What is the sound of a "No Hearing Hearing"?
November 22, 2005 1:58 PM   Subscribe

California holds a "No Hearing Hearing" on Diebold certification. "In June, over 200 people traveled to Sacramento to voice their concerns at a public hearing before a panel of advisors to the Secretary of State on voting systems. Since then, every scheduled meeting of the Voting Systems Panel has been cancelled, and now the Secretary has simply disbanded the VSP without notice, without hearings, without any type of due process." This isn't the only jurisdiction in which Diebold is attempting to circumvent legal requirements - in North Carolina they filed for and received a broad exemption from new disclosure rules recently passed into law. The EFF are now suing to force Diebold to comply with the law. As if that wasn't enough, an official Certification Test (PDF) for Diebold's Optical Scan voting machines confirms an earlier threat analysis test (PDF) that the memory cards on these machines run uncertified and arbitrary executable code, a charge that Diebold has vigorously denied.
posted by dinsdale (30 comments total)

 
Considering the nation's very existence depends on fair elections, it totally blows my mind that only a handful (or relative handful) of groups and politicians are bothering to pursue transparency and disclosure. I can't think of anything more damaging to the integrity of the government than a breach in the voting process, short of a nuclear war.
posted by rolypolyman at 2:07 PM on November 22, 2005


Too bad we can't post here the picture that Johnson reportedly showed in private to journalists documenting his guys dumping votes from a ballot box during his narrow win in the senate race (by less than 90 votes.)
posted by StickyCarpet at 2:23 PM on November 22, 2005


If we can get to a point in which diebold creates voting machines that flail about and scream "Danger Will Robinson!" I will pardon them from screwing me out of my voice for the future.
posted by thanatogenous at 2:24 PM on November 22, 2005


That's insane. So much for democracy. Ben Franklin said the last act of any Republic would be to vote in tyrrany. I guess he was wrong about the 'vote' part there.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:27 PM on November 22, 2005


Considering the nation's very existence depends on fair elections...

Reputation, maybe. But existence? Doubtful. I'm paraphrasing George Carlin here, but it seems that the people in charge have decided that elections are far too important to be decided by the average American citizen.
posted by Gamblor at 2:27 PM on November 22, 2005


Does anyone know if there has been an effort to create and open-source version of electronic voting software? Would it be impractical to use software that everyone had access to the source, or inherently secure?

So when is the "Plame-gate" on Diebold gonna happen? I have to go out shopping later and I want to know if I should pick up any popcorn.
posted by qwip at 2:38 PM on November 22, 2005


but it seems that the people in charge have decided that elections are far too important to be decided by the average American citizen.

Pretty much so ...so maybe it's time to restore representation or to suspend taxation..what's the point of paying taxes if the representatives are doing their own interest anyway ?
posted by elpapacito at 2:39 PM on November 22, 2005


Does anyone know if there has been an effort to create and open-source version of electronic voting software?

There have been bills being pushed in the Illinois senate to do that. Hasn't manifested yet.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:55 PM on November 22, 2005


It's rare when the official source and something like indymedia agree on something...particularly in cook county.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:00 PM on November 22, 2005


Considering the nation's very existence depends on fair successful elections...
posted by nervousfritz at 3:00 PM on November 22, 2005


qwip : Theoretically, it is possible to develop an open-source system to do vote counting that can be certified (well, at least extensively analyized) to be cheat-proof. I think the bigger issues are logistical ones; providing the hardware and having someone maintain it. The software should be the easy part, but you don't want your voter receipt printer running out of toner on the big day. Having said that though, I think that most communities (with the exception of large cities) should be able to self-fund and self-administer such a system given appropriate guidance.
posted by ny_scotsman at 3:02 PM on November 22, 2005


Does anyone know if there has been an effort to create and open-source version of electronic voting software?

Well, here's some people who are trying. They have a demo written on Python. I think it's still in the early stages. Here's a reference implementation, but I don't think it's trickled down to software yet.

And if you search for "voting" on sourceforge you get about six results. All of them seem to be pretty alpha.
posted by lumpenprole at 3:09 PM on November 22, 2005


What seems pretty astonishing to me is the extent to which certain governments insist on having those voting systems *not* investigated properly. What is the purpose of going through those shenanigans if it isn't for the purpose of using obvious flaws in the system?
posted by clevershark at 3:27 PM on November 22, 2005


America when you be beautiful again?

[ your next president's name will begin with $sys$]
posted by srboisvert at 3:31 PM on November 22, 2005


Gamblor Reputation, maybe. But existence?

nervousfritz: Considering the nation's very existence depends on fair successful elections...

I'm sorry, but are you guys actually arguing that we don't need to count the votes? That's so insane I can't even formulate a response. Please tell me I'm misunderstanding you.

Also, open source software is a nice step, but not a solution. Even if you can verify the software, you have to then verify that the software that actually gets installed is the verified version. Then you have to verify that none of the data files were modified. And yes, I understand that there are simple cryptographic techniques to do this, but implementing the procedures to make sure it all gets done correctly and that the people doing the verifying don't cheat, etc. is very difficult.

That's why the simplest thing is just to have each vote produce a voter-verifiable receipt that any citizen group or newspaper can count. It doesn't eliminate all problems (obviously), but it's a damn sight better than what we've got coming. (I'm a California voter, so this makes me crazy).

Another problem is that if you only count the receipts when the electronic vote is close enough to demand a recount, then you just cheat the vote enough to stay outside that margin. Since the electronic voting machines that exist are 100% insecure, even the paper receipts won't work unless they are always counted. Which I guess is kind of a tautology -- hackable electronic voting machines are (worse than) useless.
posted by jlub at 3:35 PM on November 22, 2005


srboisvert: "[ your next president's name will begin with $sys$]"

A cookie for you.
posted by Plutor at 3:39 PM on November 22, 2005


Although I often favor gratuitous use of technology in my own life, I can't understand why we need all of these fancy machines to count the vote in this country. It seems to me that all of this is more in support of TV newscasts and their demand for instantaneous results than of democracy.

Frankly I wouldn't care if it took three days to count all of the votes as long as the count was accurate and could be verified by anyone who wanted to check.
posted by sriracha at 3:57 PM on November 22, 2005


Slight derail:

Does any nation apart from the US use voting machines? I know I'm used to just numbering boxes, and it seems to work here.
posted by pompomtom at 4:26 PM on November 22, 2005


Brazil has a huge electronic voting system. See this Wired article.
posted by dmo at 4:35 PM on November 22, 2005


Ta!
posted by pompomtom at 4:38 PM on November 22, 2005


sriracha has it spot on. The need for instantaneous voting is false. We need reliable voting, and that comes from visible mechanics, like paper with holes punched in it. Hanging chads are a blip of a problem when compared to millions of lines of code accessing databases on harddrives spinning at the equivalent of thousands of miles per hour. It's sheer lunacy.
posted by odinsdream at 4:43 PM on November 22, 2005


If voting could change the system, it would be illegal.
If not voting could change the system, it would be illegal.
posted by Balisong at 7:40 PM on November 22, 2005


The need for instantaneous voting is false.

Amen. All this talk of trying to make secure software is unnecessary. Voting using bits of paper, a writing instrument and a locked box has been around for a long time. Once all the bits of paper have been marked by the voters, you have as many people as needed count them as many times as needed until there is a consensus on how many votes for what/who are there. What? You think we miscounted? Well, here ... count them yourself.

We don't need to know within a few hours after the polls closing who has won. The world doesn't end if we don't have minute by minute updates on the numbers or know definitively who won until later in the week. It's so simple to use and understand, and it can be easily verified to find mistakes. Why make it any more complicated then necessary ... or less secure and verifiable ... all for the sake of knowing RIGHT NOW what the outcome will be. Voting shouldn't be a rushed process.
posted by Orb at 8:22 PM on November 22, 2005


You can have my felt tip pen when you pry it from my cold dead hands!
posted by The Monkey at 9:57 PM on November 22, 2005


Paper. Pencils. How hard does it have to be?
posted by you just lost the game at 6:15 AM on November 23, 2005


Er...what Orb said.
posted by you just lost the game at 6:16 AM on November 23, 2005


Electronic voting has the advantage of allowing for easier access for the visually impaired (options for magnified text or text-to-speech can easily be included) and for people whose primary language is not English (in several cities, literally dozens of languages are represented). Of course, it has to be done right:
  1. open source software, so that all the relevant code can be examined by independent critics and election commission officials, the same way that mechanical voting machines can be examined
  2. voter-verified printed paper ballots that are collected in a lockbox on-site
  3. in case of any discrepancies between the electronic count and the paper ballot count, the paper ballot count is the official count.
Number one is simply common sense - why would you trust a machine built by a private entity with private interests, if no one was able to open up the machine and look at its insides? And without two and three, there will always be doubt as to the integrity of an electronic vote. If all three conditions are satisfied, however, then it seems to me that an electronic voting system would be at least as secure as any previous one, and would also enable those advantages I mentioned earlier.

Someone please tell me if I missed anything.
posted by skoosh at 6:57 AM on November 23, 2005


Orb, I think the issue is that you need to know who's empowered to make decisions on behalf of the citizenship - during an election that isn't as well defined. Back in the day that was likely not so much of a problem, but I think keeping that period as short as possible is very desirable given the speed with which situations can develop nowadays.

I think the benefit of electronic voting is that, done correctly, you get the advantages of speed with the certainty of a manual recount. The worst case scenario should be the hand counting of ballots, but given clear margins that may not be so important.
posted by ny_scotsman at 7:05 AM on November 23, 2005


skoosh has basically got it, with the addition of

4. routine, statistically significant, publicly supervised, *random* spot checks to detect any discrepancies between electronic count and paper ballot count.

As to the "issue" of who's empowered to make decisions, until the incoming administration is sworn in, it is the outgoing administration that is in charge.
posted by dinsdale at 11:47 AM on November 23, 2005


If voting could change the system, it would be illegal.
If not voting could change the system, it would be illegal.


Where I sit, not voting is illegal.
posted by pompomtom at 6:46 PM on November 23, 2005


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