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HAVA has forced us to purchase systems that in my opinion are not appropriate for citizens to be voting on
January 23, 2006 11:14 PM   Subscribe

E-voting systems hacker sees ‘particularly bad’ security issues ...On Tuesday, Dec. 13, we conducted a hack of the Diebold AccuVote optical scan device. I wrote a five-line script in Visual Basic that would allow you to go into the central tabulator and change any vote total you wanted, leaving no logs.... More from the Washington Post here, where ... Four times over the past year Sancho told computer specialists to break in to his voting system. And on all four occasions they did, changing results with what the specialists described as relatively unsophisticated hacking techniques. ..."Can the votes of this Diebold system be hacked using the memory card?" Two people marked yes on their ballots, and six no. The optical scan machine read the ballots, and the data were transmitted to a final tabulator. The result? Seven yes, one no. ... Verified Voting and Black Box Voting have much much more on all of this.
posted by amberglow (58 comments total)

 
it's great that, in this fantastic country full of super scientists and researchers and home to some of the most prestigious universities in the world, we build a computer that can't fucking add properly -- which would be quite a funny premise for a cartoon -- and use it to decide who will craft our national policy for the next few years.
posted by wakko at 11:38 PM on January 23, 2006


TIMSF This Is My Surprised Face
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:40 PM on January 23, 2006


Dubya loves me, this I know
Cause my ballot tells me so
Yes, Dubya loves me
My ballot tells me so
posted by sellout at 12:06 AM on January 24, 2006


I voted tonight. Marked an X in a circle with a pencil on a piece of paper that I folded and inserted into a ballot box. Worked pretty well.

/smug
posted by Pseudonumb at 12:43 AM on January 24, 2006


What smug said. I was in and out of the polling station in less than 5 minutes today. I've worked as a District Returning Officer in elections a few times. We usually had the ballots tabulated and posted within 1/2 hour of the polls closing. It's not that complicated. I can't think of any real reason to introduce computers into this process.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 12:48 AM on January 24, 2006


Hah. Sorry. What Pseudonumb said. I was agreeing with his comment. Not sure how that got translated into the screen-name.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 12:50 AM on January 24, 2006


Does your county/state use E-voting systems? Probably other (better?) sites out there, but a quick search turned up this one.

After previous metafilter threads on this topic, I just might start becoming politically active. Nah... Dubya's protecting me and my civil liberties. He says so. It gives me a warm, fuzzy, safe feeling knowing that the executive branch is protecting me. Ahh... just like a big cuddly teddy bear. You Canadians are missing out.
posted by Nquire at 12:57 AM on January 24, 2006


/amused
posted by Pseudonumb at 12:58 AM on January 24, 2006


Folks keep touting the paper option as such a simple option. Then others remind them that, in most US elections, there can literally be DOZENS of candidates, offices and ballot initiatives to be voted upon, making a paper ballot potentially extremely complicated.

Then folks go "oh, yeah...that's right". Then a few weeks go by and we have another discussion thread about vote fraud and folks tout the paper option again for its simplicity.

Sure, paper ballots are simple and straightforward. But US elections are not (usually). That's the whole point behind exploring e-voting to begin with -- paper ballots were causing all kinds of problems and were also abused.

I think most of us will agree on the point, though, that Diebold execs and some elections officials are being extremely (and I mean extremely) disingenuous in their unwillingness to acknowledge the security weakness of these machines.
posted by darkstar at 1:45 AM on January 24, 2006


I love this thread. It may be frightening, but it's also absurdly funny.
A bit like the President.
posted by NinjaPirate at 2:02 AM on January 24, 2006


A paper ballot would not be any more complicated than whatever is on a computer screen. Parliamentary elections in many countries can have hundreds of candidates in a district and still use pen and paper. The reason folks keep touting it as a simple option because it is. Granted, it is more work for the people counting the votes than a simple computer system, but that is ultimately a minor issue.
posted by insomnus at 2:11 AM on January 24, 2006


Paper ballots have worked for, well, as long as there has been cheap paper, pretty much. There is no more central institution to democracy (or a republic) than voting. We've gotten along fine for 229 years. When something is that critical, you don't change it lightly.

I trust computers far less than I trust people for vote counting. Fooling a computer is trivial. Fooling people takes a conspiracy.
posted by Malor at 2:55 AM on January 24, 2006


The biggest hack was using the Diebold AccuVote n the first place.
posted by lobstah at 3:41 AM on January 24, 2006


Yesterday we in Canada voted using the time-tested technologies of pencil and paper. Today we know who won the election. We know by how much. There is no dispute whatsoever.

There may be a message in that.
posted by clevershark at 5:10 AM on January 24, 2006


Then others remind them that, in most US elections, there can literally be DOZENS of candidates, offices and ballot initiatives to be voted upon, making a paper ballot potentially extremely complicated.

That's not really a problem if you take the radical step of... having different ballot papers for different ballots.

If I remember rightly, the last time I voted here in Scotland, there were three papers - one for the local council elections, one for constituency elections and one for regional elections. (Maybe four, if there were European elections going on.) They even colour code them.

I just can't see any way in which computerised voting is better than marking an X in a box on a piece of paper.
posted by jack_mo at 5:15 AM on January 24, 2006


Folks keep touting the paper option as such a simple option. Then others remind them that, in most US elections, there can literally be DOZENS of candidates, offices and ballot initiatives to be voted upon, making a paper ballot potentially extremely complicated.

Give me a break. More complicated than, say, a high school exam? Those have DOZENS of questions spread across several sections!
posted by you just lost the game at 5:28 AM on January 24, 2006


Fooling a computer is trivial.

Worse, you can never prove that the computer is right. The computer doesn't have ballots. It has a few counters. You have to assume that when you push the "Foo for Senate" button, that the Foo counter was A) incremented B) by one.

Want to steal an election? Just damage a few machines in your opponent's strongest districts. Once the counters are corrupted, those votes are gone forever.

I'm all for computerized ballot generators, that output a clean paper ballot. I'm all for computerized ballot counters that count clean paper ballots. Why? Because both can be checked. If I vote Foo for president, and the ballot that comes out has Bar marked, I can fix that before I turn in the ballot. If the counter isn't working, I can hand count. There's a way to check, without destroying the other factor that makes elections work -- the secret ballot.

Voting as Diebold does destroys these checks and balances. I have to assume that my vote was recorded correctly, and that the tabulators will work correctly. If there is anything obviously wrong, the only thing you can do is ignore a voting machine's totals -- which means you've just disenfranchised everyone who voted on that machine.

receipts are commonly cited as the answer. Wrong. 1) The receipt isn't a ballot. You can't correct a bad vote with them, because they've left the polling station's control. 2) Secret ballots limit vote buying and vote intimidation. You have receipts, and you will have cases of "Vote for Bar, and bring in your receipt tomorrow, or you are fired." You can say this is illegal, sure. Your word against the boss. Or, for the carrot instead of stick, "Vote for Bar, bring in your receipt, and I'll give you $50."

Hint: The people pushing these machines know this.
posted by eriko at 5:34 AM on January 24, 2006


insomnus: A paper ballot would not be any more complicated than whatever is on a computer screen.
This bears repeating, over and over again. Anyone who's ever designed screen layouts should know that. Screens are far, far more limiting than paper. If it's complex on paper, it will be much more complex on screen.

Also: In my experience, clever design serves more often to confuse presentation than to clarify it. Ballots and screens should both use simple layouts that are as unambiguous as it is feasible to make them. Instead, what we'll probably get if we are to use them is ballots that are designed either to mimic the interface of the voting machines that preceded them (as a sop to "familiarity"), or to the standards of the machine that will read them (how many people have flunked on their first stab at the SAT because of confusion over those optical scan grid answer sheets?).
posted by lodurr at 5:38 AM on January 24, 2006


eriko: I'm all for computerized ballot generators, that output a clean paper ballot. ... If I vote Foo for president, and the ballot that comes out has Bar marked, I can fix that before I turn in the ballot. If the counter isn't working, I can hand count. There's a way to check, without destroying the other factor that makes elections work -- the secret ballot.
Hmm.... This is an interesting idea. I can see some potential interaction design problems, but it's a very interesting idea. Has anyone been pushing this idea publicly? Do you have links?
posted by lodurr at 5:41 AM on January 24, 2006


Folks keep touting the paper option as such a simple option. Then others remind them that, in most US elections, there can literally be DOZENS of candidates, offices and ballot initiatives to be voted upon, making a paper ballot potentially extremely complicated.

Hmmm. I live in the US. In Maine, we still use paper ballots marked with felt tip pens (which are then read by 1970's era optical scanners in some places and in some places are counted by hand).

You might get three or four (large) pieces of paper, but marking them is not what I'd call complex.
posted by anastasiav at 5:42 AM on January 24, 2006


"Every voting system (perhaps every system of any kind) is insecure. Making them more secure is a desirable secondary priority, but unless we focus everyone on ensuring both auditability and effective auditing, we're just going to create an impossible muddle."
-- Dr. David Dill

This is the really important issue here.
posted by hupp at 5:58 AM on January 24, 2006


This bears repeating, over and over again. Anyone who's ever designed screen layouts should know that. Screens are far, far more limiting than paper. If it's complex on paper, it will be much more complex on screen.

Absolutely! Of course there's a simple solution to that, and it's where computers excel: mulitiple screens with minimal input on each. Of course, that's a digression from the main topic.

Pencil and paper work. Plain and simple.
posted by furtive at 6:31 AM on January 24, 2006


The system eriko describes is well known in the theoretical parts of the computer security community.

When you enter your vote on a computer, it prints out a hard copy of your vote. You verify the printout is correct, and then drop it in a lockbox at the polling place. (You don't take the printout with you because that leads to bad things like vote selling.) The electronic version of your vote is counted, but if the election is ever called into doubt, the lockboxes are broken open and a hand count takes place.

For more information, see the technical papers section of Ron Rivest's voting links page. This one [pdf], in particular, is relevant.
posted by event at 6:33 AM on January 24, 2006


For years the big event around elections in the Peoples Republic of Cambridge was vote counting. Cambridge, Ma USA is one of the last holdouts of proportional representation. Paper ballots are cast, brought to the High School Gym, where the public is invited to watch the hand counting of ballots with up to as many as 26 (or more) candidates for 9 council positions. The total would be tallied on blackboards and speculation ran amok throughout the night. My problem with computer ballots is that the public can't see a computer count. Regardless of whether or not it is hacked, hijacked or hosed, computers are just plain boring as ballot counters.
posted by Gungho at 6:34 AM on January 24, 2006


Well, the optical scan cards machines can be verified by hand. Recounts of all contested counties, plus statistical analysis in all others should be enough to protect elections in non-Florida type voting situations.


The real problem is the lack of the concept of a 'tie' in the voting process. WTF does it mean if one person gets 5,000,000 and the other gets 500,000,500 and the other gets all the power. I think we should keep voting, or have a runoff or something if the margin of victory is less then the number of rejected ballots.
posted by delmoi at 7:03 AM on January 24, 2006


Regardless of whether or not it is hacked, hijacked or hosed, computers are just plain boring as ballot counters.

Boring but cheap. To add some excitement into the system you could keep a running total during the day. Sure it might 'distort' results, but it would kepe things intresting.
posted by delmoi at 7:05 AM on January 24, 2006


in Antarctica, we scratch our vote on ice tablets. it may work for Alaska, Maine, Minnesota maybe. in warmer climates, it is not really advisable.
posted by PenguinBukkake at 7:10 AM on January 24, 2006


Gungho said:
For years the big event around elections in the Peoples Republic of Cambridge was vote counting. Cambridge, Ma USA is one of the last holdouts of proportional representation. Paper ballots are cast, brought to the High School Gym, where the public is invited to watch the hand counting of ballots with up to as many as 26 (or more) candidates for 9 council positions. The total would be tallied on blackboards and speculation ran amok throughout the night.
I like this concept actually. Perhaps people would start to care more if they sit down in a group with hot dogs and beer and watch the count throughout the night, cheering and jeering when the count goes their way or not.

Add to that 'poll worker duty' and 'ballot counter duty' done in the same way as jury duty and we have one cheap night's entertainment cum civic responsibility.
posted by rocketpup at 7:22 AM on January 24, 2006


In the last presidential election in Seattle I walked in and voted in about 4 minutes. We use scantron. The equipment required for each person is a pencil and a piece of paper and maybe a little desk. Then we run our ballot through the "machine" in a few seconds.

At the same time, in Ohio, there were lines hours and hours long. Any system that requires each voter to spend a significant amount of time in front of an expensive machine is unacceptable.

The scantron system in Seattle could be improved by the addition of a printed receipt. The scantron would basically be the input method to a system like eriko suggested that "output(s) a clean paper ballot." That would end the (relatively minor) fights over whether squares are filled in or not. And for a little more expense we can even provide computerized terminals for people unable to use the scantron system.

Anything wrong with this plan? Wastes paper, sure, but it's worth it.

The flaws in the systems being proposed and rolled out now will be exploited. I think it's probably intentional and the politicians and businesspeople who sold our democracy out will someday be known for what they are.
posted by Wood at 7:30 AM on January 24, 2006


Folks keep touting the paper option as such a simple option. Then others remind them that, in most US elections, there can literally be DOZENS of candidates, offices and ballot initiatives to be voted upon, making a paper ballot potentially extremely complicated.

How the fuck does cramming that information on a screen make it less complicated?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:32 AM on January 24, 2006


If you watched the video of the GEMS "hack" that no one seemed to care about before the last "election", you might have been as shocked as I to realize that the "hack" involved closing the GEMS program (which required a password and did not allow alteration of results), navigating to the directory where the data was stored in Excel format (C://Documents and Settings/GEMS/results.xls or something to that effect), opening the data document, and altering the results. Space-age hax, to be sure.
posted by 31d1 at 7:41 AM on January 24, 2006


I voted tonight. Marked an X in a circle with a pencil on a piece of paper that I folded and inserted into a ballot box. Worked pretty well.

Paper ballots are the most common method of voting in the US.

What's rare in the US is hand-counting; almost everywhere that uses paper ballots uses optical scanning. Counting is the part that doesn't scale well in the number of offices. jack_mo notes that (s)he's had hand-counted paper ballots with 3 or 4 offices at once, but your average US election will have 60--100 offices and ballot propositions, requiring not merely a few sheets of paper but a book's worth. Yes, the number of elected offices and ballot propositions is almost certainly a bug, not a feature. No, it's not likely to change anytime soon.

I just can't see any way in which computerised voting is better than marking an X in a box on a piece of paper.

Electronic voting means that you can't run out of large-print ballots for people with limited vision, and that you can't run out of ballots in Spanish or Vietnamese or Tagalog or French. Electronic voting helps have the ballots reflect the actual candidates in the race at the time of the election, and helps avoid having a dead person win because the ballots were printed two weeks ago.

As eriko notes, the problem really isn't difficult to solve, though I'm not aware of anywhere that's done it the way he suggests.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:42 AM on January 24, 2006


But nothing to be worried about, cause by 9pm on election night, they were saying that everything seemed fine and they had been very vigilant all day in the watch for fraud, and then we went from there, into the brave new era.
posted by 31d1 at 7:43 AM on January 24, 2006


How the fuck does cramming that information on a screen make it less complicated?

You put up one office or ballot proposition at a time.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:44 AM on January 24, 2006


My bad, it was c:\program files\GEMS\localDB and you use Access.

I know, old news, who cares, but this mind still reels.
posted by 31d1 at 7:47 AM on January 24, 2006


The scantron system in Seattle could be improved by the addition of a printed receipt.

If the voter can walk out with a receipt, the voter can sell his or her vote to the highest bidder. This is why traditional voting schemes don't use receipts.

Digital cameras add a new wrinkle to this problem, though.
posted by event at 7:48 AM on January 24, 2006


hupp's quote of Dr. David Dill is correct. No system is perfectly secure; no system is perfectly immune to error. But can we create vote-counting/-auditing systems robust enough to detect any error or manipulation that does occur? Sure. Just ask any bank. Or any casino. What do such systems have in common? Paper plays a key role.
posted by lexalexander at 7:50 AM on January 24, 2006


You put up one office or ballot proposition at a time.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:44 AM PST on January 24


And with a paper ballot you could just look at one office or ballot proposition at a time. Jesus.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:07 AM on January 24, 2006


Why do y'all hate America?

Sore Losers! :-)
posted by nofundy at 8:25 AM on January 24, 2006


"If electronic voting machines programmed by private Republican firms remain in our future, dissent will become pointless unless it boils over into revolution. Power-mad Republicans need to consider the result when democracy loses its legitimacy and only the rich have anything to lose."

-- Paul Craig Roberts, "Evidence of a Stolen Election"
former associate editor of the Wall Street Journal and National Review
posted by digaman at 8:31 AM on January 24, 2006


Sorry, by printed receipt I meant a "re"-printed ballot as eriko suggested.
posted by Wood at 8:36 AM on January 24, 2006


ROU_Xenophobe: You put up one office or ballot proposition at a time.
I suggest you take a stab at doing the use-case on that. Then do some mockups (paper prototype would be fine), and test them. Then test a straight paper ballot. See which one is the easier process to debug, and produces fewer errors.
posted by lodurr at 8:40 AM on January 24, 2006


If the voter can walk out with a receipt, the voter can sell his or her vote to the highest bidder. This is why traditional voting schemes don't use receipts.

Usually when discussing electronic voting, the term "receipt" means a printout that is then placed into a ballot box. Personally I find the term "receipt" confusing because most people think of a receipt as something that you keep.

Personally I don't think electronic voting machines should count votes at all and should only be used for marking ballots.

As for Canada, I think the main reason elections are more efficient is because a single entity, Elections Canada, handles everything, buys stuff in bulk, and does tests and dry runs. In the U.S. the system is a mess because every single county has their own system, with hundreds of variations of ballots and systems. It would be cheaper and more efficient if each state had a single entity to handle elections, but usually the case is that the cost has been passed onto counties.
posted by bobo123 at 8:54 AM on January 24, 2006


And with a paper ballot you could just look at one office or ballot proposition at a time. Jesus.

Of course. You said that it "crams" the information on a screen. I took that to mean that you thought that electronic voting machines threw the entire ballot up onto the screen at once, which isn't so. That was all.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:03 AM on January 24, 2006


I try to think about this problem every time it comes up. The system HAS to be auditable after the fact. Here is my imaginary wonderful version that has the presentation & tabulation advantage of the computron and the accountability of the paper trail:

Vote on your touch screen. After you review your votes & hit the finalize button, receive a tiny receipt. It says "Your vote is recorded for the election of 1-24-05. Your recall code for this vote is 123456789ABC. Your votes are: Pres/Schwarz. Dist 9/Pelosi. County Prop A/No. State Prop 215/Yes. (etc)"

That night when the votes come online, you can look up the exact vote pattern of anyone according to their recall code. So every single voter can verify that his or her vote was accurately tabulated (assuming they have a computer or can use one at a library). The state does not keep records of which recall codes correspond with which voters, so the anonymous vote is protected to the same extent it is now. Any citizen could do their own accounting of the posted results to make sure the addition is on the level.

It is up to you to keep your receipt in your wallet or tear the corner off so you don't get it mixed up with your crazy uncle's. There will be a low level of reported vote non-correspondence everywhere due to receipt confusion. But to orchestrate effective fraud, a villain would have to: distribute fraud very evenly and widely, then convince the nation that all fraud reporters were in posession of forged receipts. It seems like it would be impossible to tip any district significantly in any direction.

I don't see a fraud opportunity in voter receipts changing hands after voting. To challenge a result, one person still has to show up with ID showing they voted in the precinct that issued the receipt they hold.

If the machines are hacked to transmit wrong results AND put those wrong results on the receipts, voters will notice this immediately and report it upon voting. There will be a certain level of reporting by people unskilled at casting the votes they intend to cast, but again fraud patterns should be easy to pull out of the noise.

It is kind of like open-sourcing the vote count and distributing the error checking to everyone. I am not really a math person or a security person, but I think my version of voting would give people new faith in the process. It would also make people feel more attached to the whole thing (like watching the lottery on TV with your number in hand) though I guess encouraging the populace to vote is not on the agenda of ruling parties.
posted by damehex at 9:15 AM on January 24, 2006


Um, damehex, how does this prevent vote buying or voter intimidation? Your suggested method pretty much ensures it will happen since every voter has a paper record clearly indicating who they voted for. Wouldn't happen to everyone, but it will happen enough...
posted by R343L at 9:45 AM on January 24, 2006


You said that it "crams" the information on a screen. I took that to mean that you thought that electronic voting machines threw the entire ballot up onto the screen at once, which isn't so. That was all.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:03 AM PST on January 24


Ah; my bad.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:34 AM on January 24, 2006


Venezula voting computers printed a ballot for the voter to check, thus giving undisputed results and leaving a clear paper trail. Simple and reliable.

I could build in my living room a machine to do that securely and transparently.

Strange that Diebold claims it can't be done.

Strange that so many people have demonstrated that Diebold machines can have the tallies changed without leaving a trace.

Strange that some key regional election anomalies coincided completely with which stations using the untraceable Diebold systems.

Laughable that merely attempting to look into the possibility of vote tampering in the USA gets any organisation laughed out of the room - Americans are brainwashed from childhood to believe that democracy is an invulnerable institution in the USA. Vote tampering, like sexually transmitted disease, only happens to others.

Almost all of the third world has more reliable, less corrupt elections.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:55 AM on January 24, 2006


"Venezula voting computers printed a ballot for the voter to check"

That should be, the computer printed a secure filled-in ballot for the voter to look at to confirm that it voted for who they thought it did.

(I just realised the sentence could be read to mean the computer printed a blank ballot which the voter then used a pen to mark, that is not the case, that would be kind of silly :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 12:02 PM on January 24, 2006


Actually, it is entirely possible to verify the correctness of a computer program, especially something as simple as a voting machine.

However, the benefits (fast counting, display in many languages, flexibility) are probably not as important as the reassuring reliability of paper ballots.

As has already been mentioned, it IS possible to create secure-enough computer voting, but the Diebold machines aren't good enough. And considering the controversy, why bother?
posted by iso_bars at 4:59 PM on January 24, 2006


Oh for fucks's fucking fuck!

There are times it appears the USA is grittedly determined to do everything wrong when it comes to democracy.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:34 PM on January 24, 2006


Actually, it is entirely possible to verify the correctness of a computer program, especially something as simple as a voting machine.

No, it isn't. Need I explain to you that all modern CPUs are riddled with bugs at the hardware level, let alone explain how modern languages are incapable of being proven reliable?

I suggest you research it yourself. If you go to Digg you'll find plenty of stories about Intel's latest CPU and the bugs in it; if you go to NASA you can learn how they always run identical hardware/software systems in triplicate, and have a watchdog program confirming that the results match; if you start reading up about functional versus dynamic programming languages, you'll learn a bit more; also check into the effect of radiation on memory and cache, and see if you can find any languages that claim to be 100% proven-correct.

Have fun.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:03 PM on January 24, 2006


ROU_Xenophobe said 'jack_mo notes that (s)he's had hand-counted paper ballots with 3 or 4 offices at once, but your average US election will have 60--100 offices and ballot propositions, requiring not merely a few sheets of paper but a book's worth.'

Bloody hell. I had to do a bit of Googling to figure out what you were talking about, and I'm absolutley stunned.

An example for other non-US readers: Californians were asked to vote in 2002 on the amount of money to be spent on emergency shelter for battered women, low- income senior citizens, homeless families, &c..

I'd assumed this kind of micro-managing direct democracy went out of style when Athenians stopped forming juries of 1001 citizens and chucking pebbles about.

So, why are you voting on this sort of stuff? How can this possibly work in a 'polis' as vast as California? It strikes me that only a tiny, tiny minority will be sufficiently au fait with every issue up for a vote to make reasoned decisions. Mightn't it be better to, you know, have candidates publish a manifesto, then vote for them if you agree with the policies therein, then let them get on with managing issues like emergency housing provision? Obviously, that doesn't work either - vide those traitorous arsecandles I happily voted for in 1997 - but, still... weird attention to detail thing you have going there!

Anyway, I now get why you might entertain the idea of computer voting.

Apologies for the massive derail, and, um, for the fact that I know more about the workings of ancient city states than those of contemporary America.
posted by jack_mo at 6:57 PM on January 24, 2006


So, why are you voting on this sort of stuff?

Naive good-government types in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries really really liked the initiative and got it put into state constitutions, where they've been hard to eradicate.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:53 PM on January 24, 2006


OMG. When are you going to pass amendments that your representatives will do their damn jobs and responsibly figure out the appropriate budgets and programs so that you don't have to?

That sort of pissant detail of funding is so ludicrously moot in the bigger scheme of all that is California, that I can not believe you voters even bother with it.

Can't you just vote on your representatives and throw the rest of that crap in the trash?
posted by five fresh fish at 9:36 PM on January 24, 2006


Actually, it is entirely possible to verify the correctness of a computer program, especially something as simple as a voting machine.

Yes, it is. The Shuttle program library is proof -- I think, over the lifetime of the program, they're up to 12 bugs, in well over 100 revisions. Slot Machines are another.

But how do I prove that code is running on my voting machine, or on the tabulator? You're asking me to trust the government that the voting machines are honest. Proper paper ballots are *much* harder to change or lose than electronic counters.

I can read a properly made paper ballot myself. As long as there are multiple party observers through the whole process, I can be confident that my ballot will be counted. (Not certain, mind you, but confident.)

You may be wondering how I can "trust" a Slot Machine? Simple. It is in a casino's best interest to not cheat. They'll make money on the machine, on the order of 2-5%. Cheating might get caught, and get them fined and shut down. Being honest means that they can keep making money.

This isn't true of an election run by a majority party antithetical to me. It is in tier best interest to block my vote.
posted by eriko at 5:50 AM on January 25, 2006


Point of fact, eriko: there have been buggy slot machines (and, oh!, were the casinos pissed about that!) and you admit full-up that NASA has had bugs in programs they thought were bug-free.

Further, you ignore that the software needs to run on hardware, and that hardware is frequently buggy itself.

It would be extraordinarily difficult to produce a guaranteed-flawless computer-based voting system.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:00 AM on January 25, 2006


I read a paper about three years ago that argued that it was theoretically possible to build bug-free systems. I showed it to a guy I was workign wth at the time, who was a former math prof and had then been a database developer for a very secure adn highly mission-critical branch of the US defense system. He said it didn't seem like it was bullshit; but then added, in effect, that a lot of things don't seem like bullshit until you actually try to do them.

So, yeh, bug-free systems are (probably) theoreticaly possible. But they are also almost certainly infeasible.
posted by lodurr at 10:48 AM on January 25, 2006


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