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New security glitch found in Diebold system:
May 11, 2006 5:15 AM   Subscribe

New security glitch found in Diebold system California, Pennsylvania and Iowa are issuing emergency notices to local elections officials, generally telling them to "sequester" their Diebold touch screens and reprogram them with "trusted" software issued by the state capital. Then elections officials are to keep the machines sealed with tamper-resistant tape until Election Day.
posted by leapingsheep (104 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
" Armed with a little basic knowledge of Diebold voting systems and a standard component available at any computer store..."

Anyone know more details about this? They are being pretty tight with the details here. I'm assuming that the component is a USB flash drive but it's hard to tell from the article.
posted by octothorpe at 5:28 AM on May 11, 2006


If you read down the article it says that the hole exists because Diebold wanted to make the software easy to upgrade. So I think it's simply a question of putting some software on a USB flash drive and going through an upgrade routine.

[sound of jaw hitting floor]
posted by unSane at 5:32 AM on May 11, 2006


They are being pretty tight with the details here.
Prolly cos releasing any more info other than "anyone could do it" would be in violation of DMCA.

My question is, at what point do the politicians go "i'm hearing so much crap about this system, maybe we should look for alternatives?"

That said, ARE there any alternatives?
posted by slater at 5:33 AM on May 11, 2006


We've been using other alternatives as long as we've been holding elections, slater.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:35 AM on May 11, 2006


Perfect timing for a "glitch".
posted by Mr. Six at 5:35 AM on May 11, 2006


There's the Open Voting Consortium. Don't know how their project is coming along but something tells me that if the US had invested 10% of the funds it has spent on Diebold machines in something like OVC, we would not be hearing stories like this from Diebold.
posted by unSane at 5:36 AM on May 11, 2006


nebulawindphone: Fine and dandy, but with all the negative press, why would ANYONE even consider diebold?
posted by slater at 5:37 AM on May 11, 2006


That said, ARE there any alternatives?

We use paper and a pencil up here in Canada. Wild, I know, but you should try it.
posted by Jairus at 5:38 AM on May 11, 2006


slater writes 'That said, ARE there any alternatives?'

Pencils?
posted by signal at 5:39 AM on May 11, 2006


yesyes, i know, pencils. What I meant are alternative electronic voting options. Seems like Diebold's got the market cornered?
posted by slater at 5:48 AM on May 11, 2006


Fine and dandy, but with all the negative press, why would ANYONE even consider diebold?

Because they are in charge of the election and want to make sure that their candidate is declared the winner at all costs.
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:50 AM on May 11, 2006


Yes, pencils. We vote directly for our member of parliament. We stand in line for twenty minutes. The votes are counted before midnight. We know without a doubt who the new prime minister is by breakfast. Recounts are rare.
posted by jon_kill at 5:50 AM on May 11, 2006


What I meant are alternative electronic voting options.

Why would you have meant that? It's broken.
posted by jon_kill at 5:51 AM on May 11, 2006


Why would you have meant that? It's broken.

Wrong. Diebold's machines have "glitches".
posted by slater at 5:53 AM on May 11, 2006


What I meant are alternative electronic voting options.

"Sir, this Porche can't support the weight needed to pull this trailer!"

"Are there any alternatives?"

"We could go back and get that old Hummer."

"yesyes, i know, hummers. What I meant are alternative sports car options."

We stand in line for twenty minutes.

(You stand in line?)
posted by Jairus at 5:54 AM on May 11, 2006


(You stand in line?)

I have. But I don't live in Ottawa, so no big deal.
posted by jon_kill at 6:05 AM on May 11, 2006


I have. But I don't live in Ottawa, so no big deal.

Is it understaffed polling stations, or just everyone shows up at the same time, or something like that?
posted by Jairus at 6:06 AM on May 11, 2006


The problem with US elections as opposed to most others is the sheer quantity of people you have to vote for. It's not like there are two checkboxes on a piece of paper marked (for example) "McCain" and "Gore". There are pages and pages of votes for everything from District School Board Supervisor to DA to Police Chief to Dog Catcher General. Counting the ballots manually is a fricken nightmare and, if it can be made to work, electronic voting is potentially far superior.

Just not the way Diebold does it.
posted by unSane at 6:10 AM on May 11, 2006


Is it understaffed polling stations, or just everyone shows up at the same time, or something like that?

Oh, I don't know. I went to vote after work, and there were seven polling stations and about a hundred people in line. I remember waiting.

Is there some form of instantaneous voting so everyone can get to bed by eight in Ottawa?
posted by jon_kill at 6:18 AM on May 11, 2006


We use these things where I live. They don't have the most intuitive UI, but in recent elections we've had the official results have posted a large victory for Gore and Kerry. Because of Mr. DeLay's gerrymandering I did end up with a Republican Congressman but this was in part due to the shape of the new district and he was running unopposed [the Dem and Lib candidates were write ins and didn't necessarily have easy to remember to spell names]. If I saw Travis County become a red county, I would presume tampering.
posted by birdherder at 6:18 AM on May 11, 2006


(tinfoil hat on.)

California, Pennsylvania and Iowa are issuing emergency notices to local elections officials, generally telling them to "sequester" their Diebold touch screens and reprogram them with "trusted" software issued by the state capital. Then elections officials are to keep the machines sealed with tamper-resistant tape until Election Day.

Arnold just won reelecton, and the GOP just took PA.

(tinfoil hat off.)
posted by eriko at 6:20 AM on May 11, 2006


See also
posted by thirteenkiller at 6:24 AM on May 11, 2006


What does that mean Eriko? There must be nothing fishy going on, since not every single Republican is involved?
posted by leapingsheep at 6:25 AM on May 11, 2006


Paper, pencil.

a) It's a of two thousand year old technology, so good it still works ! Try that with your DVD in the next 20 years , you can throw away your collection already
b) Everybody loves a list !
c) It takes one second and an half assed wannabe hacker to falsify 50 million or more electronic votes
d) It requires a lot of money, a lot of corrupting and messing around leaving big traces to corrupt a paper pencil system
e) paper trail alone isn't sufficient : paper trail is just a stupid list printed by a computer , that can be easily falsified in seconds
posted by elpapacito at 6:26 AM on May 11, 2006


Somebody needs to go to a california polling place this fall and swap in a fake result in which every single fucking vote at that gymnasium goes to mickey mouse. There has to be an event that decisively ends support for these incredibly fucked up machines once and for all.
posted by Tlogmer at 6:28 AM on May 11, 2006


VOTING RECEIPT
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 6:35 AM on May 11, 2006


After reading unSane's comment, I finally understand a major part of the problem with US elections. Why is a dog ctacher on the same form as the president. The worst thing a dog catcher can do is not catch the dogs and people get rabies. If the president screws up, everyone gets nuked. The dogs who all had rabies are dead too.

So even if you need two elections why not make the important stuff on one simple form and do it the old fashioned way with a pencil. I know why this doesn't happen now, because states are in charge of this thing. Fine. Has at least one state in 50 fixed this?


Fix that and then get rid of gerrymandering (especially by skin color) and the US elections would be almost fair agin (or for the first time??).
posted by sety at 6:36 AM on May 11, 2006


The statement that paper is somehow inherently superior to truely secure, digital voting seems illogical. Just like its illogical for just about any other business process. I am not someone who has researched this issue in technical depth, but it sure seems as though paper has a a major problem with transparency. Control the counters and control the result, then lose the evidence. Simplistic, sure, but not far off the fundamental issue, I think.

Open, verifable software specifications and test suites, physical security, and distributed manufacturing of hardware to assuage the conspiracy theorists.

It seems silly to judge the potential for this technology based upon the results of this immature initial attempts at deployment. We are as far today from the potential future application robustness and security as the Wright Bros are from the modern day jet. We just need to keep trying.
posted by sfts2 at 6:37 AM on May 11, 2006


How about a hybrid? Our Toronto municpal elections have used scanned cardboard ballots. Fill in the broken arrow for your choice on one sheet (or 2, or 3 -- it's scaleable!), hand it off to be scanned, and voila! You have an instantly counted vote and a corresponding paper record that can't be altered.

Though there's something to be said for simplifying US Election Day as well.
posted by rosemere at 6:39 AM on May 11, 2006


Somebody needs to go to a california polling place this fall and swap in a fake result

Someone with a LOT of intestinal fortitude. I agree this needs to be done but who is going to be willing to be branded Public Enemy Number One, The Uberterrorist Who Stole Our Freedom? I don't think there would be a grease spot left of this brave patriot once the powers-that-be got done with him/her/them.
posted by djeo at 6:40 AM on May 11, 2006 [1 favorite]


Is there some form of instantaneous voting so everyone can get to bed by eight in Ottawa?

I think there might be. That, or we have an insane number of polling stations. I've never had to wait in line for more than two minutes, and that two minutes is usually because people are chatting instead of voting.


Somebody needs to go to a california polling place this fall and swap in a fake result in which every single fucking vote at that gymnasium goes to mickey mouse. There has to be an event that decisively ends support for these incredibly fucked up machines once and for all.

I have it on very good authority that this was done during the 2004 election, on several machines. Clearly, it doesn't matter who you vote for, even if it's Mickey Mouse.
posted by Jairus at 6:40 AM on May 11, 2006


We use paper and a pencil up here in Canada. Wild, I know, but you should try it.
posted by Jairus at 8:38 AM EST on May 11 [+fave] [!]


Or pine cones and birchbark (YouTube).
posted by juiceCake at 6:47 AM on May 11, 2006


If you live in these states, and you care about a true primary, you need to start calling lawyers. Diebold is telling you that there is some flaw -- which they refuse to reveal -- that requires a patch, and then the machines are to be sealed (not tested, sealed) until election day.

The refusal to make the flaw public and allow tests implies that they're doing something you don't want them to know. The best thing you can do is to get as many citizens as possible to sue to either force testing, or to prevent the machines from being used.

I just got an email from someone I really trust that bothered me deeply -- the way Diebold is handling this makes my tinfoil hat theory not so crazy, and the assurances that "the good guys are all over this" aren't giving me warm and fuzzies.

Something's rotten here.
posted by eriko at 6:51 AM on May 11, 2006


The refusal to make the flaw public and allow tests implies that they're doing something you don't want them they don't want you to know.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:00 AM on May 11, 2006


err, yeah. Thanks KG for the fix.

(not enough coffee.)
posted by eriko at 7:09 AM on May 11, 2006


What I'm curious about is how come the Americans only get their panties in a nitch close to elections. What are you people doing about Diebold in the off season? Isn't it obvious that the closer to election time you "start calling lawyers" the less chance you have of effecting change. Why was Diebold not killed or alternatives worked on begining in December '04?
posted by dobbs at 7:12 AM on May 11, 2006 [1 favorite]


Why was Diebold not killed or alternatives worked on begining in December '04?

Because the GOP hired Diebold for very good reasons, and the GOP has been in power.

There have been people arguing against this ever since HAVA passed -- but the GOP is in power, and they own the press.

That's why they can get away with "we're just patching" -- the press is cowed enough not to really investigate.

Personally, I don't think the courts will help either -- I think the PA Primaries are fucked.
posted by eriko at 7:16 AM on May 11, 2006


slater: why would ANYONE even consider diebold?

Just makes it easier to keep it in the family.
posted by hangashore at 7:17 AM on May 11, 2006


There's nothing inherently wrong with the idea of electronic voting. There is something inherently wrong with electronic voting put together by a private corporation, running on source code that no one's allowed to see. You can do electronic voting well, but it requires open source, if only so far as letting people see the source code for themselves.
posted by jefgodesky at 7:22 AM on May 11, 2006


Will exit polls be conducted in 2006?

I have read that there is talk of not conducting them (at least with the normal, official agency) because the mismatch between tallies and polls last election "proved" the exit polls inaccurate(!) Just a rumor.

uscountvotes.org has some nice overviews of the discrepancies in the 2004 election.

You can do electronic voting well

It is extremely difficult to get it right. Chaum and Rivest both have schemes that seem both secure and workable.
posted by sonofsamiam at 7:23 AM on May 11, 2006


A fundamental error here is that the cost of hand counting and paper use is higher then a cost of a corrupted election. What the fuck is wrong with hand counting, paper trail ? Can't you wait a few hours to have a result ? It's not like you are renting a DVD and complaining about its high rental price, whaaaaaa the DVD is at $1 WAAAAAAAHH !

It's an election goddamit.
posted by elpapacito at 7:33 AM on May 11, 2006


'That said, ARE there any alternatives?'

As far as I know, there currently exists a pencil and paper alternative for most people in the U.S. -- absentee ballots.

What I've been trying to figure out before I encourage everyone I know to vote via absentee ballot as a form of protest is if doing that marginalizes one's vote somehow.
posted by weston at 7:36 AM on May 11, 2006


optical scanners.
Period
you fill out the ballot
you put it in the machine
instant tally, and a paper trail if a recount is needed.
Duh.
posted by edgeways at 7:41 AM on May 11, 2006


(You stand in line?)
At this last (Canadian federal) election, not only did I stand in line, I got a chocolate from the person handling the on-site voter registration process. That's service!
posted by lowlife at 7:44 AM on May 11, 2006


Open source voting software is not a silver bullet. How do you ensure that the code running on the machines at the time of the election was the same software that was verified? Basically, you can't. The ONLY right way is to generate a human readable paper ballot, so the voters can check that what they put in the ballot box is what they actually wanted to vote for.

And then count the frickin paper ballots. Not the memory in the voting machine, that's useless.
posted by jlub at 7:44 AM on May 11, 2006


Oh, and regarding optical scanners, they would be great for all elections, the masses already have tons of experience with that kind of form (SAT and other such mass-market tests, and lottery entry cards come to mind).

As edgeways and others have said: instant tally, instant reject for unreadable ballots, and paper trail. 'Duh' indeed.
posted by lowlife at 7:46 AM on May 11, 2006


So even if you need two elections why not make the important stuff on one simple form and do it the old fashioned way with a pencil. I know why this doesn't happen now, because states are in charge of this thing. Fine. Has at least one state in 50 fixed this?

Sort of. Many states conduct their main elections in federal off-years, so you vote for President, Representative, and maybe Senator in one year and then Representative, maybe Senator, and a whole mess of state and local offices two years later. Unless they've changed it recently, NJ and VA go even further and put their main state/local elections in odd-numbered years. The significant downside to doing this is that it cripples turnout for state/local elections.

Pencils?

Pencil and paper (or pen and paper) is the most common method of voting in the US. I've used the system Rosemere describes in TX and NC.

[Electronic voting] is extremely difficult to get it right.

Not really; this is a solved problem. Use electronic voting machines to fill in or print human-readable ballots that then go into an optical scanner. You get all the language and accessibility benefits of electronic voting and the security of a paper ballot.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:47 AM on May 11, 2006


Oh: the other nice thing about electronic voting is that the boxes can warn you about undervotes and misvotes. "You cast no vote for US Senator. Do you wish to cast a vote for US Senator?" or "You have attempted to vote for two candidates for US House. You can only vote for one candidate; please select again."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:51 AM on May 11, 2006


Use electronic voting machines to fill in or print human-readable ballots

*BUZZ* Error ! If you can't trust a person to put a cross on a symbol/name, how can you trust the same person on operating (even if dumbed down) a
computer ? Plus, what it the printer doesn't print the vote correctly and the voter doesn't doublecheck, maybe because he must rush to bathroom ?

Nay, paper and pecil. And optical scanner can help with supervisors from the parties and indipendent observers.
posted by elpapacito at 7:56 AM on May 11, 2006


Basically, you can't. The ONLY right way is to generate a human readable paper ballot, so the voters can check that what they put in the ballot box is what they actually wanted to vote for.

Yep. Aside from that and security issues, one thing I don't understand is why voters (as opposed to the companies making the machines and software!) would feel there is any need to abandon this system in favour of electronic machines.

Is it cheaper? I have no idea but it doesn't sound like it. Is it quicker? Probably, but I think it's crazy to make the whole issue a choice between waiting two days or two hours for results. Is it more transparent? I just don't see how it could ever be, no matter how 'open' the technology. Everyone can see a sign of pencil on paper. Very few people can read source code of a machine even if it was accessible.

How are scrutineers appointed in the US, by the way? I read on wikipedia they're designated by political parties. I don't know, it seems to me a system where scrutineers are picked at random among ordinary citizens volunteering, sort of like jury duty, is probably better. (Or perhaps it's just because that's the system I'm used to). At least in principle.
posted by funambulist at 8:16 AM on May 11, 2006


Really what should happen for electronic voting is this:

Voters enter a booth and answer a series of questions based on policy (like this vote-by-issue quiz). Then the machine automatically presents the candidate that best matches your views and you can choose to vote for them, for someone else, or have a great big 'spoil ballot' button to send a message to The Man.

Else, stick with paper and pencil.
posted by mazola at 8:26 AM on May 11, 2006


There are *good* reasons to have electronic voting machines: easily can display in large type, easier for people with limited mobility in their hands, they can be made to speak, etc. Plus, as others have pointed out, they can detect voter errors more easily. I see nothing wrong with electronic voting if there is a statistically valid way of detecting fraud. The simplest way is simply to have a voter-verified print out and a process where in every precinct, some random selection of those print outs are counted to check for consistency. Or just print out a scan tron for the voter to verify and count those...
posted by R343L at 8:29 AM on May 11, 2006


How about this?

When you cast your vote, your data (name, social security number, etc) is input into the machine. And each vote, when cast, gets a big serial number, derived from the serial number of the machine, the date and location and time where the vote was cast, and a random offset. The computer records the serial number and how that serial number voted, and prints out a currency-level uncounterfeitable receipt of that vote, containing your information and the serial number, as well as how you voted on everything. So you have the only thing linking your identity to your serial number, but both the machine and you have the serial number linked to the vote.

And then, after the votes are cast and counted, a list of how each serial number voted for each issue is PUBLISHED AND MADE PUBLIC. Online, in print, everywhere. Without the vote receipt, no way to know who voted what way, but everybody can make absolutely sure that their serial number matches how they voted, and will have proof of miscount if it doesn't.

Also, while we're at it, maybe instead of an "election day", we should have an "election week". Why are we so wedded to the idea of having every vote cast on one day? Also how about making voting mandatory, but allow an "opt out of voting" option at the machine? You know, everybody has to go to the polls, even if to vote for absolutely nothing to express disapproval or ignorance..
posted by kafziel at 8:56 AM on May 11, 2006


And then, after the votes are cast and counted, a list of how each serial number voted for each issue is PUBLISHED AND MADE PUBLIC. Online, in print, everywhere. Without the vote receipt, no way to know who voted what way, but everybody can make absolutely sure that their serial number matches how they voted, and will have proof of miscount if it doesn't.

Sorry, makes vote buying trivial -- or vote extortion. 'Bring in your recepit, or you're fired."

Voter intimidation is much harder to accomplish when there isn't a way to find out how the voter you are trying to intimidate voted.

Thus -- you cannot have *anything* that ties the voter to the vote they made. This is the whole point of the ballot box.
posted by eriko at 9:00 AM on May 11, 2006


Oh: the other nice thing about electronic voting is that the boxes can warn you about undervotes and misvotes.

I'd like to hack this.

"You have voted for George W. Bush (Rep.) for President of the United States, would you like to:

Change your vote? Press 1.
Have your head examined? Press 2.
Kill yourself? Press 3.
Move to Southern France? Press 4
posted by sfts2 at 9:10 AM on May 11, 2006


*BUZZ* Error ! If you can't trust a person to put a cross on a symbol/name, how can you trust the same person on operating (even if dumbed down) a computer ?

I can't trust someone to fill out a ballot in a language they don't understand or understand poorly, especially when they're voting on referenda instead of for candidates for office. I can't trust someone to fill out a ballot they can't easily read because they need big type* or can't fill out because they have shaky hands. I can't necessarily trust old people with mild cognitive problems to fill in large, complex ballots with a great number of offices and questions all on the same page. Electronic voting deals easily with those situations.

*Yeah, they still have to read their paper ballot, but it's almost certainly easier to check a completed ballot (or get help doing so) than it is to fill out an American-style ballot with vision problems.

How about this?

When you cast your vote, your data (name, social security number, etc) is input into the machine...
And then, after the votes are cast and counted...


How about this: the machine prints out a ballot, you look at the ballot, and if the machine didn't fuck up you put the ballot in a box.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:25 AM on May 11, 2006


Also, while we're at it, maybe instead of an "election day", we should have an "election week". Why are we so wedded to the idea of having every vote cast on one day?

This is called "early voting." Most states have some form of early voting.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:28 AM on May 11, 2006


Sorry, makes vote buying trivial -- or vote extortion. 'Bring in your recepit, or you're fired." ... you cannot have *anything* that ties the voter to the vote they made.

Apparently with the right cryptographic voodoo one can avoid this problem: at least one scheme has been proposed in which (if I understand correctly) the voter gets a receipt and can verify that his/her vote has been included in the tally, but nevertheless the receipt cannot be used to determine what the vote was. This scheme apparently makes the whole process tamper-proof including the counting.

A readable account of this scheme is here.
posted by em at 9:29 AM on May 11, 2006


How about this: the machine prints out a ballot, you look at the ballot, and if the machine didn't fuck up you put the ballot in a box.

So you use a complicated machine (a computer) to present a simplified interface to a complicated form (the ballot) which you are then given a printed copy of to verify yourself. How is this simpler?

Why not just make the voting system less mind bogolingly confusing? That seems to be the actual problem here.
posted by public at 9:36 AM on May 11, 2006


unSane writes 'There are pages and pages of votes for everything from District School Board Supervisor to DA to Police Chief to Dog Catcher General.'

Wait, you're saying you can't have clean, verifiable presidential elections because you're too busy electing the Dog Catcher?
posted by signal at 10:09 AM on May 11, 2006


Why not just make the voting system less mind bogolingly confusing? That seems to be the actual problem here.

You try to get people to agree that they shouldn't be allowed to vote for a bunch of offices any more. I might agree with you, but I imagine you'll find it a hard sell.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:29 AM on May 11, 2006


It's all a right wing conspiracy. Look at the exit polls for the last two elections. A voting machine should be a pretty simple device; more simple than an ATM machine or a PC. WTF? The U.S. should have a federal elections authority like they do in Canada, so this shit doesn't happen.
posted by disgruntled at 10:53 AM on May 11, 2006


The U.S. should have a federal elections authority like they do in Canada, so this shit doesn't happen.

Uhh, disgruntled, you realize who would be running the federal elections authority, don't you?
posted by eriko at 11:25 AM on May 11, 2006


US elections have become the laughingstock of the democratic world.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:38 AM on May 11, 2006


This newspaper is withholding some details of the vulnerability at the request of several elections officials and scientists, partly because exploiting it is so simple and the tools for doing so are widely available.
I can understand not wanting to publicise it, but meager google skills come up with ample descriptions of the exploit: 1 2 (PDF).
posted by Ogre Lawless at 11:40 AM on May 11, 2006


see also.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 11:41 AM on May 11, 2006


I know this is a shock to everyone here on Metafilter, and it's a shock to me that it needs to be repeated on a regular basis.

The office of the President is not the only office of importance in U.S. politics.

State and local governments have huge power over the day to day lives of U.S. residents. Perhaps even more than the Fed.

ROU_Xenophobe: You try to get people to agree that they shouldn't be allowed to vote for a bunch of offices any more. I might agree with you, but I imagine you'll find it a hard sell.

I look at my ballots and see only a handful where I would trust those positions to be appointed.

So you have, state, county and municipal legislative bodies and executive offices. These are the people who will be making the decision as to whether I get an interstate in my front yard, and how much of my local property and sales tax will pay for it. Since I don't want an interstate in my front yard, and I have a 8 year investment in my home (such as it is) this becomes an issue of critical importance. This is not quite hypothetical because the interstate in question is projected to cut through about a mile behind by back yard, rather than in my front yard.

In some areas you have elections for people who will be making key policy decisions regarding law enforcement, corrections, criminal and civil jurisprudence. These are the people who will decide how strongly to prioritize sexual assault cases, and the use of pre-trial diversion as an opportunity to get drug offenders into treatment programs. Somehow these need to be either directly or indirectly answerable to voting citizens.

You have procedural officers who will determine how far you have to travel to vote, what kinds of ID will be required, and which voting machines will be used. There seems to be a clear consensus that this process should be accountable to voting citizens. But no one has had the magic realization that there are elected offices behind those decisions, and perhaps candidates for those offices should be questioned on this.

So the question is, which offices do you wish to cut from the ballot, and how do you propose making those offices accountable to the citizens whose lives will be affected?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:48 AM on May 11, 2006


I can understand not wanting to publicise it, but meager google skills come up with ample descriptions of the exploit

I don't think this is the same exploit -- this seems to be much newer. Diebold basically came out of nowhere in the last week and said "Update these machines, and seal them."

It might be the same hack, or a variation.
posted by eriko at 11:58 AM on May 11, 2006


Pencil and paper. I don't care if it takes a week or a month to tally and I don't care if it costs 10 billion. Just have a three month cease fire in Iraq to cover the additional cost of a paper and pencil vote.
And don't tell me that someday we will be out of Iraq. By then we will have invaded someone else.
The troops will always look forward to a three month hiatus from fighting during a scheduled election cease fire. It will be really popular. No. Really.
posted by notreally at 12:02 PM on May 11, 2006


"All of us who have heard the technical details of this are really shocked. It defies reason that anyone who works with security would tolerate this design,"

Way before I got to that quote, I was thinking that there's no way this could be accidental. If you've ever designed a security system, you know that something this glaring was intentional. You simply can't be that stupid and still have the ability to design.
posted by forrest at 12:03 PM on May 11, 2006


The U.S. should have a federal elections authority like they do in Canada, so this shit doesn't happen.

Uhh, disgruntled, you realize who would be running the federal elections authority, don't you?


The governing political party in Canada does not run the Elections Canada office. It would be a shit storm if they tried to tamper with it.
posted by disgruntled at 12:37 PM on May 11, 2006


The computer records the serial number and how that serial number voted, and prints out a currency-level uncounterfeitable receipt . . .
I don't think it would be cost-effective to supply each polling station with an offset press, let alone a digital platesetter.

Paper and pen, yeah that's a technology I can support.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:13 PM on May 11, 2006


What Canada and the USA both need is Australia's system. It rocks.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:51 PM on May 11, 2006


Diebold makes and sells ATMs (and it seems other products) for the banking industry worldwide. I find it hard to believe that these clients would accept security flaws of any kind hence they must have personel who specialise in the security aspect of their terminals (software/hardware).

any flaws in these voting machines are intentional and there explicitely to be exploited because in this particular case Diebold is accountable to no one.
posted by canned polar bear at 2:05 PM on May 11, 2006


I find it hard to believe that these clients would accept security flaws of any kind

This is precisely what they would like you to think.

The reality, should you bother digging into things like, say, Citibank VISA, is considerably different.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:21 PM on May 11, 2006


What Canada and the USA both need is Australia's system. It rocks.

I don't think a compulsory voting system would go over well in North America.
posted by disgruntled at 2:24 PM on May 11, 2006


I second the Australian situation. If there's one thing they've gotten right, it's elections.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:36 PM on May 11, 2006


So the question is, which offices do you wish to cut from the ballot, and how do you propose making those offices accountable to the citizens whose lives will be affected?

By recognizing the difference between elected representatives and public servants. The dog catcher is just a job. It requires a defined skill set. If you want to be a dog catcher, you should go look through the job ads and see if any local governments are looking for a new one. Simple as that. If you're a good dog catcher, you might be employed by the authority who are run by elected officials. The same goes for most jobs, really. Being the cheif of police is just a job - you have certain tasks you have to undertake, subject to the law of the land. It shouldn't be a political position, it should be a bureaucratic position, based on merit not popularity.

I second the Australian situation. If there's one thing they've gotten right, it's elections.

Hold up, hold up, we also invented the stump jump plough.

But seriously, in Australia we have to vote:

(a) For federal parliament. Senate and house of representatives. Both through preferential voting that requires numbering all of sometimes dozens of boxes on a form.
(b) For state parliament. Once again, two houses, preferential numbered voting.

Both these are compulsory. You have to vote.

(c) Local council elections. Mayor, alderman for your ward etc. Depending on where you live this may or may not be compulsory.

And you know what? We do it all with pencil on paper. And we all know the result within a day or so. No big deal.
posted by Jimbob at 4:43 PM on May 11, 2006


I should also note that all these are not in sync. Federal, state and local governments all run on different lengths of terms. You might have a federal election one year, then a state election a couple of months after.
posted by Jimbob at 4:44 PM on May 11, 2006


disgruntled: Make it a felony not to vote. Anyone who doesn't vote this time round is therefore disenfranchised in n states. Katherine Harris might find this much more effective than hiring GOP operatives to purge voting rolls!
posted by blender at 4:56 PM on May 11, 2006


Ok, I change what I said: We should adapt the Australian system. Having to check dozens of boxes is overkill.

Mandatory voting is not overkill: a functional democracy requires certain behaviours. Participation in voting is one of those behaviours. If everyone but one person decided to not vote, would it still be a democracy? Not of any functional usage, I say!

I can't believe you Americans elected g.d. dogcatchers! That is simply absurd. Beyond stupid, even. Please, tell me I'm just being trolled!
posted by five fresh fish at 5:13 PM on May 11, 2006


Voting for the senate in particular is a little excessive in Australia. The last ballot I filled out gave the choice of selecting 1 box (of 17) "above the line" or numbering all 100 or so boxes "below the line". For reference the ballot was wider than the polling booth.

As far as the mandatory aspect goes, the stick is pretty minor (I think it's a $50 fine if they chase you down, and if you don't have a good excuse). Travel, family emergency and so on are considered acceptable excuses. "I was busy having a threesome" is not an acceptable excuse (if the newspaper is to be believed someone actually tried this around 2000).

The ACT (ie Canberra) has electronic voting for local elections. It's reasonably user friendly, lets you vote in 15+ languages, and doesn't seem to have stirred up any controversy. The developers even provided source code. Of course, since electoral commissions in Australia are perceived as being apolitical, people are pretty happy to go with whatever they provide.
posted by blender at 5:29 PM on May 11, 2006


Mandatory voting is not overkill: a functional democracy requires certain behaviours. Participation in voting is one of those behaviours. If everyone but one person decided to not vote, would it still be a democracy? Not of any functional usage, I say!

Well, there would have to be a non-vote option in case the people running for office are total fuckwits. The fact that voter turn out is so low in the U.S. is because the political system is controlled by an elite class who won't talk about issues like healthcare. Not to mention the fact that the voting (counting) machines don't work. The systems a sham, so essentially, you're being forced to partcipate in a sham.
posted by disgruntled at 5:44 PM on May 11, 2006


Well, there would have to be a non-vote option in case the people running for office are total fuckwits.

What's better, voting for no-one, or voting for a minor party or independent in order to give the major parties a scare? It is possible you know. People outside the US vote for minor parties all the time.
posted by Jimbob at 5:56 PM on May 11, 2006


People outside the US vote for minor parties all the time.

I'm not talking about outside the U.S.

It is possible you know. People outside the US vote for minor parties all the time.

No kidding? Sheesh.
posted by disgruntled at 6:15 PM on May 11, 2006


I can't believe you Americans elected g.d. dogcatchers! That is simply absurd. Beyond stupid, even. Please, tell me I'm just being trolled!

We don't elect dogcatchers anywhere that I'm aware of, but you're not really being trolled. When we say "dogcatcher" we just mean "a generic low-level local office."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:18 PM on May 11, 2006


I'd be all for a bigger fine, something around a day's pay worth.

I like the idea of having a couple of representatives at each level of government; I'd like to elect socially liberal candidates, but of opposing financial views, and preferably with differing social and business backgrounds.

I like the idea of ranking no more than five candidates: two with preferential values, one null, and two detrimental values. I want to be able to vote "please, please, this guy!" and "this asshat gets in and I'm gonna start a civil uprising! options.

The two preferentially-balanced winning candidates get to go on to represent us. That's cool. If it turns out this area is a whole lot more socially conservative than I can stand, I'll sky on outta here. Otherwise, I'll at least always have at least one representative to whom I can turn to for support.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:19 PM on May 11, 2006


As far as I recall, I can vote for:

  • at my local political party's private elections, in which one presumably elects someone to represent the local party at the national level, hence participating in the selection of party policies and party leader. That's one or two votes.
  • at the city election, in which I vote for a mayor and a half-dozen councillors; and vote for a school board. For these latter, it's simply a mass check-off of names I prefer; the winners are the top six. They then go sort themselves out.
  • at the Provincial election, in which I vote for a local representative for the Provincial Legislature. IIRC, I cast a single vote: only one guy makes it past the post.
  • at the Federal election, in which I vote for a local representative for the Federal Parliament. IIRC, this too is a single vote: only one guy makes it past the post.

    So at worst, I have to pick out a mayor, a handful of councillors, a couple of school board reps, a provincial rep, and a federal rep. But that's rare; the elections are usually staggered.

    By comparison the US system sounds positively onerous.

  • posted by five fresh fish at 6:29 PM on May 11, 2006


    a couple of school board reps

    See this is also something that I have never understood about the US, and I'm suprised Canada does it also. School board reps? Why? Once again, shouldn't running schools be a buerocratic task? Surely, you want all schools in a province / state / country to be pretty much equal. You want them all to set the same standards and impose the same rules. Why go to the trouble of making things so localised?
    posted by Jimbob at 6:53 PM on May 11, 2006


    (For a start, it seems to be partly responsible for the local pockets of madness you yet. Some local moralistic biddy gets herself elected to the school board, suddenly sex education is scrapped and biology class starts skipping some vital components. The social and intellectual progress of the children of a region are impeded.)
    posted by Jimbob at 6:59 PM on May 11, 2006


    Local school board reps don't set the education standards. The Ministry of Education in each province does. District school board reps handle things like bussing, building new schools or expanding existing schools and so on, issues that should be handled by a local board.
    posted by disgruntled at 7:13 PM on May 11, 2006


    Ah fair enough.

    issues that should be handled by a local board

    Still though, that's not a given. There's no reason a higher level of government (at the provincial level, for instance) couldn't decide what areas need new schools, or how to manage the bus routes, and there's no reason such decisions couldn't be made on merit, rather than politically.

    I'm guessing that in north america, there must be something special about schools, and something special about local control that I'm just not understanding.
    posted by Jimbob at 7:22 PM on May 11, 2006


    There's no reason a higher level of government couldn't take classroom attendance. But it's better left to the local teachers, right? Nothing special about that.
    posted by disgruntled at 7:29 PM on May 11, 2006


    School board reps? Why?

    Historical need. And, honestly, there is a lot of localisation when it comes to districts. When you've such an uneven mix of cultures as we have in Canada, local districts make it much easier to provide programs appropriate to the needs of the students.

    In my town alone we have need for a school with special skills and programs for the aboriginal population; a school with special skills for a French immersion school (I'm honestly surprised there was enough parent demand to warrant it); a school with special skills for a number of Asian immigrants, mostly Indian and Pakistani; an Open Door street school; and that doesn't even begin to address the umpteen locally-developed special interest programs we've got, ranging from a reknown "Quest" outdoor education experience to anti-bullying programs in one of the higher-incident areas.

    Also, you forget that Canada is huge. In Northern BC we have School District #57:
  • We currently enrol 15,716 students.
  • We employ over 2500 teachers and support staff.
  • 37 elementary schools
  • 8 secondary schools
  • 2 junior secondary schools
  • 1 middle school
  • Our land area covers 52,000 square kilometers
  • Our boundaries are congruent with those of the Regional District of Fraser Fort George

    Not a whole lot of kids and schools, but damn, that is one massive territory, most of it remote and mountainous Northern forestlands. Could a bureaucrat in sunny, balmy, seaside Victoria have even the faintest understanding about what that district needs? I think not.

    The District has to meet a Provincial Standard Curriculum. It outlines in excruitiating detail every aspect of each program in each grade. It is quite a thing to behold.

    Within that structure is the flexibility to adapt the system. And that's what School Boards in Canada do: make sure it's providing the best service to the community.

  • posted by five fresh fish at 8:58 PM on May 11, 2006


    You simply can't be that stupid and still have the ability to design.

    I really, really want to believe that the Diebold travesty is, in fact, an accident. Because if it isn't, and there's actual malice in getting the medicine to go down, I doubt anyone has a half a chance of stopping it.

    So I'm going to point out several reasons why it could simply be incompetence instead of malice:

    (1) Look at the sorry state of software security in general. Security is still an afterthought for a good chunk of software out there. Meeting deadlines and feature sets is first. Microsoft has taken this tack for a long time, and it's only really started to bite them in the butt for the last 2-3 years in terms of public image. And they still have incredible mindshare and market penetration.

    (2) You don't have to have the ability to design intelligently to release a software product. You only really need the money to pay developers to do it for you, and once they're working for you, you can tell them what's important and what's not and they may grumble and tell you what the Right Thing is, but you don't have to listen. All you have to do is make the right connections and pitches to sell your product.

    All that said... I can't see why the current state of electronic voting is at all acceptable. I've long believed that both good policymaking from elected leaders and worthwhile, functioning public institutions are well within reach of a democratic society, but this particular issue throws a wrench into that for me. This is not rocket science. Intelligent laypeople can understand the issues. The consensus from professionals is overwhelming. The Right Thing™ (or Things) are apparent. And yet: on we go, blithely adopting the wrong setup. If not malice (a possibility I'm not prepared to accept yet), there's certainly incompetence. One of the two is driving things somewhere, and if we can't get something this simple and fundamental to the operation of our public institutions correct, it raises questions about whether we can get *anything* right.
    posted by weston at 9:41 PM on May 11, 2006


    Jimbob: The dog catcher is just a job.

    The "dog catcher" is also just a figure of speech. In the same way, when I pay four bucks for a bagel and coffee, I don't throw four pelts across the counter with a couple of hooves in the tip jar. I would have thought that was pretty darn obvious.

    fff: I can't believe you Americans elected g.d. dogcatchers!

    I can't believe you even had to ask. Having a off day today?

    And BTW, it's generally unwise to give your opinion about something which you appear to be fundamentally ignorant. I wouldn't dream of criticizing the structure of another government, at least not without doing quite a bit more than reacting to the word, "dogcatcher"

    What gets on the ballot in the U.S. is a function of having three branches of government, with multiple levels of jurisdiction. At the risk of being redundant:

    Three branches of government: Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary.

    Multiple levels of jurisdiction: Federal, State, County, Municipal.

    Of course, you don't vote for all three branches at each level, and some levels have bicameral redundancy within a branch. Also, some areas have merged Municipal and County, and others don't have a Municipal government. But still, you can do the math.

    You can make a table of this and put every office on the ballot into one of those boxes. Sherif? County executive. City Council? Municipal Legislative. Clerk of the Courts? Local Judiciary.

    Jimbob: I'm guessing that in north america, there must be something special about schools, and something special about local control that I'm just not understanding.

    Because a large chunk of the funding for most local school districts comes directly from local taxes and bonds. Just as a general principle, any office in the U.S. with the primary responsibility to allocate tax revenue gets an election. To bring back our figurative dog catcher, if there was a dog catcher that had special status under the state constitution, and the power to spend millions of taxpayer dollars collected at the local level or raise funds by putting a part of the government in debt, then you betcha there should be an election.

    But actually, school boards are one of those cases of overlapping jurisdiction where there is no good solution to the problem. On the one side, centralization would go a long way toward evening out the inequities among school districts assuming that there was political will to do so. But then again, there are equity problems within school systems between neighborhoods, so centralized funding is no insurance that the funding will be equitable.

    On the other side, centralization on that scale would be problematic given the non-significant differences in culture, SES, educational level, geography and funding between communities, even within the same state. Basically, what fff said.
    posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:32 PM on May 11, 2006


    Dude, you guys elect your sheriffs and, I believe, some judges. And you wonder why I might think you also elect dogcatchers?
    posted by five fresh fish at 9:58 AM on May 12, 2006


    fff: Dude, you guys elect your sheriffs and, I believe, some judges.

    I'm trying to figure out exactly what is the problem with sheriffs. The executive branch of government is charged (along with other things) with oversight of law enforcement. The sheriff is charged with oversight of county law enforcement. If you are electing an executive at the national level (president) , the state level (governor), and the municipal level (mayor), why not elect one at the county level (sheriff)?

    In regards to judges, there are strong arguments that can go both ways. I have seen little evidence that legislative and executive bodies in action are smarter or more fair than the people who elect them. And in fact, the institutional power structures within governments pretty much prevent them from making fair or good decisions.

    The question comes down to how much trust you are willing to place in elected officials to avoid cronyism and corruption in their personnel choices? The local level is the only place at which something close to direct democracy is feasible. As a big fan of democracy (rather than suffering from the frequent malaise of progressives here of supporting democratic processes only when it suits them), I find this to be a good thing.

    And you wonder why I might think you also elect dogcatchers?

    Ohh, I don't need to wonder why. It's just more fun watching you dance in the rhetorical noose of your own prejudices.
    posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:17 AM on May 12, 2006


    Eh? You're a looney, you are. "rhetorical noose of your own prejudices," indeed: that's rich coming from the guy who elects a bajillion damn political drones for things that really ought to be given solely to the most competent career man.

    But, hey, whatever: so long as you like your horrendously broken system, it's all good.
    posted by five fresh fish at 11:31 AM on May 12, 2006


    fff: Eh? You're a looney, you are. "rhetorical noose of your own prejudices,"

    Certainly, you have admitted prior in this discussion that you are talking from a position of almost complete ignorance. Do you have anything to support your position aside from a reflexive prejudice that everything in U.S. civics is broken?

    ...indeed: that's rich coming from the guy who elects a bajillion damn political drones for things that really ought to be given solely to the most competent career man.

    Well, if you were participating in this discussion using something other that your prejudices, you would know that it's hardly a "bajillion damn political drones." What we vote for are key positions responsible for making, interpreting, and enforcing law at four layers of government.

    But here is the counter-point to your argument. How do you insure that you don't get "political drones" appointed by your elected "political drones?" In political appointments, "most competent career man (or woman)" primarily means "best political toady for the slot."

    Once you have those toadies competent men and women in offices where they are enforcing laws, and spending tax dollars, how do you hold them accountable when they are primarily answerable to their sith lords enlightened elected officials?

    And finally, why is the assumption that elected political drones leaders are better and more impartial judges of career qualification than than voters?

    fff: But, hey, whatever: so long as you like your horrendously broken system, it's all good.

    Well, actually I think that one of the central problems of our "horrendously broken system" is demonstrated by the Federal Government where citizens have almost no control over appointments.
    posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:52 PM on May 12, 2006


    Do you have anything to support your position aside from a reflexive prejudice that everything in U.S. civics is broken?

    Lessee: a tragically low voter turnout, campaign advertising that is bald-facedly untruthful, massive election fraud in several states, poorly-designed ballots, inconsistent rules across the nation, and an unchecked Administration.

    You must be right: I'm off my nut to think there's anything wrong in America!
    posted by five fresh fish at 2:07 PM on May 12, 2006


    surely the democrats can hire some decent hackers...all we need is one manufactured democrat landslide, and republicans will be burning these machines in the streets...
    posted by troybob at 2:29 PM on May 12, 2006


    fff: Lessee: a tragically low voter turnout, campaign advertising that is bald-facedly untruthful, massive election fraud in several states, poorly-designed ballots, inconsistent rules across the nation, and an unchecked Administration.

    Stay focused here. None of the above are a function of the number of offices on the ballot. The existence of a party-line option on almost all U.S. ballot systems I know about makes this clear. If you find choosing candidates for 15 offices to be too much of a burden, you can simply vote for the party you prefer and ignore the rest. All of the above could happen in an election where you voted for 4 candidates instead of 15.

    You must be right: I'm off my nut to think there's anything wrong in America!

    You know, if you need a dictionary to know the difference between "anything" and "everything" I'll be happy to ship one to you.

    The question at hand here is when and where should public officials be accountable directly to U.S. citizens rather than to other members of the political system? There are legitimate tradeoffs to be discussed going both ways, and a good discussion about those tradeoffs would be interesting.

    But, you appear to have no idea who people in the U.S. vote for, or the vertical and horizontal separation of powers that make state, county, municipal and school board elections necessary.
    posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:05 PM on May 12, 2006


    Whatever, man. Have fun with it.

    But, you appear to have no idea who people in the U.S. vote for, or the vertical and horizontal separation of powers that make state, county, municipal and school board elections necessary.

    Which is why I was asking.
    posted by five fresh fish at 9:40 PM on May 12, 2006


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