making all RI's voting machines vote Romney, I think we're gonna notice, exit-polling or no.

Don't get me wrong, I think voter suppression and voting machine tampering are serious problems in battleground states, but that second article is crappy and is using a basically completely unrelated article about canceled exit-polling in the least battleground-y of non-battleground states as a jumping-off point to stir up panic.
posted by mstokes650 at 2:51 PM on November 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


The key to stopping this is having people mark their votes on pieces of paper which are then manually counted with scrutineers from all parties watching.

I agree. Even if electronic voting is used, the voting machine should produce a hard copy that can be be checked over by the voter and turned in and counted at the polling station as a sanity/QA check to verify that the voting machine count isn't being altered fraudulently, and sealed and kept as forensic evidence if required.

I also like the idea of a voter receipt. I don't see why you couldn't have every vote available in an on-line database with a unique number that can be linked to the receipt, so anyone can verify that their vote was counted.

I've made this point before, but this is an obsolete argument. I've lost count of how many pictures I've seen on Instagram already of people's (marked) ballots this year—and that's (obviously) just from early voting. In a world of ubiquitous cell-phone cameras, if you want to prove to a hypothetical vote-buyer how you voted, it is trivial to do so regardless of whether a paper receipt is issued.

It would also be pretty easy to use absentee ballots: Selling votes is common type of election fraud
posted by Golden Eternity at 2:56 PM on November 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Let's say you pay me $1000 to vote for Jill Stein. I go to the polling place, mark a ballot for Jill Stein, and send you an Instagram pic. Then I rip up the ballot, tell the polling people I spoiled it, and vote for Romney like I really wanted to. The secret ballot system really does make buying votes quite difficult.
posted by miyabo at 2:59 PM on November 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


This is why conservative pundits in-the-know are pushing "the polls are biased" and "Romney's making a last-minute comeback" memes... to provide cover for what actually happens and give the Mainstream (no-longer-liberal) Media a way to explain it.

And that's why I called it for Romney in the MeFi Election Prediction Contest. (I SO hope I'm wrong - so you don't have to bother telling me I'm wrong)

That said, I was pleasantly shocked with the 2006 election results (briefly giving Congress back to the Democrats, albeit with some DemsInNameOnly). I thought that after the bad smell of the 2000-2004 elections, the GOP would have the system rigged thoroughly enough to overcome their inevitable demographic deterioration. It's looking like it just took them a few more years.
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:00 PM on November 5, 2012


Update: Lawsuit filed in Ohio over software updates to vote tabulation machines

Alright, this is getting me concerned now.
posted by Golden Eternity at 3:10 PM on November 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


What is entirely insane is a combination of

1) using black box voting machines,
2) a legal system that holds trade secret laws apply to those companies recording and counting votes for a public election, and
3) ownership of all or parts of these voting systems by highly partisan operatives.

Jeebus, paper ballots are often protected from tampering like Fort Knox gold, but when it comes to electronic voting, the public has no right to independent verification? I honestly can't tell if actual fraud has occurred because I have no way of verifying the reports on the Internet, but it is obvious that such fraud is not only possible but probable given the shenanigans that routinely take place with paper ballots when political operatives have the opportunity. The only serious attempt at investigation ended with the death of the star witness and led to no further changes in the laws or practices surrounding e-voting. What a world.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:11 PM on November 5, 2012 [12 favorites]


Why is 2012 worth rigging if 2008 wasn't?
posted by modernserf at 3:14 PM on November 5, 2012


Why is 2012 worth rigging if 2008 wasn't?

In the Harper's piece, she argues that Obama's margin was too big in 2008. The rigging is described as "undercallibrated."
posted by juliapangolin at 3:21 PM on November 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


It seems easy enough for us to unite and legally require a paper trail. We can get our senators to sponsor a bill that requires two printed receipts: one for the voter and one to be kept at the machine. We could require printing to occur behind a transparent plastic part for the voter to manually verify its accuracy.

I think a better goal would be to:

1. Push to require paper-first technologies, like optical scan ballots, and eliminate computers completely from the process of casting a ballot.

2. Require that tallying equipment, both hardware and software (including compilers and other tools), be standardized, open source, and available for inspection by anyone (perhaps even destructive inspection of hardware, in some cases). An interested third party should be able to verify that the firmware of the machine matches the source code that should be running on it and that the hardware will execute it according to the specification.

3. (Optionally) Have machines at the polling places that allow voters to confirm that their ballots are valid and will be read correctly. The voter should be able to verify their votes went to the right people.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 3:24 PM on November 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


>Let's say you pay me $1000 to vote for Jill Stein. I go to the polling place, mark a ballot for Jill Stein, and send you an Instagram pic.

Then the Secretary of State has you charged with felony electoral tampering, since almost every state has laws preventing disclosure of voted ballots, and preventing photography inside the polling place and especially while in possession of a ballot. And your scenario is exactly the reason why these laws exist.

BTW, the Harper's link won't load, and from the little bit that loads, it looks paywalled.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:29 PM on November 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Orange Pamplemousse used the right word: Treason.

How isn't fucking around with the very core essence of how our country works not considered straight-up treason? You know how all of those soldiers gave their lives for our freedoms? The freedom to vote is up there near the top of that list. Some dickhole in Ohio shouldn't be able to take that away without facing very dire consequences.

I don't necessarily advocate the death penalty for election fraud, but you shouldn't be allowed back into the society you once attempted to dismantle.
posted by chasing at 3:31 PM on November 5, 2012 [12 favorites]


Update: Lawsuit filed in Ohio over software updates to vote tabulation machines: ...filed a federal lawsuit over software that was allegedly installed on central vote tabulation machines in 39 Ohio counties without being tested or certified for use....The software was unilaterally deemed "experimental" in nature by Husted's office and therefore was made exempt from Ohio's testing and certification requirements, he said.

WTF? I have no words.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 3:38 PM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


You can create a completely open source, cryptographically secure, verifiable, and private voting protocol (that prevents cheating such as double-voting, etc). The math has been done for at least 10 years. For example and I'm sure more work has been done.

This is like campaign finance reform. It's in direct opposition to the benefit of the people who need to push for it, so it doesn't happen.
posted by jeffamaphone at 3:41 PM on November 5, 2012 [11 favorites]


I just CAN'T FUCKING BELIEVE you're going through all of this bullshit again, 12 long years after Bush/Gore. I mean, Canadian democracy has its own problems these days, but at least we've got Elections Canada running the actual process of voting.
posted by The Card Cheat at 3:45 PM on November 5, 2012


The voting stories about Ohio in 2004 scares me. However I went back to the polling data and found in the Real Clear Politics polling [which puts all major polls together] that in 2004 Bush lead in a majority of the polls and his overall RCP average lead was 2.1%.
Bush won Ohio by 2.1%

In 2008 the RCP average had Obama with a 2.5% lead.
Obama won Ohio by 4.6%

As of today RCP shows that Obama leads Ohio by an average of 2.9%.
I guess we'll see what happens since nothing is guaranteed.

But I want to clear up the meme that Kerry was leading in the 2004 polling. He was leading in some of the polls but not in the majority of them. And if the Republicans found a way to flip votes from voting booths in 2004 for fear of Kerry then they sure as heck would have against Obama who scared them much more in 2008.
Again, we'll see what happens.
posted by Rashomon at 3:47 PM on November 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


I mean, Canadian democracy has its own problems these days, but at least we've got Elections Canada running the actual process of voting.

That's the thing. It's a solved problem. Solved in Canada, Australia, UK, NZ, you name it. Have a single centralized non-partisan organization running your elections in a standardized way. Have people mark their votes on paper ballots. I mean, geez, America made it to the moon but can't figure out how to hold an election?
posted by Jimbob at 3:50 PM on November 5, 2012 [8 favorites]


Lawsuits. Nothing is going to change until there are harsh lawsuits brought against officials for denying people the right to vote. Can anyone think of any other way this could come about in the US?
posted by benito.strauss at 3:50 PM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Four Ways Ohio’s GOP Secretary Of State Is Trying To Swing The Election For Mitt Romney
posted by homunculus at 3:52 PM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


A Children’s Treasury of Wacky Swing State Voter ‘Irregularities’
posted by homunculus at 3:52 PM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Jimbob: "That's the thing. It's a solved problem. Solved in Canada, Australia, UK, NZ, you name it. Have a single centralized non-partisan organization running your elections in a standardized way. Have people mark their votes on paper ballots. I mean, geez, America made it to the moon but can't figure out how to hold an election?'

Canada, Australia, UK, NZ, and other countries are grand, and have done some grand things, but here in America one of our particular areas of expertise is using money and political power to utterly subvert and corrupt "single centralized non-partisan organizations." So while forming one of those to oversee elections seems like a neat idea, I would be more than a little wary of it in practice. Maybe it works for others, and that's fine. But if we were to do it in America, it'd have to be done very, very carefully.

Also, one might note that every one of the countries you named has a parliamentary democracy with proportional elections. All elections can be contentious, but in first-past-the-post elections more is at stake and more can be lost by small margins. None of the countries you named face situations where a few hundred votes out of millions upon millions can be the only thing standing between absolute control and total defeat. The stakes are much higher, and therefore the incentive is greater to cheat in those small places where it might make a big difference.
posted by koeselitz at 4:02 PM on November 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


Here's a list of rigged results in the past, and info on patches administered to machines in Ohio this week

That has to be the least compelling collection of anecdata I've ever seen on the internet. Congrats on your tinfoil hat. You've earned it.
posted by to sir with millipedes at 4:02 PM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Somewhat off-topic, but speaking of the election -- any of you Democrats living in a non-swing state willing to cast a vote for Gary Johnson in exchange for me casting a vote for Barack Obama in Virginia? I'm a Libertarian but I really don't want Romney to win, so I'm filled with angst over whom to vote for tomorrow. :(

If I had the choice, I'd have put Jill Stein on my Virginia ballot. But you're right when you say that stopping Romney is more important right now. Let's just get through this, and work on getting proper ranked voting and anti-fraud reform before the next election.
posted by fifthrider at 4:03 PM on November 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


That has to be the least compelling collection of anecdata I've ever seen on the internet. Congrats on your tinfoil hat. You've earned it.

Yeah, that post managed to singlehandedly make a fairly convincing case look completely batshit. I was wincing at every misspelling...
posted by fifthrider at 4:04 PM on November 5, 2012


That's the thing. It's a solved problem. Solved in Canada, Australia, UK, NZ, you name it. Have a single centralized non-partisan organization running your elections in a standardized way. Have people mark their votes on paper ballots.

I've been saying that for a long time, but as I become more familiar with the goddamn phone books that pass for American ballots every 4 years, compared to what Canadians use (scroll down: names are fake, but that's about it for a riding in a typical federal election), I expect that results on American election nights could be delayed a bit.

Elections Canada works pretty well most of the time, so yeah, you guys really should try something like that for a change.
posted by maudlin at 4:10 PM on November 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


You can create a completely open source, cryptographically secure, verifiable, and private voting protocol (that prevents cheating such as double-voting, etc). The math has been done for at least 10 years.

You can do that math. I can do the math, probably, but it'd take me a while. The chief virtue of good old pen and paper is that the security measures don't require a degree in computer science to understand. It matters to the legitimacy of the election that all voters can see that there's nothing up the magician's sleeve.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:14 PM on November 5, 2012 [8 favorites]


Here in Georgia, we have single-manufacturer (Diebold) touchscreen machines with no paper anything. And now no exit polling. And everybody has written us off as a permanently red state, so nobody will ever question any results and no Democrats will ever campaign seriously here. It is, may I say, just lovely.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:16 PM on November 5, 2012 [11 favorites]


Here in Missouri, I always vote with a paper ballot. I'm sorry to hear you don't have that option, hydropsyche!
posted by limeonaire at 4:24 PM on November 5, 2012


And because voting booths aren't the only place cheating occurs, the article is available elsewhere...
posted by sneebler at 4:24 PM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


The solution to this problem is clear. Someone needs to be ready to spend a year or two in jail for it, unfortunately, and I do not have the guts to do this. Rig a voting machine to add approximately 2.5 million votes to say, McLennan County, TX for the Green Party candidate. Not enough to swing Texas' electoral votes, but enough to be a something that is noticed and investigated. If people start wondering how 2.5 million votes were added in Texas, they just might start wondering how many were added in other states.
posted by Hactar at 4:30 PM on November 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


> but here in America one of our particular areas of expertise is using money and political power to utterly subvert and corrupt "single centralized non-partisan organizations." So while forming one of those to oversee elections seems like a neat idea, I would be more than a little wary of it in practice.

Well...damn. I think you're in a lot of trouble down the road, then, no matter who wins tomorrow.
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:35 PM on November 5, 2012


The solution to this problem is clear. Someone needs to be ready to spend a year or two in jail for it, unfortunately, and I do not have the guts to do this. Rig a voting machine to add approximately 2.5 million votes to say, McLennan County, TX for the Green Party candidate. Not enough to swing Texas' electoral votes, but enough to be a something that is noticed and investigated. If people start wondering how 2.5 million votes were added in Texas, they just might start wondering how many were added in other states.

Be that as it may, however, do it that way and you're running the risk of the usual Republican talent for projection to win out: suddenly electronic voter fraud becomes a "Democratic" problem, and winds up in the same Axis of Bullshit as George Soros, the Bilderbergs, ACORN, and fluoridated water.
posted by fifthrider at 4:36 PM on November 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


The solution to this problem is clear. Someone needs to be ready to spend a year or two in jail for it, unfortunately, and I do not have the guts to do this. Rig a voting machine to add approximately 2.5 million votes to say, McLennan County, TX for the Green Party candidate. Not enough to swing Texas' electoral votes, but enough to be a something that is noticed and investigated. If people start wondering how 2.5 million votes were added in Texas, they just might start wondering how many were added in other states.

"Lone Wolf" "Wacko" "Deranged and Alone" "Not Representative" "Unaffiliated (technically) with Our Campaign" "An Individual Action" etc. etc. etc.
posted by Slackermagee at 4:36 PM on November 5, 2012


The Truth About Voting Machines: What's Real And What's A Nutty Election Fraud Conspiracy
posted by homunculus at 4:37 PM on November 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


And my personal favorite, now that I think about it, "Couldn't possibly have happened to us, we're the USA"
posted by Slackermagee at 4:38 PM on November 5, 2012


Not saying election rigging has happened , but 2008 could be explained as creating a scapegoat.
posted by drezdn at 4:44 PM on November 5, 2012


Can someone point me at the WA website where I can check that my ballot was received? I can find a link to see if i'm registered, but nothing about the fate of my ballot itself.
posted by maxwelton at 4:51 PM on November 5, 2012


I mean, geez, America made it to the moon but can't figure out how to hold an election?

Voting and outer space.
posted by fuse theorem at 4:58 PM on November 5, 2012


Voting and outer space.

Please tell me that isn't a real advertisement...
posted by fifthrider at 5:00 PM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Rig a voting machine to add approximately 2.5 million votes to say, McLennan County, TX for the Green Party candidate.

This is not a bad idea, but it needs to be refined. 2.5 million would probably be caught early enough that it would not make it into the official counts, and there would be some generic announcement about "glitches" in the counting that wouldn't be publicized outside the county (and some watchdog websites). To succeed, the results would have to be plausible enough to be officially recorded.
posted by alexei at 5:01 PM on November 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


From homunculus article:

"Ohio is actually in reasonably good shape," she said. Throughout Ohio, there is a paper trail for votes; that is, even if you vote electronically you get a paper receipt, so that there can be recounts after. All the electronic machines, no matter which of the three voting machine companies they originate from, are required by law to provide paper receipts.

Another thing that people don't know, Pam said, is that there are paper ballots available for those who would prefer not to vote with the electronic machines. This is required by Ohio law. "Most people don't avail themselves of these, but they should know that they could." If there are long lines for machines, for example, or if the machines are down, you can ask for a paper ballot at your Ohio polling place.


I apologize for spamming "well-manufactured drivel." Sounds like there is nothing to the 'last minute software patch' thing.
posted by Golden Eternity at 5:03 PM on November 5, 2012


Until we (Americans) can develop electronic voting that we trust, I've always wondered why voting doesn't generate a paper ballot that is both machine-readable and human-readable, which the voter then deposits in a ballot box. It's still open to crazy shit like "losing" ballot boxes, but that's at least a devil we know.
posted by Doofus Magoo at 5:05 PM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


maxwelton: King County Ballot Tracker?
posted by jacalata at 5:08 PM on November 5, 2012


Yeah, I WISH Texas had Ohio's voting machines, which are legally required to have a paper record. We have the good ol' non-transparent Diebolds.

Of course it doesn't matter for the Presidential or Senate races here, but there's some very close down-ticket races.
posted by muddgirl at 5:25 PM on November 5, 2012


Sounds like there is nothing to the 'last minute software patch' thing.

It's probably not a conspiracy, but their justification for bypassing their testing and certification requirements is just mind-boggling.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 5:25 PM on November 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've always wondered why voting doesn't generate a paper ballot that is both machine-readable and human-readable, which the voter then deposits in a ballot box.

That is called an optical scan voting system. You fill in the little ovals and then put it into a machine that scans it and records the vote in memory, and then the results are sent by modem to the Elections Office, with no human intervention. My state uses the ES&S M100, which does all sorts of good things, like for example if you mismark your ballot and overvote, it will hold the ballot and ask you if you want to have it returned to you out of the scanner so you can spoil the ballot and fill out another one. Unfortunately optical scan ballots have problems, sometimes people don't fill them out correctly, like the put a check mark next to the name instead of filling out the oval. I've worked on recount commissions and the laws about how ballots must be marked are quite specific. The recounts I worked on took several days, and just ended up confirming the original vote count.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:37 PM on November 5, 2012


Doofus Magoo: I've always wondered why voting doesn't generate a paper ballot that is both machine-readable and human-readable, which the voter then deposits in a ballot box.

That's how our voting machines work in my town in Massachusetts. Ballots are cardstock. You use a sharpie to connect two sides of an arrow next to each of your preferred candidate(s). You then insert it into an optical scanner, which processes it, gives you a little ding and a 7-segment LED counter ticks up to show you that everything went well. The machine neatly stacks ballots inside containers which are removed, sealed with tamper stickers, and shipped off to the state. It's awesome and we've been using them for at least the past 10 years; based on the vintage looks of the machine I'm guessing it was made sometime in the early 90s.

The brand? Diebold.
posted by xthlc at 5:43 PM on November 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


[don't make vote trading/selling jokes here, thanks. Have some empathy for your hard working mods.]
posted by jessamyn at 5:45 PM on November 5, 2012


It looks like Harper’s is having trouble with its website. If the How to rig an election link isn’t working for you can find the article here as a PDF.
posted by Huplescat at 5:49 PM on November 5, 2012


The brand? Diebold.

Yeah, I should have been more specific - we have the one with the touch screen and no paper record at all.

I think that one thing that might be confusing to non-USAians (and even some USAians) is that elections are controlled at the federal, state, AND county levels. Two neighboring counties could conceivably use two different types of voting machines. For example, some Texas counties apparantly still use paper ballots alone, or have optical scan machines.
posted by muddgirl at 6:18 PM on November 5, 2012


Here in Georgia, we have single-manufacturer (Diebold) touchscreen machines with no paper anything. And now no exit polling. And everybody has written us off as a permanently red state, so nobody will ever question any results and no Democrats will ever campaign seriously here. It is, may I say, just lovely.

Odd that such a thing would happen in the most corrupt state of them all. Who'd a thunk it.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 6:21 PM on November 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


There is no reason to trust optical scan machines for vote counting. In this previous FPP, there are a couple of examples of where the optical scan machines were tallying entirely wrong, enough so that hand recounts were performed in at least one case.

The election system in the US is broken broken broken. We need to find a way to fix it. I suspect the only way to fix it is to have hand-counted paper ballots. I don't have any problem with that as a standard across the country. But the Constitution doesn't allow for national election standards. And so, here we are.
posted by hippybear at 6:35 PM on November 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


One of the major problems with resolving this issue, is that organizations whose brief is to "make sure everybody votes" cannot be non-partisan. Widespread voting favors Democrats. Narrow voting favors Republicans.

The morally correct view may well be that as many people as possible should (be allowed to) vote, and most comparable Western democracies take this as a principle, and the USA certainly holds it up to give lip service to. However under this model, Republicanism as we know it today would vanish from the earth. I would agree that this is a desirable outcome for all concerned, but Republicans do not.

It would have other consequences: the Democratic party would change and probably split, and Green Party voting would become a non-insane activity, and various other things would occur not all of which are desirable and perhaps the USA may become a kind of heavily-factionalized one party state. However in the main it would be a Good Thing to get rid of the Republicans as they are responsible for causing, or blocking the solution of, about 90% of the USA's socioeconomic problems.

Partisan Republicans are actually smart enough to foresee this outcome, and selfish enough to resist it. It is a corner with no way out into which they are backed, and so they will fight it with all of the resources that are available to them. Even if it isn't framed as a partisan issue, their party's very existence depends on it, and so accordingly it must become a partisan issue.

You cannot agree with both the continued existence of the Republican party as is, and want universal (or even widespread) voting. It's a similar sort of idealist vs realist viewpoint that leads people to advocate voting for third party candidates in the Presidential election. You just can't follow that process and still get an outcome that you would want. The maths don't work.

The only Republicans who will sign up to expansion of practical voting capability are those who are stupid (granted, that is a substantial number, but it is not enough), or those who are forced to submit to it by exercise of judicial power. So, if this is an issue that you would like to see resolved, you may as well go straight for advocacy of the exercise of judicial power.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:40 PM on November 5, 2012 [7 favorites]


David Bismark demos a new system for voting that contains a simple, verifiable way to prevent fraud and miscounting — while keeping each person’s vote secret.
(Recorded at TEDGlobal 2010, July 2010 in Oxford, England. Duration: 7:03)
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 6:49 PM on November 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


The brand? Diebold.

It is one of my favourite historical footnotes that while the Diebold name appears frequently in stories of election fraud, at the end of World War II the company was chaired by the legendary straight arrow Eliot Ness.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:07 PM on November 5, 2012


David Bismark demos a new system for voting that contains a simple, verifiable way to prevent fraud and miscounting —

That's like my goofball dentist who thinks we can end all African conflicts by giving everyone on the continent an oxytocin inhaler. A technical solution to a version of the problem that doesn't exist. Any decent engineer can come up with a reliable vote counting system. There's no way you're going to any of them into place without putting a large class of assholes and their accomplices in prison for a very long time.
posted by clarknova at 7:10 PM on November 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


That's the thing. It's a solved problem. Solved in Canada, Australia, UK, NZ, you name it. Have a single centralized non-partisan organization running your elections in a standardized way. Have people mark their votes on paper ballots. I mean, geez, America made it to the moon but can't figure out how to hold an election?'

Also, one might note that every one of the countries you named has a parliamentary democracy with proportional elections. All elections can be contentious, but in first-past-the-post elections more is at stake and more can be lost by small margins.

Parliamentary democracies frequently use first-past-the-post (including some on that list), and there's arguably even more at stake in parliamentary democracies because there are fewer checks and balances. There's no reason to think that the US can't do elections properly because of its electoral system.
posted by smorange at 7:18 PM on November 5, 2012


'We Needed Twice as Much Time, Twice as Many Places' End-to-End at the Last Early-Voting Line in Dade County
posted by homunculus at 7:53 PM on November 5, 2012


All elections can be contentious, but in first-past-the-post elections more is at stake and more can be lost by small margins. None of the countries you named face situations where a few hundred votes out of millions upon millions can be the only thing standing between absolute control and total defeat. The stakes are much higher, and therefore the incentive is greater to cheat in those small places where it might make a big difference.

Well, each riding in Canada is FPTP (as is the overall parliament), and just a few votes in a few important ridings can turn you from a loss to a win, so I'm not sure how that situation doesn't apply in Canada. And of course in an important referendum, careful bits of small cheating could theoretically have a large effect.

I'm not sure why it would take that much longer to count the votes in the US than it does here. It's not like all the votes are brought together into a big bin -- each polling station has 500 or so people, so you have people counting fewer than 500 votes when polling ends. Then those are transmitted as they have been counted (so you'll get things like "1 polling station out of 258 responding, Smith leads 10-8 over Jones"). The time to results after polls close in BC for a federal election isn't generally much different than the time to result after polls close in any provincial election, so it seems to scale pretty well.
posted by jeather at 8:09 PM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


jeather, federal elections here typically have wee little ballots listing maybe 4-8 candidates for MP in the riding. I know that it doesn't take long to count because I worked my first federal election last year as a Deputy Returning Officer. I had precisely 142 ballots (none spoiled!) to count at my poll, by the time I was done and ready to walk out the door I had heard that my riding had gone orange, and by the time I got the ballot box and forms off to the central office, then got home, the Tory majority had been confirmed.

But some American federal election ballots go on for PAGES and are not always laid out clearly for the voter to read, let alone for poll workers to count. I think they're still countable, but results would be slower than they are right now, I think.
posted by maudlin at 8:26 PM on November 5, 2012


What is entirely insane is a combination of

1) using black box voting machines,
2) a legal system that holds trade secret laws apply to those companies recording and counting votes for a public election, and
3) ownership of all or parts of these voting systems by highly partisan operatives.


That's not insane. That's an extremely rational and well-coordinated gameplan.

What's insane is elected democrats ignoring it for the past four years.
posted by clarknova at 8:30 PM on November 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I worked this year at the provincial election -- we had high turnout, so over 300 votes to count. Which isn't much. Now the ballots have little photos of the candidates.

Obviously you'd need to have clear layouts for ballots, and presumably some sort of way to separate them out. If most ballots take half an hour to count here, well, you can add some workers and some time, but I don't think we're talking about 3 hours to count. Washington state has mail-in ballots, so they must all be hand-counted, no? I just don't see how the "paper ballots counted by humans" issue is too difficult for the US to get to work if it wanted to.

Of course, it would also help if there were laws requiring workers to be given time to vote in these unfixed elections.
posted by jeather at 8:41 PM on November 5, 2012


www.handcountedpaperballots.org
posted by ob1quixote at 8:44 PM on November 5, 2012


Washington state has mail-in ballots, so they must all be hand-counted, no?

I live in WA, and I'm pretty sure the ballots are optical scanner counted.

There does remain a paper trail, but why trust the machines which are doing the initial counting? I don't. Not anymore, not after what I've read about optical scanners going completely wrong, just read it in the past few weeks.

Still, I do vote, so I'm not THAt cynical. Not yet.
posted by hippybear at 8:46 PM on November 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


With regards to the Ohio last minute, super sketch software update to the tabulators, since we don't see the source code we have no fricking idea what the true motivation behind the update could be. I kind of like the conspiracy theories that they're either preparing for a messy, dragged out recount or erasing the traces of a fraud attempt that they realized they couldn't pull off anymore. Or maybe it's a purposefully placed red herring. Maybe it was a totally null update designed to make hipsters avoid the vote because, "it's all rigged anyway, man..."

Which is exactly the problem with electronic voting machines. Even if they're as honest as apple pie, they foment suspicion that the voting has been corrupted and that is as deadly to democracy as any tyrant.

I mean, for crying out loud, a tabulator program does nothing but input, addition and output, right? And I am led to believe that it needs a last minute software update? I've seen some awful software developers, but that is beyond moronic.
posted by Skwirl at 9:07 PM on November 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, one might note that every one of the countries you named has a parliamentary democracy with proportional elections.

The parliaments of Canada and the UK are purely first-past-the-post.

None of the countries you named face situations where a few hundred votes out of millions upon millions can be the only thing standing between absolute control and total defeat.

Wrong.

Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup
Nipissing—Timiskaming
Winnipeg North
Etobicoke Centre
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 9:10 PM on November 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


each polling station has 500 or so people, so you have people counting fewer than 500 votes when polling ends

maudlin already brought this up, but to give you a concrete example, 500 ballots like the one I voted contain a total of 14,000 items.

Now the ballots have little photos of the candidates.

I don't think that's a good idea.

I mean, for crying out loud, a tabulator program does nothing but input, addition and output, right? And I am led to believe that it needs a last minute software update? I've seen some awful software developers, but that is beyond moronic.

Anyone responsible for keeping the technology humming knows (or learns very suddenly) that you don't apply a brand-new software update to production equipment without extensive testing.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 9:25 PM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


All this and the electoral college. What a country!
posted by BlueHorse at 9:27 PM on November 5, 2012


Is the GOP stealing Ohio?

(I, for one, will be amazed if Ohio reports more votes for Barack Obama than for Mitt Romney.)
posted by dirigibleman at 10:11 PM on November 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Where is ES&S headquartered? 11208 John Galt Blvd.
posted by dirigibleman at 10:42 PM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


There does remain a paper trail, but why trust the machines which are doing the initial counting?

The tabulators need scrutiny, for sure, but that paper trail makes a big difference versus the purely electronic machines. If you screw with a pure-electronic system, even if somebody notices, so what? All they've got is some computer forensics that 99% of people don't have any means to distinguish from tinfoil-hattery. Half of the population will dismiss the evidence, and there'll be no serious investigation.

Whereas if you screw with the tabulators on a large scale and don't get the paper ballots to line up (which is a lot more work), that can become a big smoking gun that something really happened. I'm not cynical enough to believe that wouldn't get some outrage even from half the people who voted with the fraudster. That's a mandate for a real investigation, and then they might catch you.
posted by away for regrooving at 11:54 PM on November 5, 2012


One of the major problems with resolving this issue, is that organizations whose brief is to "make sure everybody votes" cannot be non-partisan. Widespread voting favors Democrats. Narrow voting favors Republicans.

Uh, encouraging the victory of the candidate more people actually want is a feature, not a bug. If, to paraphrase a common slogan, "voting has a Democratic bias," maybe the Republicans should, like, consider changing their policies, or some other democracy thingy.
posted by threeants at 12:10 AM on November 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


There is no reason to trust optical scan machines for vote counting. In this previous FPP, there are a couple of examples of where the optical scan machines were tallying entirely wrong, enough so that hand recounts were performed in at least one case.

Which is why the official record is on the paper ballots, which can be recounted by machine OR by humans.

I personally have worked on our voting systems test team and I've filled out probably tens of thousands of test ballots by hand. And I assure you, the systems I worked on are functioning properly.

The election system in the US is broken broken broken. We need to find a way to fix it.

The ways you want to "fix" it are merely ways to introduce more corruption. The system is intentionally "broken." Voting is a human process, and ultimately judged by human beings as voting officials, and human errors are part of the process. If your "fix" was implemented, it would disenfranchise people through rigid procedures that put more weight on technicalities than on the intent of the voter.

I suspect the only way to fix it is to have hand-counted paper ballots. I don't have any problem with that as a standard across the country.

Hand counting is always less accurate than a good machine count. Humans always make more errors than machines.

But the Constitution doesn't allow for national election standards. And so, here we are.

That is not true at all. The Constitution prohibits any federal standards on fitness for state offices and lower, but there is no prohibition on federal standards for voting. In fact, there ARE national election standards, like the Help America Vote Act. Also, the 12th Amendment.

Now you will have to excuse me, I have to go open the polls.
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:36 AM on November 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


the one big insight i derived from studying cryptography in grad school is that the US voting system is almost certainly, 100% rigged, as our system does not even afford the basic, textbook levels of auditing protection that the 'secure voting booth' examples show.
posted by Veritron at 3:33 AM on November 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Me: generate a paper ballot that is both machine-readable and human-readable, which the voter then deposits in a ballot box.

charlie don't surf: You fill in the little ovals and then put it into a machine that scans it and records the vote in memory, and then the results are sent by modem to the Elections Office, with no human intervention.

xthic: You use a sharpie to connect two sides of an arrow next to each of your preferred candidate(s). You then insert it into an optical scanner, which processes it, gives you a little ding and a 7-segment LED counter ticks up to show you that everything went well.
I'm familiar with optical scanning, but was trying to avoid the whole "drawing arrows" and "filling ovals" that makes recounts and challenges open to interpretation and manipulation. Rather, I envisioned that the machine in the voting booth would be pretty much just a dumb printer that generates a paper ballot when the voter is done that has the voter's selection listed in a machine- and human-readable form:
------
President: H. P. Lovecraft
Governor: Huey Newton
Senator: Randle McMurphy
------
The voter verifies that what's printed on the ticket is correct, then inserts it into the ballot box, which are sent off to be tabulated (like it works now). There's no ambiguity on the actual ballot on the part of the voter, tallying machine or eventual recounters. This would leave (as far as I can tell) zero room for interpretation and challenges.

Again, this would just be a compromise between the current need for a paper trail and the need for near-100% accuracy until we can agree upon with a fully electronic method that's not subject to tampering. It only moves the problem upstream a bit (to the black boxes that tabulate the ballets), but the further up the chain it goes before tampering is a possibility, the better.
posted by Doofus Magoo at 3:59 AM on November 6, 2012


Douglass Magoo: that's how the voting machines work where I vote. There is a little receipt printer behind glass on the side of the touchscreen that does exactly what you say. At the end of voting, the machine prints out who I vote for and makes me verify it. The only difference is that the paper ballot is stored on a take-up reel inside the machine.

Any ballot counting method that isn't directly observed from end-to-end by all voters is subject to tampering. (And even then, if sneaky things like disappearing ink could be used.) The key, as you say, is verifiability. It doesn't matter if the communication between the individual voters and the tabulator is electronic or paper, because there is always a "black box" somewhere that is subject to trust.
posted by gjc at 6:16 AM on November 6, 2012


Hand counting is always less accurate than a good machine count. Humans always make more errors than machines.

I had a similar argument with my grandfather in 2000. He was (and still is, at heart) a mechanical engineer who worked in high speed production. He explained how machines behave and how they are predictable. My argument was that even if the machine is nearly perfect and only messed up 0.0001 % of the votes, that's not good enough when the margin of error (the vote spread) is lower than that. When it comes to voting, I posited that the only acceptable margin of error was one that counts ALL votes accurately. Unlike a machine producing Pepsi cans, where you can predict that a good machine will produce good cans, you cannot predict what the next ballot will say.

So procedures must be designed to make hand counting more accurate than the machine count. First for spot checking, and second for recounts. It can be done, but it is costly. One human makes plenty of errors, but a bunch of humans checking each other's work can quickly bring that down to functionally zero errors. Pack the ballots into easily manageable packets, and feed each packet to two streams of counters using different methods of counting, and keep re-doing it until unambiguous results appear.
posted by gjc at 6:32 AM on November 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hand counting is always less accurate than a good machine count.

Machine counts are only as good as the set-up of the machine.

When there are cases such this this one in Florida and this one in Utah, it's hard to believe that machine counts are always more accurate than anything else.

If memory serves, it wasn't electronic touch screen voting machines which were being hacked in the documentary Hacking Democracy, it was optical scanner machines.
posted by hippybear at 6:44 AM on November 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, it turns out my voting place has touch screens with no paper backup.

I "voted" this morning.
posted by dirigibleman at 8:31 AM on November 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


every single one of them is solidly Romney or solidly Obama and has been for weeks if not months (if not years)

The presidential race isn't the only one that matters . . .
posted by flug at 8:53 AM on November 6, 2012


Yeah thank god those other races that matter will be decided by completely different voting machines that aren't owned by right wing partisans.
posted by clarknova at 9:25 AM on November 6, 2012


Washington state has mail-in ballots, so they must all be hand-counted, no?
I live in WA, and I'm pretty sure the ballots are optical scanner counted.


But the signature validation is done by hand, according to The Stranger.
posted by jacalata at 10:32 AM on November 6, 2012


Well, yeah. I don't know if we have computers which can compare signatures to determine if they are the same or not. (People can recognize similar signatures made by the same person, but signatures vary enough with each signing that it could be difficult if not impossible for machines.)

Signatures are done on the outermost envelope of the ballot, visible before anything is opened. Inside that envelope is a second privacy envelope, and inside THAT is the ballot.

I'm guessing how it works is, signature is verified, outer envelope is stripped, inner envelope containing ballot goes into a "count this" pile, which is then fed through tabulation machines.
posted by hippybear at 4:46 PM on November 6, 2012


the one big insight i derived from studying cryptography in grad school is that the US voting system is almost certainly, 100% rigged, as our system does not even afford the basic, textbook levels of auditing protection that the 'secure voting booth' examples show.

You are studying the wrong topic. Voting systems are deliberately designed to prevent auditing in the sense you are using. Rigorous audit processes would allow votes to be tracked back to individual voters, which is a violation of the fundamental secrecy of the process.

Cryptography does not equal security. I suggest that instead of cryptography, you study voting systems theory. I particularly recommend the work of Computer Science professor Doug Jones, who has done extensive research in this area. I particularly recommend his papers A Brief Illustrated History of Voting and Voting on Paper Ballots. In particular, you may be interested in the new method "SOBA" which uses statistical methods to verify election accuracy without violating secrecy.

On a different matter, there is a factor that nobody considers, but that always becomes apparent when I work on an election, when I get stuck counting the write-ins. Like for example, last night AGAIN, when nobody would do it and someone had to step up and get it done or we'd be there all night. And then all the old ladies who wouldn't do it would sit around clucking and hissing at me for taking so long. I can't disclose what I see on those ballots, but it horrifies me every time I look at actual voted ballots. So let me apprise you of the one fundamental aspect of voting that nobody ever considers:

The biggest threat to the integrity of voting systems is voters. As an election official, I spend a lot of time working to insure the integrity of the internal process and that certified methods are observed scrupulously. But the biggest violations of those processes are done by voters. Most of the violations are pure stupidity, but some are just misunderstandings of how voting works. The most common one, a voter already applied for an absentee ballot, it was sent, but they didn't fill it out and send it in. We can't just keep handing them ballots until they fill one in and vote with it, only one ballot can be issued to each voter. They can vote on election day if they surrender their other absentee ballot at the polls, then we can invalidate the old one and give them a new ballot to vote on immediately. Only a ballot issued and certified by the precinct officials can be used and counted at that precinct. Oh but they claim they never received it. Sometimes they tell me their dog ate their ballot, they don't have it. They have to vote on a provisional ballot, which is held until after the election to insure their old ballot hasn't already been sent in and counted.

There is an endless variety of these stupidities, I don't think they rise to the level of fraud since that requires deliberate criminal intent. But sometimes the process accommodates those stupidities and can correct them. I was astonished to have one voter come in with an absentee ballot that actually was partially eaten by a dog. I verified that it was issued as a valid ballot, and that the missing portion was insufficient to cast a legal vote, then issued a new ballot. He filled out his new ballot and it went right into the ballot box like any other, and records were kept that his old ballot was revoked.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:00 AM on November 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


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