Join 3,363 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Ohio: L33T Wanted
August 22, 2008 10:19 AM   Subscribe

David Byrd, the President of Premier (formerly Diebold), has acknowledged that an error in touch-screen voting machines used in half of Ohio's counties may cause some votes to be "dropped". Oh, and there's no time to fix the problem before the elections. Premier Election Solutions and Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner are issuing guidelines to counties for how to avoid the problem.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing (115 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh those wacky Ohioans: Ohio says no to voting machine 'sleepovers.'
posted by enn at 10:30 AM on August 22, 2008


I can't wait to see this story go no where fast as well!
posted by chunking express at 10:31 AM on August 22, 2008


Ah, the memories.

--Press Conference on 2004 Ohio Election Fraud Court Case
--Was the 2004 Election Stolen?
--None dare call it stolen:
Ohio, the election, and America's servile press

--What Happened in Ohio
--Ohio Secretary of State confirms 2004 election could have been stolen
--What Happened in Ohio: A Documentary Record of Theft and Fraud in the 2004 Election
posted by ornate insect at 10:35 AM on August 22, 2008


Admittedly, the new SOS, Brunner, is very concerned about this kind of stuff and is way more proactive than Blackwell, Ohio's previous douchetard and failed gubernatorial candidate.
posted by billysumday at 10:36 AM on August 22, 2008


may cause some votes to be "dropped".

Some. Ha.
posted by rokusan at 10:36 AM on August 22, 2008


If there is an Ohio or Florida this November, I'll be ready to set buildings on fire.
posted by mattbucher at 10:42 AM on August 22, 2008 [23 favorites]


You know how for years a lot of you (and I) thought we were living in enlightened times? You'd learn in school about some messed up thing that happened in earlier centuries and shake your head at how corrupt things were. Shake your head at horrible practices and look in wonder at propoganda and just think that was all in the past. But now you know 100 years from now, people will look back at us and do that.
posted by cashman at 10:42 AM on August 22, 2008 [13 favorites]


If you want your vote to be counted in Ohio, vote for the right person:

John Mcforgetshowmanyhouseshehascuzhehassodamnmany.
posted by Mister_A at 10:43 AM on August 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


i don't see any guidelines that are touch screen specific in your last link. it's just a standard pollworker training site.
posted by lester at 10:43 AM on August 22, 2008


Well, assuming the selection of votes dropped is random.....*bursts out laughing*

I almost got it out, you guys!
posted by DU at 10:44 AM on August 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's August 22nd, the election is November 4th and there's nothing that can be done to fix this? If this is a software problem, which is what Premier says, then this is bullshit. This hopefully isn't like a hot fix for an operating system where nobody knows exactly how many computers are affected nor where they're located.

The fundamental problem is that a private company has been allowed to devise a system to protect the publics most fundamental right without public oversight, but at least try to run an election where the losing side is denied the opportunity of pointing fingers at Ohio. You know, for a change.
posted by substrate at 10:49 AM on August 22, 2008 [12 favorites]


Well, this makes me feel even more confident.
Should I wear a condom when I go to vote this November?
posted by cimbrog at 10:49 AM on August 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


xkcd on the topic
posted by mattbucher at 10:51 AM on August 22, 2008 [6 favorites]


If there is an Ohio or Florida this November, I'll be ready to set buildings on fire.

A lot of folks will be right behind you!

Should I wear a condom when I go to vote this November?

No need. But(t) just make sure that the Republican who fucks you wears one.
posted by ericb at 10:53 AM on August 22, 2008 [5 favorites]


Premier spokesman Chris Riggall said the programming problem had gone undetected after years of use and both federal and state testing.

That's bullshit, Chris. Did you not read the September 21, 2005 GAO Report?

(1) some electronic voting systems did not encrypt cast ballots or system audit logs, and it was possible to alter both without being detected; (2) it was possible to alter the files that define how a ballot looks and works so that the votes for one candidate could be recorded for a different candidate; and (3) vendors installed uncertified versions of voting system software at the local level.

We've known about this bullshit for three years. At least. And now, once again, we're being told 'oh, so sorry, there's not enough time to fix this problem we just now discovered.'

BULLSHIT.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 10:54 AM on August 22, 2008 [7 favorites]


Diebold makes a lot of ATM machines -- something tells me they don't fuck up cash money like this -- because people care about things like that.
posted by amuseDetachment at 10:55 AM on August 22, 2008 [13 favorites]


i don't see any guidelines that are touch screen specific in your last link. it's just a standard pollworker training site.

There is a page in that link regarding voting equipment, which will probably updated soon, as this story just broke. Sorry for the confusion.

Also, here's a related link, about Brunner's countersuit against Premier.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:56 AM on August 22, 2008


By 'some', they mean 'Democrat', yes?
posted by djgh at 10:56 AM on August 22, 2008


If there is an Ohio or Florida this November, I'll be ready to set buildings on fire.

People keep saying this, but it'll never happen. America surrendered many years ago, and the rolling over in 2004 sealed it.

It's sad, but today's lazy-ass people want stability at all costs.
posted by rokusan at 10:57 AM on August 22, 2008 [10 favorites]


something tells me they don't fuck up cash money like this

This is exactly the point I make when people talk about paper ballots. The technology exists to do this right. So the only reason it isn't being done right is that the people who have the power to change it are happy with the status quo.
posted by DU at 10:58 AM on August 22, 2008


Seriously, isn't tampering with a national election, like this obviously is, bordering on treason? When are we going to put these fuckers against the wall already?
posted by FatherDagon at 10:58 AM on August 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


Damn it, I meant this link.

That's it, I'm getting more coffee.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:58 AM on August 22, 2008


Tic-Tac-Toe according to Diebold:

X | O | O
O | X | O
X | O | X

"O wins!"
posted by ...possums at 11:01 AM on August 22, 2008 [8 favorites]


It's sad, but today's lazy-ass people want stability at all costs.

We should make a deal. If shit like this appears to happen this time - and even if Obama wins anyways - everyone who agrees to participate in this should raise holy hell and not stop until something is done. We can't let this crap go on. Bad enough we're forced to vote for one of two corporate sponsored candidates. We should at least get the corporate sponsored candidate that more people want in office.
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:01 AM on August 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Tic-Tac-Toe according to Diebold: "O wins!"

I'm pretty sure there's no Diebold code that allows "O" to win, ever.
posted by rokusan at 11:02 AM on August 22, 2008 [4 favorites]


You know, I recall reading about this same problem back in December. WTF, democracy?
Hart InterCivic doesn't get the same shit that Diebold does, bu they've had the same "issues" (and their HQ are just down the street from my house).
posted by mattbucher at 11:02 AM on August 22, 2008


Dan Wallach recently announced an interesting paper [pdf] that attempts to apply big-O complexity analysis to attacks on voting systems; some of the commenters in the first link find the conceit a little forced, but it's an interesting read.
posted by enn at 11:03 AM on August 22, 2008


surely this
posted by Fenriss at 11:10 AM on August 22, 2008


We need Jimmy Carter and the UN to monitor our elections. (The fact that Republicans hate both Jimmy Carter and the UN is only icing on the fair election cake.)
posted by DU at 11:11 AM on August 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


Diebold Accidentally Leaks Results Of 2008 Election Early
posted by milkrate at 11:11 AM on August 22, 2008 [3 favorites]


heh. It's weird seeing big-O complexity analysis outside of an interview for a job I'm probably not going to get.
posted by Artw at 11:19 AM on August 22, 2008


Here's the thing, we keep contracting these same people to do this job, and they keep fucking it up. If someone I was personally paying had made some many clear mistakes, I would fire them and get someone who could do it better.

I completely disagree with using private corporations, who may have a vested interest wielding this much power over our central democratic process, but since it seems that we are currently doomed to have to deal with this, then let's set some ground rules;

If you can't do it, you are fired. If I can't fire you, you will be putatively fined (and I mean, I want them to really feel it on the bottom line) until you can guarantee that every machine works perfectly and an independent group is given the ability to test them completely.
posted by quin at 11:19 AM on August 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


Rokusan: I'm pretty sure there's no Diebold code that allows "O" to win, ever.

Right you are:
In computational complexity theory, big O notation is often used to describe how the size of the input data affects an algorithm's usage of computational resources (usually running time or memory). It is also called Big Oh notation, Landau notation, Bachmann-Landau notation, and asymptotic notation. Big O notation is also used in many other scientific and mathematical fields to provide similar estimations.

The symbol O is used to describe an asymptotic upper bound for the magnitude of a function in terms of another, usually simpler, function. There are also other symbols o, Ω, ω, and Θ for various other upper, lower, and tight bounds.
posted by ...possums at 11:21 AM on August 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's sad, but today's lazy-ass people want stability at all costs.

There is no such thing as "today's people," lazy or otherwise. You think the 50,999,897 people who voted for Gore in 2000 wanted stability? No, they wanted a Democratic president not elected by the supreme court. After the fact, they didn't know what else to do but complain and say, people today are so lazy! Fuck that. All of this faux democracy is only further highlighting the need for direct action and a tipping point can be reached.
posted by mattbucher at 11:21 AM on August 22, 2008


We need Jimmy Carter and the UN to monitor our elections.

Well, Carter teamed up with James Baker back in 2005 to recommend voting reforms, but one of the problems is that, despite a number of election reform bills that have been sponsored in the House and Senate, there has yet to be any real movement on a federal solution that addresses the core problems.

One of these core problems is that states and counties retain too much decision making power on how we vote--and elections are stolen at the local level. The lack of any standardized system that is the same across all 50 states means that people looking to reform our voting systems must confront a myriad of different systems (paper, punch card, electronic, etc) in which votes are tallied in different ways. This crazy-quilt patchwork of systems is ideal for rigging a precinct here or a county there, thus potentially tipping close races like 2000 or 2004, and while it's true that a federal system could also be rigged in theory, the issue of transparency would at least be more manageable.
posted by ornate insect at 11:23 AM on August 22, 2008


Admittedly, the new SOS, Brunner, is very concerned about this kind of stuff and is way more proactive than Blackwell, Ohio's previous douchetard and failed gubernatorial candidate.

Yeah, she seems to be doing her job rather than professionally undoing her job in order to serve her party. She has a tough job ahead, to convince OH voters that their votes are actually counting this time around.

I think it's entirely unfair to compare her to Blackwell though. The only way to be more proactive than Blackwell would be to break into the machines in Democratic-leaning precincts and delete the votes for Obama personally. Dude wasn't just refusing to fix the problems-- he was making sure they happened to begin with.
posted by Tehanu at 11:27 AM on August 22, 2008


Dear America: Get your head out of your ass.
posted by dobbs at 11:28 AM on August 22, 2008


I voted and I voted,
And then I voted more:
I pulled the polling lever
Until my voting hand was sore.
So where did all my votes go?
They ain't counted anymore.
It ain't them what does the voting;
It's them what keeps the score.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:36 AM on August 22, 2008 [12 favorites]


fuck:

Pen.. paper

Optical scanner.

Fast and with a paper trail.

what the hell more do we need?
posted by edgeways at 11:41 AM on August 22, 2008 [3 favorites]


My understanding of computing peters out somewhere around the point where math gets involved, and situations like this baffle me. Since the mid-90s, I've been using a series of computers that have a vanishingly small failure rate when it comes to doing what I tell them and saving what I tell them to save. Can anyone give me a layman's-terms explanation of what failures these systems are encountering?
posted by chudmonkey at 11:42 AM on August 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh and in OH, on election day the State should go and randomly seize a handful of machines from different locations. Run tests on them that day during election hours then publish the results. If they are significant a criminal suit should be leveled.
posted by edgeways at 11:44 AM on August 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


So, using a pencil and paper – what’s the downside again?
posted by Artw at 11:45 AM on August 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Marisa, this thing you stole, it was an election?
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:48 AM on August 22, 2008


Marisa, this thing you stole, it was an election?

Don't look at me. I suggested "show of hands" in 2004 and no one listened.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:50 AM on August 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


It seems like a voting machine is performing one of the simpler tasks that one could ask a counting machine to do. It's like they have to up the complexity of the device to explain its failures. My state uses a marked paper ballot that is read electronically. It tabulates as rapidly as the votes come in, but there's an existing paper record that can be counted in the case of a challenge. Touch-screen voting seems like designing a machine and HOPING it'll fail. Three hundred million people voted in the last election in India using devices that cost less than $500 each and the consensus from most corners of the electorate was that the voting was fair. We're not solving this problem because we don't want to.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:52 AM on August 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Artw wrote "So, using a pencil and paper – what’s the downside again?"

We only use pencil and paper for UNIMPORTANT stuff, like the test that determines whether you go to college and become lower-middle class, or go to a vocational-technical school and become a blue-collar wage slave. Why would we use such a low-tech solution for important things like VOTING?
posted by caution live frogs at 11:55 AM on August 22, 2008 [1 favorite]



"O wins!"


In your picture, I see five Os and four Xs. Of course O wins. Nice try at humor, libtard.
posted by lord_wolf at 11:56 AM on August 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


Premier Election Solutions and Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner are issuing guidelines to counties for how to avoid the problem.

Just vote for BushMcCain* and it will be counted. Any other vote will not be recorded.

*Yes, I realize Brunner is a Democrat.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:56 AM on August 22, 2008


We're not solving this problem because we don't want to.

Well said. There are plenty of examples around the globe of successful computerized voting systems. That the US chooses to use some ass-backwards buggy as fuck system is probably due to equal parts of corruption -- the desire to steal elections and reward your buddies. The US should really just copy how Canada runs their elections. Literally copy every single piece.
posted by chunking express at 12:00 PM on August 22, 2008


The Democretins deserve it if they lose this election too, due to faulty voting machines. Like their promise to get us out of Iraq, they f#($^@ed up on this one, and failed to act.
We knew there were problems the last election, and they did nothing. THEY control Congress, and they did NOTHING!
As our system of government slowly disintegrates, does anyone know who was the latest voted off of Big Brother?......
posted by GreyFoxVT at 12:01 PM on August 22, 2008


Including the candidates.
posted by Mister_A at 12:02 PM on August 22, 2008


That was a response to chunking regarding copying Canada's election procedures.
posted by Mister_A at 12:03 PM on August 22, 2008


Let me guess, Diebold touch screen machines have trouble sensing when black people touch them.
posted by The Straightener at 12:11 PM on August 22, 2008 [14 favorites]


There is no such thing as "today's people," lazy or otherwise. You think the 50,999,897 people who voted for Gore in 2000 wanted stability?

Yes, I do, because the same 50,999,897 gave up after being robbed, choosing to just stand there and take it. The nominee himself even joined / led them. You can march all you want and make empty threats about burning down whatever, but it didn't happen then. That's when we saw that anyone who wanted to rig/steal an election could get away with it simply.

And again in 2004. Again, the nominee rolled over without a whimper.

And if they're robbed in 2008, the failed nominee will again roll over and the 50 million odd voters will put up with it.

I'm not saying it's good, but I am saying that it will happen and there's nobody to blame except those same 50 million.
posted by rokusan at 12:11 PM on August 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


As our system of government slowly disintegrates, does anyone know who was the latest voted off of Big Brother?......

I do not. My Tivo glitched out. Was it Habe E. Ass-Corpuss? I hated that guy.
posted by penduluum at 12:14 PM on August 22, 2008


Why isn't anyone asking the obvious question:
Of the votes that are accidentally "dropped", how many are Democrat and how many are Republican votes?
posted by sour cream at 12:20 PM on August 22, 2008


Imagine how quickly Diebold would fix the software if they were telling one of their large bank customers the same thing about the ATMs they sell.
posted by glycolized at 12:22 PM on August 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


The Democrats don't really control Congress.

You need 67 Senate votes to override a Presidential veto.
There are 49 Democratic Senators.

In the House of Representatives, you need a 2/3rds majority to override a Presidential veto.
There are currently 233 Democrats and 202 Republicans in the House of Representatives.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 12:26 PM on August 22, 2008


Fuzzy Monster, being in control of Congress simply means having a majority. It is not the same thing as having the ability to override a presidential veto.
posted by Tehanu at 12:30 PM on August 22, 2008


In the House of Representatives, you need a 2/3rds majority to override a Presidential veto.
There are currently 233 Democrats and 202 Republicans in the House of Representatives.


That's actually pretty meaningless in this context because most overrides include bipartisan support. And Bush's last three vetoes have been overridden. A simple majority is hugely important in congressional sessions.
posted by mattbucher at 12:32 PM on August 22, 2008


I was thinking more along the lines of "being able to get things done."

That would be real control.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 12:32 PM on August 22, 2008


I'm all for bipartisan support. Come on, Democrats and Republicans-- get rid of these crooked voting machines.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 12:34 PM on August 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


On the other hand, making a voting machine is hard, because you have to balance 3 things:

- Anonymity
- Reliability
- Speed

This combination is sort of mutually exclusive so it's not surprising that there's gonna be problems. What I wanna know is how come we don't use open-source voting machines!
posted by sandking at 12:38 PM on August 22, 2008


A simple majority is hugely important in congressional sessions.

No doubt, but say when it comes to something like leaving Iraq, as GreyFoxVT was talking about above, or banning crooked voting machines-- a simple majority isn't going to cut it. The Dems would need to be able to override a Presidential Veto, and for that they will need (as you point out) Republican support.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 12:42 PM on August 22, 2008


sandking, you don't need to start from scratch. As others have pointed out, there are lots and lots of examples around the world you can copy. India's is obviously the best example, but we do well enough in Canada. I get my results for the election before I go to bed.
posted by chunking express at 12:42 PM on August 22, 2008


And people really should read None Dare Call it Stolen, which is linked up thread. That article is great.
posted by chunking express at 12:42 PM on August 22, 2008


/me shakes head, wonders if Blazecock Pileon is right after all, and I should just try to grow beets for a living in Canada.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:46 PM on August 22, 2008


There is no need for electronic voting (Period)(.).
posted by hellslinger at 12:51 PM on August 22, 2008


Diebold makes a lot of ATM machines -- something tells me they don't fuck up cash money like this -- because people care about things like that.

Of course they don't. It's just that it doesn't really matter if someone manages to steal a few thousand dollars here and there. for example, or another example. It's not hard to find examples of ATMs getting hacked. The security is just as bad, but they don't get nearly as much scrutiny because it can be cheaper to lose a few percentages to 'shrinkage' then actually buying totally un-hackable ATMs.
posted by delmoi at 12:51 PM on August 22, 2008


"O wins!"

In your picture, I see five Os and four Xs. Of course O wins. Nice try at humor, libtard.


@lord_wolf
I read your comment and at first thought you were trying to be funny (apart from your unnecessary bilious, rancorous slip at the end there, that is).

Then I read it again and it dawned on me. Dear sweet Jebus, you really don't get it.

Okay, lord_wolf, sit down, take a deep breath, put on your big-boy thinking cap and pay attention... It's a tic-tac-toe reference. You have heard of the game, have you not?

Kids play it... X's, O's, the telltale 3X3 grid that most sentient humans (and even some really sharp chickens I once saw at the circus) recognize. Is any of this ringing a bell?

I recommend learning the rules (smart guy like you, shouldn't take more than an hour or two) and finding one of your intellectual peers (those circus chickens might not be busy) and playing a game or two!

Next week: Marco Polo: Fun Poolside Kids' Game or Chickenshit Liberal Commiespeak?!?
posted by captnkurt at 12:56 PM on August 22, 2008 [3 favorites]


My understanding of computing peters out somewhere around the point where math gets involved, and situations like this baffle me. Since the mid-90s, I've been using a series of computers that have a vanishingly small failure rate when it comes to doing what I tell them and saving what I tell them to save. Can anyone give me a layman's-terms explanation of what failures these systems are encountering?

Okay, imagine you had someone living in your house who's job it was to prevent your computer from working. Do you think it would work? Because that is what these security audits are doing. They are trying to break the security on these things, and they have physical access to the device. With your every-day computer, no one is trying to break it.

There is a difference between "working most of the time or almost all of the time" and "working all of the time in a multi-agent environment where someone is actively trying to stop you"

Like the difference between hitting a volleyball over a net, and hitting one over the net with another team present.
posted by delmoi at 12:59 PM on August 22, 2008


oh, my dear lord.

captnkurt, i love you so much right now.
posted by lord_wolf at 1:01 PM on August 22, 2008 [9 favorites]


The SOS is a dem. Decertify all the diebold machines for malfunctioning and order up 50M printed ballots. Should be able to get that done in two months.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 1:11 PM on August 22, 2008


Next week: Marco Polo: Fun Poolside Kids' Game or Chickenshit Liberal Commiespeak?!?

Don't forget the Terrorist Fist Bumping lessons!
posted by ericb at 1:15 PM on August 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm not saying it's good, but I am saying that it will happen and there's nobody to blame except those same 50 million.

And, they're supposed to do... what, exactly? You read between the lines and knew that fraud occurred, but not everyone did, because it wasn't clear in the first wave of news reports. It wasn't widely reported until after the fact, and at the time, most of the press was saying "we have no evidence to believe it's fraud."

And even if it had been clear -- what were the people gonna do? Marching & rioting just gets you thrown in jail, and not much else. You get written off as a left-wing kook.

Were you among the 50 million? What did you do?
posted by electrasteph at 1:19 PM on August 22, 2008


prediction: as soon as the republicans loose some serious seats this election cycle, it's going to become a big issue.
posted by Freen at 1:46 PM on August 22, 2008


The thing about ATM's (which are NOT not not unhackable anyway, but still) is that they are anything but anonymous. If you take out money, or do anything at all, or try any sort of shenanagins, or anyone tries any sort of shenanagins against you, you will probably catch on. If you are smart (well, smarter than me) you only check your balance to affirm what you already know because the balance on the ATM is information that can be arrived at without using the ATM.

The voting machines, however, are anonymous by design. There is literally no way to ensure that your vote is counted, because they are built specifically to avoid tying you to your vote. There is no way to have oversight without independant verification. None. Zero.

Independent verification = paper trail.

Remember hanging chad? As ridiculous as that was, at least there was something to inspect, and talk about. As inefficient as a bunch of dopes counting ballots is, at least it is real. You CAN count ballots.
posted by dirtdirt at 1:47 PM on August 22, 2008


cashman wrote: "You know how for years a lot of you (and I) thought we were living in enlightened times? You'd learn in school about some messed up thing that happened in earlier centuries and shake your head at how corrupt things were. Shake your head at horrible practices and look in wonder at propoganda and just think that was all in the past. But now you know 100 years from now, people will look back at us and do that."

Actually, I look at you lot and shake my head *now*.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:49 PM on August 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


delmoi: I have no idea why you think your comment has even the slightest to do with the article in question.

Diebold's claim isn't that their system fails under attack; it's that there are transient failures in the software itself that cause votes to be lost.

Since this whole system is completely proprietary, and since Diebold gives out no information, it's impossible to tell what the issue is. If I had to pick a cause, I'd guess it was a race condition, because the resulting errors are apparently intermittent and rare but that's just a random guess.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:51 PM on August 22, 2008


If anyone wants an in-depth and technical look at the flaws evident in these and other systems, I strongly urge you to read the report found here. There was a presentation on just how broken these systems are at this past years Shmoocon.

More background on the group who did the research here.

It's beyond criminal what these people are getting away with.
posted by zap rowsdower at 2:13 PM on August 22, 2008


I'm sure they only 'drop' democratic votes.
posted by mike3k at 2:15 PM on August 22, 2008


Remember hanging chad? As ridiculous as that was, at least there was something to inspect, and talk about. As inefficient as a bunch of dopes counting ballots is, at least it is real. You CAN count ballots.

Ohio approved the use of paper ballots in the May primary (although they didn't print enough of them), but the Secretary of State hoped to be in a better spot by November. The guidelines linked in the FPP above are only for the primary and they say: TIP "Make paper ballots (optical scan ballots) available to voters requesting them in counties using DRE voting machines." Here's to hoping that they require them for the November election. I think the SOS can just issue a directive ordering that they do so.
posted by mattbucher at 2:28 PM on August 22, 2008


Wow. Who does their quality assurance? No one?
The problem was identified after complaints from Ohio elections officials following the March primary there, but the logic error that is the root of the problem has been part of the software for 10 years, said Chris Riggall, a spokesman for Premier Election Solutions, formerly known as Diebold.

The flawed software is on both touch screen and optical scan voting machines made by Premier and the problem with vote counts is most likely to affect larger jurisdictions that feed many memory cards to a central counting database rapidly.
posted by ...possums at 2:48 PM on August 22, 2008


The flawed software is on both touch screen and optical scan voting machines made by Premier and the problem with vote counts is most likely to affect larger jurisdictions that feed many memory cards to a central counting database rapidly.

Larger jurisdictions... like densely populated cities. Which vote heavily Democratic.

THIS IS MY SURPRISED FACE.
posted by Justinian at 2:52 PM on August 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


the logic error that is the root of the problem has been part of the software for 10 years

Which is weird. If the logic error is here for 10 years, what does that say about their QA for ATMs? Did they really think they wouldn't be caught forever? And why aren't banks and casinos jumping up and down, screaming bloody murder?

This is like a race to determine the gold medal winner of the 100 Meter Most Incompetent Dash.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:11 PM on August 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm pressin' charges
posted by Hands of Manos at 3:20 PM on August 22, 2008


So, using a pencil and paper – what’s the downside again?

Because in the bloodsport that is American politics, control is seen as a zero-sum game.

The only way to ensure a fair election is--as has been said already in this thread--to copy the system we use up here in Canada. A politically neutral independent body which oversees all elections. In every riding (district) the candidates or their representatives view the counts, which is really simple, because we vote the smart way: pencils on pieces of paper. Permanent record, permanent trail, and with the amount of oversight it's impossible to steal an election.

For that to occur in the USA, both sides will have to relinquish the pieces of control that they have over your insanely patchwork and baroque system. Unfortunately, each side thinks that if they give up any control the other side will automatically have more. And both sides are so desperately terrified of losing an election that they will never relinquish control to an independent and impartial commission.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 3:36 PM on August 22, 2008


That's not really true, DNAB. Some Canadian provinces and cities use optical scanners and electronic voting, for much the same reasons as the US.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:31 PM on August 22, 2008


Oh FFS. Insert 'overwhelmingly' in there if you like. Christ.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 4:34 PM on August 22, 2008



Seriously, what is the downside of a simple paper ballot marked by pen? Is it so important to have the results back in 24 hours? What if election day became election days. As in Sat., Sun., Mon. and Tues. Then spend two weeks tabulating. The results are announced prior to Dec. 1 and we have a reasonably accurate vote count. Obviously this would never fly. But why not?
posted by notreally at 4:45 PM on August 22, 2008


There are many nice things about non-paper ballots. You should try looking this up.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 4:51 PM on August 22, 2008


/me shakes head, wonders if Blazecock Pileon is right after all, and I should just try to grow beets for a living in Canada.

Or we citizens could just, you know, stay here and pursue the prosecution of the responsible parties for high treason against the state, both in Diebold and in the government.

Because for the long-term damage done to public trust and policy, the people involved are not much better than terrorists. Seriously: These individuals have been agents for the gradual destruction of the country. Uncounted dollars and man-hours have been wasted at tax-payer expense to usurp power and rig elections.

At this point, the argument that these are accidental errors, given the mass of evidence of how unwilling those involved are to make security improvements really suggests that the failures have really been intentional, conscious decisions to corrupt the process.

Perhaps the consequences of deliberately undermining a democratic system in this way should be death. There are perhaps few, if any, crimes deserving of the death penalty, but this level of treason against the United States might be worth pursuing.

Other than the death penalty, I'm not sure what else we can do, at this point, to get the point across, beyond moving to Canada en masse to farm beets.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:57 PM on August 22, 2008


And I should add - this isn't rocket science. It's really hard to think of a non-trivial application that isn't harder to do than voting machines. You pretty well have every advantage:

1. each machine is only used by one person at a time.
2. you don't need instantaneous response - in fact, a 15-second pause might add some gravitas.
3. your machine should only be running this one program.
4. you have complete control over the hardware you're using.
5. you can choose even to have the program announce the machine isn't working, as long as you can get the data out in a card.
6. all the hard part (verifying that people are allowed to vote) is done by people.

(I've been writing programs professionally for over 25 years so I have some authority here.)

In fact, I'd go further. I'd say that if you gave me complete hardware specs, one decent hardware engineer who knew the machine, and one other programmer of quality, we (or any comparable team) could complete a voting system that would work better in every way before the election (of course, getting it validated by others would break the deadline but hey...)

The tricky part is making sure the data is safe - safe from tampering (most important) and safe from peeking (a lot less important).

I'm no security expert but here's an analysis. Clearly there always has to be at least one trusted person who has "the key" to a given box; you cannot make this system work perfectly if everyone concerned is corrupt (I mean, they could just swap out all the hardware and programs for their own).

The idea is to make it impossible for anyone who doesn't have the "key" to the box to cheat and to make it technically challenging for someone who does have the key to cheat.

The results have to be both anonymous and auditable even though these two conditions are somewhat in conflict (for example, what if only one person voted in a district?)

And it has to be independent of the network because you have zero guarantees of network availability at a polling site.


The secret is heavy use of public key encryption, a lovely trick where at any instant you can generate a new symmetrical pair of encryption keys. If you encode something with the public key, you can decode it with the private key, so that gives people a way to send you a message secretly. Conversely, if you encode something with the private key, you can decode it with the public key, proving that you know the private key. But there's no computationally effective way to deduce the private key from the public key.

Before the election, a trusted central election official generates a single public/private key pair that I'll call the Big Keys. He keeps the private key secret and gives the public key to everyone. If you encode something with the public Big Key, then no one can read it until the trusted official reveals the private Big Key after the election is complete.


On the day of the election, the trusted individual for that machine goes to it and generates a public/private key pair (the Little Keys) and "saves" the public key separately from the machine (even writes it down!)

Here's the fun part - the voting machine takes its public Little Key, encodes it with the public Big Key, and saves it - for example, printing it and writing it to a memory card - then deletes it! (You'd actually save a ton of auditing data at this step, including timestamps and sequence numbers). And the private Little Key is stored only in memory and never saved.

As each vote comes in, it's encoded with the private Little Key and saved. (You'd generate a physical token for each voter if you could with a key on it you could use to audit later... that's too much to discuss here).

If the machine loses power, no problem. The trusted individual has to generate a new pair of Little Keys and write them down. Same thing happens if you bring in a new machine, move a machine, anything.

Now everything is brought into a central spot and the private Big Key and all the private Little Keys are revealed and the votes are decoded and counted.


Why all this mess? Well, let's assume we get access to the system after dark and try to add some votes. I turn on the machine - but now I need a new pair of Little Keys to make it operate. I could generate such a pair - but it wouldn't appear in the list of Little Keys our trusted official happens.

What happens if the trusted official is cheating?

It's not actually a big deal if the public Big Key gets out. It doesn't allow you to forge or remove votes - it would allow you to see the votes as they happened, if you also managed to subvert some officials with Little Keys. We don't even 100% need it.

If individual officials cheat, it's still fairly hard for them. The packets that store each vote and the Little Keys also would contain metadata like timestamps, sequence numbers and the like. If the trusted official just wandered in in the middle of the night, they'd get an obviously fraudulent voter record. They'd have to rewrite the code themselves and somehow figure out how to sneak it in between the other records.

There are huge numbers of ways to cheat by the trusted official but they all involve getting the physical ability to load new software onto the machine. It's quite easy to make that hard to do.

What happens if the trusted official gets hit by a bus? Well, that's fine for us (not for em). We don't need his list to decrypt the data once everything is revealed, we only need to it verify that no one cheated. We could decrypt the votes, check the machine for forensics, probably end up counting the votes.


Thanks for listening!!
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 5:03 PM on August 22, 2008 [3 favorites]


Actually, we use paper ballots for all federal elections in Canada (the procedure is regulated by law) and election results seem to come in just as fast here as they do in the US. Typically the winner is known by late evening, depending on where in the country you live. All you need to do is have lots of polling stations and lots of people to count the ballots, and also additional procedures for scrutineers to make sure the count is fair, etc. Works pretty well for us. Then again, we only vote once in Federal elections and the ballot typically has only three or four names, so it's much easier to count by hand.
posted by PercussivePaul at 5:04 PM on August 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


If I had to pick a cause, I'd guess it was a race condition

That's exactly what we Obama voters are suspecting, especially in Ohio.
posted by GrammarMoses at 5:06 PM on August 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Seriously, what is the downside of a simple paper ballot marked by pen?

The downsides are few and far between.

Paper ballots themselves can't warn you if you overvote -- if you vote for too many candidates and spoil your ballot without meaning to.

Paper ballots themselves can't warn you about the races you forgot to vote in (this tends to go with overvote -- you make a mark intending to vote in one race, but cast a second vote in the race next to it).

If you run out of paper ballots printed in Mandarin or Tagalog or Spanish or whatever, you're out.

If you run out of paper ballots printed in large print, you're out.

None of these are huge deals, which is why voting with paper and pen(cil) was, last I checked, the most common method of voting in the US.

What is uncommon is hand counting. The downside of hand counting ballots with 50-100 different elections and ballot questions is that it's impractical -- either it takes forever, or a bunch of people handle the ballots.

Is it so important to have the results back in 24 hours?

Yes. The longer it takes to count the ballot, or the more people it takes to count them or the more times you have to handle them, the more chances Bad People have to do Sneaky Things with the paper ballots.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:50 PM on August 22, 2008


What's really annoying is that the best of all possible worlds is simple, and easily achievable:

Use an electronic machine to do your voting. Then it prints out a ballot. You can look at the ballot and make sure it's like you want. Then you put the ballot in the box/scanner feed.

Easey peasey. Just a little bit expensive.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:54 PM on August 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's that bad all over the USA. 80% of your voting machines are made by the brothers who own Diebold/Premier and ES&S. Both companies are rife with known criminals doing the machine design and software programming. One of the companies has publically stated that he will deliver votes to the Republican party.

Or in other words, you're fucked if you don't get off your asses and demand accountability of your representatives.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:38 PM on August 22, 2008


Yes. The longer it takes to count the ballot, or the more people it takes to count them or the more times you have to handle them, the more chances Bad People have to do Sneaky Things with the paper ballots.

I agree with you, but funny you should phrase it that way.

In the Toobin book on the 2000 election, there's passages that outline the initial reactions by election procedure experts in the Bush and Gore camps. The Gore team's strategy was to count and re-count and re-count, because historically, whenever there have been re-counts, the margin narrows. In other words, the guy that comes in second place in the initial count always gains votes, while the guy in first place has never pulled ahead from his initial "margin of victory."

Knowing that history, the Bush team's strategy was to stop counting and stymie all efforts to re-count. That was clear in the James Baker press conference in the first few days ("Let me begin by repeating what I said yesterday: The vote in Florida has been counted, and the vote in Florida has been recounted. Governor George W. Bush was the winner of the vote, and he was also the winner of the recount".)
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:51 PM on August 22, 2008


Use an electronic machine to do your voting. Then it prints out a ballot. You can look at the ballot and make sure it's like you want. Then you put the ballot in the box/scanner feed.


YES. Exactly. Better yet: You use the electronic voting machine. When you're finished voting, three things happen: (1) You get a paper slip showing all your votes (2) The voting machine prints your votes [encoded in some way or not] onto a continuous reel of paper that's locked and secured to the machine (3) the voting machine also stores the votes cast on it electronically.

You know - just like an ATM.
posted by brain cloud at 9:13 PM on August 22, 2008


No, you do not ever get a slip of paper proving who you voted for that you get to keep. Ever.

You should not, ever, have any means at all to prove to a third party who you voted for, because then vote buying moves from being nigh on pointless to easy.

You get a ballot. Then you put that ballot in the ballot box, and leave with nothing whatsoever verifiably linking you to any particular vote.

(2) Is bad because the voter can't verify that the internal printer is printing the same thing as the external printer.

(3) Is unnecessary. Optical scanning is old hat, and the votes should be counted from the printed ballots that any human can verify.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:36 PM on August 22, 2008


Jeezus, all this kneejerk cynicism sounds like a bunch of bitter 50 year old divorcees complaining about their exes. Anyone who actually read the links has seen that
1) the problem was discovered by elections officials this spring (who were later able to recreate the original votes) by examining server logs;
2) the Democratic secretary of state is working to get rid of non-paper ballots in favor of paper, optically scanned ballots;
3) she is suing Diebold to get back the money paid to them for machines that don't work as promised;
4) the cause of the problem is not with the voting machines, but with the servers that they upload the results to, and is the result of "sharing violations on 11 servers" [out of 44].

Can anyone more conversant with these systems explain in layperson's terms what that means? Sounds like someone did a poor job locking tables while multiple ballot machines simultaneously upload their ballot totals to the servers, and the ballot machines give up trying to upload instead of just waiting their turn until the server tables are ready for more data.
posted by msalt at 9:45 PM on August 22, 2008


Jeezus, all this kneejerk cynicism sounds like a bunch of bitter 50 year old divorcees complaining about their exes.

But, sir, this is MetaFilter!
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:52 PM on August 22, 2008


And actually, the Washington post article that possum linked has lots of good info:
1) Ohio state SOS now says 9, not 11 counties, had votes missed by computers, and that they caught all of them before votes were finalized;
2) it affects optical scan as well as touch-screen machines
3) after initially blaming anti-virus software and operator error, Deibold now admits the problem. 1,750 jurisdictions nationwide use the flawed system; there are procedures in place to prevent problems by cross-checking vote counts
4) Details - "The GEMS system is supposed to save information from one card at a time to be counted in order as the cards are read by a database that Riggall described as the "mother ship." But a logic error in the program can cause incoming votes to essentially shove aside other votes that are waiting in the electronic line before they are counted. The mistake occurs in milliseconds, Premier's customer notice says.

The mistake is not immediately apparent, Riggall said, and would have to be caught when elections officials went to match how many memory cards they fed into a central database against how many show as being read by that database. Each card carries a unique marker."
posted by msalt at 10:05 PM on August 22, 2008


ROU_Xenophobe : It hadn't ever occurred to me that a paper reciept could come in handy for vote-rigging. Point well made.

As for a readymade paper backup (as a means of verifying the electronic vote), it would be trivial to expose the vote through a plastic window or something so the voter could check it (but not touch it or change it), and then it could roll out of view into an enclosed, completely opaque storage area.

I'm ok with optical scanning -- just not the type done with a pencil, because of the obvious easy fraud that it would be vulnerable to.

FWIW, I voted in Hillsborough County, FL during the 2000 election, which used optical scanners and ink markers (pretty sure...my memories of the exact process which took me all of 5 minutes to complete got real hazy after the days-long recount shenanigans). I heard many, many stories of poll workers refusing to give people fresh ballots if the voter messed up and marked their ballot wrong. That's why I prefer the concept of electronic voting, because you can go back and check before you submit without involving another human in the process if you mess up; however, without a paper trail to support independent verification of the counts, a fully electronic system is as good as worthless.
posted by brain cloud at 10:16 PM on August 22, 2008


Wait, wait, wait -- the name of the guy who's the spokesman for Diebold is Riggall?

Riggall?

Eponysterical to the max.
posted by brain cloud at 10:39 PM on August 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


There are so many countries that have already successfully figured out how to hold fair, unRiggall'd, secure elections. I can not fathom why the USA is unable to either (a) purchase those systems and use them; or (b) properly develop their own system using the successful systems as a model.

I'm also a little puzzled as to why Diebold has any voting machine contracts any more. How the hell did they get the contract in the first place, why on earth are there not high penalties for failure, and why, having failed, do they get to continue fucking things up? That's just insanely stupid.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:39 AM on August 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Not unable; unwilling. Doing elections properly--e.g., the way the rest of the civilized world does them--means not having any partisan influence on the system.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:29 AM on August 23, 2008


No, you do not ever get a slip of paper proving who you voted for that you get to keep. Ever.

You should not, ever, have any means at all to prove to a third party who you voted for, because then vote buying moves from being nigh on pointless to easy.


Of course this is true. But I was reading this thread and thinking about it last night and wondering — assuming you get any transient verification of your vote, whether it's on a screen or on a piece of paper behind glass, doesn't the near-ubiquity of phones with cameras make the lack of a receipt a mostly futile gesture? (Or are phones prohibited somehow? I've never taken one with me to vote.)
posted by enn at 10:39 AM on August 23, 2008


Receipts for a prospective vote buyer are trivially easy to forge. You fix it by having the "receipt" being in the box required for your vote to count. I see the piece of paper for 30 seconds, then I put it in the slot.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 11:24 AM on August 23, 2008


Good point, enn. Even if they were banned, it'd be trivial to get one into the voting booth.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:07 PM on August 23, 2008


Can anyone more conversant with these systems explain in layperson's terms what that means?
msalt, from the article link provided by ... possums, it appears that this is a simple data buffering problem -- one that could be fixed by a first-year computer science student. The buffer acts as a "pipe," holding the data to be sent to the central database. If the pipe is not wide enough to hold all the data that is fed into it, it overflows. The buffer is a set size, but the software does not test for it being full. If someone reads another memory card into the buffer when it is full, it overwrites data already read from another voting machine. The buffer gets full because data can be written into it faster than it can be sent out of it, to the central database of votes. The solution is to flag when the buffer is full, so a new card cannot be read into it until there is space available. This is *so* fixable, that they must really not want to fix it for some reason ...
posted by Susurration at 8:21 PM on August 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Deliberate incompetence seems to be the rational explanation. Someone has benefited by this.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:55 PM on August 23, 2008


Yes, and his last name rhymes with Tush. In more ways than one.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 1:57 AM on August 24, 2008


What they *should* do is contract with Panasonic, the people that made the old-school metal PanaPOS point of sale machines that McDonald's used to use. Those things manage to do what Diebold has failed at using 1980s technology. I worked with those things for 5 years, and they almost never broke. And when they did, it was because someone spilled coffee in one.

Let them make the devices.

Or the scantron company. Print a paper ballot. Have grandpa use one of those big bingo markers to make a mark next to his candidates. Wheel grandpa over to the scanner/verifyer. Stick the ballot in. The machine says "It looks like you are trying to vote for the Jew hating Nazi? Is that right?" If grandpa agrees, it adds the vote to the electronic tally, and feeds the paper into a lockbox. If he disagrees, the ballot is spit back out and shredded and he gets to try again.

Then contract with Visa or Mastercard to have the devices use their dialup service to phone home and report the results. How long would it take for a single voting machine to report tallys of all the votes, 15 seconds? I'm pretty sure the credit card network can handle that.

If there's a recount, unlock the lockbox and repeat the procedure. Three people look at the ballot. They agree who all the votes are for. They make a hash mark on a piece of paper next to that candidate. They stick it into the optical scanner and make sure the optical scanner agrees with their hand count. If it does, the ballot goes into a lockbox. At the end of the shift, they make sure the optical scanner totals agrees with their hand tallly totals. Verifyable, open, etc.



Everyone is making this far too complicated.



(Hell, the old-ass 1960's IBM punch card hanging chad ballots would work, if there was some damned quality control over the voting machines and process.)
posted by gjc at 8:51 AM on August 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


« Older A book by children's author Jacqueline Wilson is t...  |  "Beat It," as reenacted by the... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments