November 5, 2002
6:42 AM   Subscribe

Today, Georgia becomes the first state in the US to have standardized, state-wide electronic voting. Not wanting to be "the next Florida", Georgia spent nearly $60M to go from paper punch cards to touch screens. What's in store, fame or infamy? After using the computer myself and hearing raves from all the sweet old ladies, I'll bet on the former.
posted by ewagoner (38 comments total)
Hooray for Georgia!

One thing though... what sort of ID are voters using? Can this voter access card be duplicated in ways to corrupt voting? Will imperfections in them ever lead to some sort of "mark of the beast" thing in which to combat corruption? I do hope it works well and becomes a national standard. Maybe then we can work towards a direct democracy and no more coups.
posted by LouReedsSon at 6:59 AM on November 5, 2002

When I voted in Atlanta this morning, I heard nothing but raves from those who were using the new system. Examples include: "Wow, that was easy," "They should have done this a long time ago," and "What a time saver." I've also heard some indications that curiousity about the new system is increasing turnout (at least before the rain began in earnest).

You can follow reactions to the new voting system as they develop here.
posted by trox at 7:02 AM on November 5, 2002

We use our driver's license or any other state-approved ID to prove who we are, and an election volunteer checks our name off their master list and fills out a form. We take that form to another volunteer who exchanges it for a "smart card". We use the card in the voting computer and return it. The volunteer then unloads the card's data into a collection device, erases it, and gives to to another voter. They say there are three records of the vote: the collection device and (I guess) two in the computer itself.

So, no one can vote twice, unless they have false IDs. And short of using biometrics, that's as good as it gets anywhere.
posted by ewagoner at 7:09 AM on November 5, 2002

Maybe then we can work towards a direct democracy and no more coups.

The reason we don't have "direct democracy" isn't that we haven't had the capability. Representative democracy provides a layer of protection between the whims of the populace (think "Let's just nuke Afghanistan!" after Sept. 11) and the execution of national action. Technology doesn't change that.
posted by oissubke at 7:10 AM on November 5, 2002

I voted in RI this morning and was shocked that they don't even require an ID! All they ask for is your address. Seems like an open invitation to voting fraud...
posted by mariko at 7:14 AM on November 5, 2002

The voter access card is a one-time use smart card that is handed to you once they look you up and cross you off the voter registration at your polling place.

You stick the card in, do the voting thing, and then return the smart card to the pollster for reinitialization. Your votes are written to flash memory behind a locked panel (no paper trail BAD), at the end of the day, the flash cards are collected (hopefully with encryption and barcode inventory control) and counted electronically.
posted by jonnyp at 7:15 AM on November 5, 2002

Is this thing Windows powered? What happens when it is hacked? Who is monitoring? I really don't understand why anybody would invest in any equipment when classical paper ballots are a proven foolproof method when the staff isn't a bunch of braindead morons. Never change a winning team. This guy agrees with me.
posted by ugly_n_sticky at 7:18 AM on November 5, 2002

When did we have a coup? I always miss the fun stuff.

If the collection device has a phone line, the third record is probably at the central office. There are a number of long-studied issues with electronic voting which haven't been notably solved to broad satisfaction -- obviously vote privacy is paramount, but vote security is as well. Vote verification with privacy and security is a nearly impossible task. Being technically minded is almost worse than being a layman here -- you know all the communications glitches that could prevent a vote from being recorded, communications failures or communications hacks, and uncertainty about the process behind closed doors. A paper ballot at least has physical security -- you have to touch it to change it. Electronic is susceptible to other kinds of tampering, and the worst is that the tampering will not necessarily even show. On the whole I'm not as enthused about this as other people. The RISKS mailing list has talked about electronic voting systems for years, long before they became widely used, and the same issues keep coming up.
posted by dhartung at 7:24 AM on November 5, 2002

If it's windows, it's a custom GUI. My guess is QNX or something similar. Our touchscreens are much easier to use than any of the lever or hole punch machines we had before. The upside is instant tabulation, the downside is massive fraud if hacked. The old paper system was much easier to hack (i.e. line cards up and ram a punch through them), but more easily detectable.

If I was the FEC, I'd require all electronic voting systems to be open source and peer-reviewed. I'd also insist on a paper ballot backup
posted by jonnyp at 7:26 AM on November 5, 2002

The Nightmare Scenario Is Here - Computer Voting With No Paper Trail discusses the work of Rebecca Mercuri, who's been a tireless voice pointing out the foolishness and potential for massive fraud inherent in the way most electronic voting schemes are being implemented. Here's a relevant Slashdot thread: Electronic Voting's Fundamental Flaws.

From the Common Dreams article:
The chief problem with paperless computer voting, according to Mercuri, is this, "Any programmer can write code that displays one thing on a screen, records something else, and prints yet another result. There is no known way to ensure that this is not happening inside of a voting system.
posted by mediareport at 7:28 AM on November 5, 2002

What possible incentive would a programmer have to do such a thing, mediareport? Statewide fraud on that level would be tremendous.

More technology may actually make fraud more difficult, in the long run. It will be a lot harder for dead people to vote, for one thing.
posted by insomnyuk at 7:37 AM on November 5, 2002

I'm in favor of electronic voting: I want to see who the hackers want for president.
I'm quoting somebody but can't remember who
posted by ook at 7:38 AM on November 5, 2002

Salon has this topic today as well. Thier bend is that without a physical paper trail electronic voting machines can't be trusted.
posted by dirtylittlemonkey at 7:39 AM on November 5, 2002

According to one article I came across, the Georgia electronic voting system is a Windows-based system. A little scary. It is NOT connected to a network or phone line. I got to demo the new system about a month ago, and it was pretty slick on the surface.

However, I am very concerned about security. The paper record is supposedly printed out at the end of the day, after the polls close. I'd prefer a system that printed out a paper ballot as soon the voter was finished; the voter should be able to confirm that the paper matched his/her voting intentions. Without this feature, the system is open to all sorts of problems.
posted by reverendX at 7:41 AM on November 5, 2002

I still remember a year ago how Letterman did this joking "Canadian Election Crisis-" an assesment, actually, of how quick and simple the entire country managed to vote using the difficult and confusing method of making an X in a box on a piece of paper.

I read this article this morning and it's both funny and informative. The fact is we have the stupidest voting processes in the world, and it's not even the debate about the Electoral College.

Millions of high school and college students take tests using the process of making marks on a sheet of paper that can be read by a simple machine and, in case of error, can be identified by hand. Instead, we've decided that voting reform should put the controls in the hands of machines that have already proven to cause errors and leave absolutely no physical or unique record of human intent. Brilliant.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:49 AM on November 5, 2002

Evidently some of the voting machines discarded in rural Georgia counties have been purchased for use in New York.
posted by maud at 7:51 AM on November 5, 2002

Wait for it...

...aaaand significant problems have been reported with voting machines in Florida.

Gosh, that only took... wow, three hours.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:55 AM on November 5, 2002

I like the fact that Georgia has adopted a statewide standard -- it should be required in all states. However, these computer voting systems would be easy to rig, especially when they don't generate a paper ballot based on a voter's choices. It's trading one set of problems for another, at huge expense. My vote's still for the "put an X in a box" system.
posted by rcade at 7:59 AM on November 5, 2002

or, at the very minimum, rcade, a printoutof the results that can be confirmed by the voters and then stored in a (groan) lockbox in case mechanical errors are discovered.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:01 AM on November 5, 2002

What possible incentive would a programmer have to do such a thing, mediareport? Statewide fraud on that level would be tremendous.

Partisan programmers? Is that really out of the realm of possibility. And it wouldn't have to be statewide, insomnyuk. But Mercuri's larger point is simply that security standards are voluntary for these things and impossible to guarantee at this point. Touch-voting machines in my county completely lost 294 early votes last week [self-link]; the voters had to be recontacted individually because there was no paper trail whatsoever.
posted by mediareport at 8:08 AM on November 5, 2002

I have to admit, despite the security and verification concerns, the system was quite slick and easy-to-use. The old folks (my polling place was at a nursing home) were oohing and aahing over it.
posted by rks404 at 8:18 AM on November 5, 2002

(futurama-type voice) "Welcome to the Fuuuuuuutuuuure!"
posted by blue_beetle at 9:02 AM on November 5, 2002

my voting in georgia today was hindered by something I don't think anyone anticipated: a power outage.
posted by mcsweetie at 9:05 AM on November 5, 2002

My ballot was black marker on white paper. Quite painless. I agree with mediareport on this one. You need a system where votes can be tabulated electronically but all ballots are traceable.
posted by PrinceValium at 9:23 AM on November 5, 2002

There is no known way to ensure that this is not happening inside of a voting system.

OF COURSE THERE IS. It just requires A LOT more expertise, openness, and resources than the guys who implemented this have.

Face it, in the not-so-distant future no one will have to go to the voting station to cast their vote; they'll just stick their smart cards (or the future equivalent of them) into their computers, run a signed program via a secure connection on a secure module in their computer a la Palladium (we all groan about it, but this is one of many very useful applications of the ideas that are in it), and send their vote via a verified encrypted connection to a distributed network of central servers, all running signed software on secure modules in secure physical locations. Of course, anything but open source for this particular application is a joke: to verify the integrity of the system without complete openness, its complexity will have to be increased much, much more.

But let's make one thing clear: there are ways to make this system completely secure and accurate, using modern-day encryption and secure communication protocols. It's just that no one in the politics land has gotten around to realizing it and putting resources to it. This device will be absolutely crucial for direct democracy, and I very much hope to see such a system (which should dramatically increase voter turnout) implemented within my lifetime.

Now, if they could also switch the voting system to instant runoff or something else as statistically efficient, that would be beyond dreams.
posted by azazello at 9:34 AM on November 5, 2002

What possible incentive would a programmer have to do such a thing, mediareport? Statewide fraud on that level would be tremendous.

Exactly the same incentive that any employee has to commit fraud, anywhere: namely that their employer told them to. I am aware of specific instances (nothing to do with elections) where programmers working for governmental and quasi-governmental agencies have been told in so many words that their programs should produce the desired figures irrespective of the data entered.

Do you think the risk is that a programmer will do it unasked? Hardly.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:04 AM on November 5, 2002

reverendX, you make a good point. What if (just put my dreamers hat on!) every voter got a receipt and was instructed to hold on to it for a period of time?
OK everybody, lemme have it! :)
posted by LouReedsSon at 10:42 AM on November 5, 2002

"It's all fun and games until somebody loses an election." I worked at a company that provided software for a local Canadian election back in the mid-90's by touch-tone phone. Perfect for sparsely populated areas. The software was peachy, but the contract didn't have any funding for load testing. You can guess what happened on the fateful day - our software got completely overloaded. The election was declared a fiasco. I'm afraid this did quite a bit to undermine any public confidence in electronic voting. Of course, there are potential problems with paper-based voting as well - lost or stolen lockboxes, dimpled chad, etc. But never has a paper-based election failed on such a massive level. It would take something like a firebombing of a vote-counting center to match.
posted by gregor-e at 11:18 AM on November 5, 2002

What if (just put my dreamers hat on!) every voter got a receipt and was instructed to hold on to it for a period of time?

Or, what if every electronic vote generated a hardcopy printout that the voter could check. If okay, he or she turns it in to the poll workers who tally it some other way. At the end of the day, you could compare the electronic numbers and the hardcopy numbers to see if something went wrong (and poll workers would also be quickly alerted to discrepencies between what was pressed and what was printed). Just another idea.
posted by oissubke at 11:27 AM on November 5, 2002

dhartung, the coup was last week. we tried to wait for you, but the unruly, gun-toting mob got restless.

I'm uncomfortable with any election method that doesn't keep a hardcopy to audit.
posted by tolkhan at 11:50 AM on November 5, 2002

I still keep hearing this phrase direct democracy, and I still don't like it.
posted by insomnyuk at 12:44 PM on November 5, 2002

What's wrong with hard copies? If the machines fail, there will at least be something to count. Picture it: just like the receipts you get at a store; numbered, barcoded, whatever, and absolute PROOF of your vote. A merchant won't give you a refund without one. Just a simple thought from a simple man. :)
posted by LouReedsSon at 2:20 PM on November 5, 2002

oops.. you were FOR bad!
posted by LouReedsSon at 2:21 PM on November 5, 2002

I just got back from voting in Ga., and it went okay. The lines were longer than usual and there were fewer machines than before (as one would expect with these more expensive machines). There was one lady who seemed absolutely lost (she was there when in the door, stayed while I was in line for 15-20 minutes, and was still there when I walked out 45 minutes after I entered). What really got me was that I got the blue screen of death when I tried to vote; the software gave a low memory message and the machine stopped responding. The poll workers were befuddled and had to call out for help, and I was shown to another machine that worked fine. It worries me that the poll workers were so obviously computer illiterate, and all of the other concerns referenced above are also valid. And what if I had started voting when the machine crashed? Would my partial ballot have been counted along with my complete ballot from another machine? I am definitely among the paper ballot crowd.
posted by TedW at 4:27 PM on November 5, 2002

I live in Houston, TX... All voting was electronic here... and the interface seemed pretty fool-proof...

Certainly better then anything we had two years ago...

I don't see how anyone could have had trouble with it... it (the interface) was very well thought out.

It was quite elegant actually...

I want to applaud the state of Texas... Electionic voting is definately a move forward...

Not a single person, it seemed, from the young to the elderly had trouble with this new system.

It all seemed very well thought out and exicuted...
posted by LoopSouth at 5:10 PM on November 5, 2002

I just finished voting in Georgia with its new touch screens. Believe me I will be voting absentee ballot until they clear up the 1 1/2 hour lines in of all places Jackson County. I would be thrilled to know how long the lines were in Gwinnett County.
posted by davidrosss at 5:17 PM on November 5, 2002

Today, Georgia becomes the first state in the US to have standardized, state-wide electronic voting.

I'm not sure where they make that claim, but it's not right. (I did look, but didn't see it. If it is there, please let me know -- I'll be happy to send them an email asking them to change their site.) They are about six years too late.
On November 5, 1996, the State of Delaware became the "First State in the Nation" to conduct an all electronic voting machine "Constitutional Election." This accomplishment was realized through the utilization of the state's Wide-Area Network and the use of the World Wide Web to provide the election results every twenty (20) minutes on election night.
I'm sure that the effort needed to bring electronic voting to Georgia dwarfs the work performed in Delaware by many orders of magnitude. But, our system seems to work pretty well.
posted by bragadocchio at 5:50 PM on November 5, 2002

OK, it was the second link. I sent the editor an email.
posted by bragadocchio at 6:13 PM on November 5, 2002

« Older   |   Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments