Stop me if you've heard this joke: DIEBOLD VOTING MACHINES
February 29, 2008 10:40 AM   Subscribe

"Study finds poverty may be the cure for polo."

Wow that's funny.
posted by nzero at 10:47 AM on February 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

more good news: John McCain does not have any brothers who are governors of battleground states
posted by matteo at 10:55 AM on February 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

... or does he?
posted by matteo at 10:56 AM on February 29, 2008

Said it before and I'll say it again: Any person who has made it through grade school in the US is familiar with the idea of filling in circles on a sheet of paper using a #2 pencil. We're trained practically from birth to do this for standardized tests. Why the hell this technology is suitable for determining our chances of entering college and yet deemed unsuitable for choosing elected officials is beyond me.
posted by caution live frogs at 10:57 AM on February 29, 2008


because we don't want stupid people going to college.
posted by Sam.Burdick at 11:01 AM on February 29, 2008

Related, Florida is finally getting rid of electronic voting machines in favor of a system with a paper trail.
posted by wsg at 11:06 AM on February 29, 2008

because we don't want stupid people going to college.

I was trying to figure out what you meant, finally I realized, you mean to say that stupid people should also get to vote, even if they can't figure out a ballot. that's reasonable, but I'm not sure they'd be able to figure out touch screens either.

Anyway, what's interesting about Ohio is that they actually have a democratic Secretary of state who ran on a platform of vote integrity. And (If I'm remembering this right, I may not be) Once she got into office, they did a security audit of all their voting equipment and discovered everything was so bad that there was basically no way to secure the election before 2008.
posted by delmoi at 11:11 AM on February 29, 2008

filling in circles on a sheet of paper using a #2 pencil.

Stupid people allegedly do ok with this technology buying themselves lottery tickets.
posted by Rumple at 11:15 AM on February 29, 2008

I thought I won the 5 million jackpot last week. Turns out instead of the bonus number 42, I picked Pat Buchanan.
posted by Gary at 11:37 AM on February 29, 2008 [4 favorites]

Filling in circles on paper is pretty fun, but we can do this electronically. Ask any crypto expert. Just don't let Diebold near the process. (Did you know they run on Microsoft Access? I mean seriously.)
posted by DU at 11:39 AM on February 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Filling in circles on paper is pretty fun, but we can do this electronically.

We can do it electronically, but what we can't do is create the perception of security with electronics. Especially if we don't want to give up the secret ballot.
posted by delmoi at 11:42 AM on February 29, 2008

I thought I won the 5 million jackpot last week. Turns out instead of the bonus number 42, I picked Pat Buchanan.

Does that make Hillary the powerball?
posted by Rumple at 11:43 AM on February 29, 2008

Heh. I work for Cuyahoga County and we launched the new Board of Elections site earlier this week.

That Free Times article doesn't talk about the new administration at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections at all. It is all old news, and none of the people it mentions are on the board now; nor does it mention that SOS Jennifer Brunner gave Cuyahoga County 2 months to adopt optical scan voting before the March 4, primary.
posted by sciurus at 11:57 AM on February 29, 2008

Said it before and I'll say it again:...

Said it before and I'll say it again: voting with pen or pencil and paper isn't just suitable, it's --last I checked-- the most common method of voting used in the US. Electronic voting machines may have passed them, though.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:00 PM on February 29, 2008

..but what we can't do is create the perception of security with electronics.

Trust is earned, not purchased. Build a system that works right and people will trust it.

Besides, I don't see that there's a perception of security with paper ballots. If anything, it's less secure since I have no wait of verifying the total contains my ballot correctly. With an electronic, mathematical system, such a property could be built in.

(Just as a totally impractical, otherwise-useless example: Every citizen is issued a prime number. The vote totals are published along with the product of all the supporters' prime numbers. Verifying the ballot now simply takes 100 billion times longer than the age of the universe to compute!)
posted by DU at 12:03 PM on February 29, 2008

Build a system that works right and people will trust it...eventually, I meant to say.
posted by DU at 12:04 PM on February 29, 2008

Voter in Florida here...*shudder*... I think the voting problems I've experienced have less to do with my own stupidity and more to do with the fact that the people working the election stations are all about 150 years old and are not at all adept at even checking you in to vote let alone dealing with any problem that might arise from the voting process itself. For the last mayorial election I stood at the check in for 20 minutes while the old biddy tried to figure out how to scan my driver's license so I could get a ballot. How many people have the time to wait around like that? Probably the equally fossilized republican retirees and not the working stiff democrats.
posted by 45moore45 at 12:18 PM on February 29, 2008

I think Federal Election days should be national holidays, so that people with 9-5s can work the polls.
posted by sciurus at 12:25 PM on February 29, 2008 [5 favorites]

Sure we can build an electronic voting system that works. You'd be surprised what we could do if everybody agreed on how we should go about it and nobody worked either covertly or openly against the process. But how often does that happen?

And just keeping Diebold away from it (while admittedly an excellent start) hardly solves the problem. Who do you want to let near the thing? Someone's got to run it.

It's not that there's anything inherently superior about paper ballots, and it's not as though there was no electoral chicanery before electronics. But we've had time to develop more safeguards for paper ballots, safeguards that have been shaped and perfected over decades, safeguards that don't rely on you being a coder to understand what's going on.

Sometimes I think I should have stuck with my generally ignored slogan for the 2004 election: "Take a gun to the polls."
posted by Naberius at 12:44 PM on February 29, 2008

I think Federal Election days should be national holidays, so that people with 9-5s can work the polls.

I agree, but that would be bad for business, which is bad for the American People.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:31 PM on February 29, 2008

I think Federal Election days should be national holidays, so that people with 9-5s can work the polls.

You mean "people with jobs related to government, courthouses, and/or banking." Most people wouldn't get Election Day off even if it were a national holiday.
posted by oaf at 1:41 PM on February 29, 2008

True, but that's still more able-bodies than are currently available to be poll workers.
posted by sciurus at 1:55 PM on February 29, 2008

I'll point out again that here in Canada, we, every four or five years or so, elect the government that is going to lead us for the same period. When we enter the voting booth (a piece of cardboard folded into a squarish thingy) we are given a piece of paper and a pencil. The piece of paper has a list of names, each of which is accompanied by the party to which the individual is affiliated. We carefully mark an "X" in the square next to the one we wish to vote for. We go back to the table, show the ballot to the nice person, and shove it in the slot in the box. The results of the election, country-wide, are available a few hours after polling has closed.

I realize that, to Americans, "voting for more things" means "more excellent democracy." So the ballots are too complicated to write everything on paper. But I wonder whether it might be an idea to separate the presidential race from the other things on the ballot, and return to a simpler system such as that which we use here. Even at an order of magnitude increase in the number of voters, I think it would work.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 2:02 PM on February 29, 2008

What if poll-working were compulsory in a manner similar to jury duty?
posted by Cookiebastard at 2:02 PM on February 29, 2008

Cookiebastard, it is like that in Mexico, and it works.

I did it once long ago, my mother did it last year. You have to take training on a Sunday and pass a test a few weeks before the election. I have not heard of a single case of someone wanting to do it not getting the day off.
posted by Dr. Curare at 4:59 PM on February 29, 2008

One argument in favor of electronic voting is the notion that candidates listed first on a ballot have been shown to get 1-4% more votes than they would have otherwise (perception bias, etc.). Given the margins of the past few elections, that's a HUGE advantage. Even if the effect were much smaller -- say it were only 1/10 the size of that. That's still .3-.4%, well above the margin in FL in 2000 (for example, where GWB was listed first on every ballot in the state). Electronic voting offers the opportunity for a randomized ballot -- that is, order of candidates is randomly determined on-screen for each ballot.

I appreciate that this isn't always done with electronic voting, but in a perfect world, it's a reason to use a computer instead of pencil/paper.
posted by one_bean at 6:23 PM on February 29, 2008

one_bean: You can do that with paper ballots, too; it's not really that hard to print up a couple of different versions of the paper ballot and interleave them in the stacks. It's not like modern printers require set type. (Heck, you could run each ballot off on a laser printer, right at the poll station, if you really wanted to, and eschew preprinting altogether.) Especially if the ballots are numbered anyway (to prevent someone from pulling out ones they don't like and fudging the election) I'm not sure it really even introduces that much additional logistical hassle. You just pull the next ballot off the stack and give it to the next voter.

Even if it does result in some more logistics problems, I think they're probably far less than the problems inherent in going to electronic systems. Paper is an old technology, and people know how to deal with it intuitively; electronics aren't and won't be for a few generations at least.

I just don't see the hurry to adopt electronic voting. When everything else in society has been moved to electronic systems, and the time has come to close down the last paper plant in existence, that'd be about the time in my opinion to start looking into paperless e-voting. By that point, I think the citizenry and the poll workers and the government will all be ready.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:58 PM on February 29, 2008

The problem is there are a bunch of things that people blur together in these discussions that should be separated.

With paper I can look at my ballot and know for sure that the little box next to the guy I want to vote for is the little box I darkened in. I don't need any special knowledge or equipment to do it. It's right there. With electronics, I can't see any physical change in the system to know my vote was recorded, but a reasonable amount of transparency and system validation ought to cover this. Still, I've seen computer validation in action and remain unimpressed.

With paper, you and your cronies have to fill out a zillion fake ballots and dispose of the real ones. With a computerized system, it's easy to automatically fake every vote in the country, assuming you know the format, encryption system (please tell me they're using a serious encryption system) and so forth.

One is verification and one is validity.

Or maybe it's just that electronic systems seem to turn democracy into some kind of video game.

posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:30 PM on February 29, 2008

(please tell me they're using a serious encryption system)

posted by Enron Hubbard at 6:34 AM on March 1, 2008

People wouldn't vote on a Federal holiday; they'd take Monday off too and head to Vegas.
posted by Brocktoon at 12:44 PM on March 1, 2008

Paper ballots != Non-electronic voting

Regardless of if our ballots are on paper or touchscreens, they are generally being counted using software, and that software's source code needs to be open before people can seriously consider its security. (And counting ballots by hand is so error-prone that it is a very safe bet that any recount of a large set of ballots will not yield an identical result.)

I don't believe it violates Hanlon's razor to suspect that Diebold's epic failures have not all been accidental. The backlash against electronic voting machines has been spectacular, and the result is that a huge amount of energy has been spent trying to just switch back to paper ballots. As if that will magically solve everything, as if before computers came along there was no election fraud.

What we need is an end-to-end auditable voting system, like cryptographer David Chaum's Punchscan. It provides a "paper trail" which is actually useful, while still maintaining the secret ballot.

I've met a lot of people who say that electronic voting machines need to provide a "paper trail", but they don't really know what they mean. Someone recently told me that the stub we get to keep from absentee ballots is an example of a paper trail, but they couldn't explain the scenario in which it would actually be used to verify an election.

Personally, with the right software (with its security based on openness instead of secrecy about how it works), I would be comfortable with a system that allowed people to vote not just on a computer, but even on their home computers. (Imagine that!)
But unfortunately, even without the fear Diebold et al have helped to spread, and especially with it, a lot of people alive today will always remain distrustful of such a system. I just wish they'd be as distrustful of paper ballot systems which lack end-to-end auditability.
posted by finite at 6:44 PM on March 1, 2008

Besides things like security, secret ballot, etc, a voting system must have one other feature:

I should be able to explain how it works to my grandmother in about five minutes.

Anything that employs cryptography and other hi-tech wizardry fails that test completely due to excessive complexity. All those nice crypto voting protocols are neat mathematical tricks, but have no place in something as important as a general election.
posted by Djinh at 8:38 AM on March 2, 2008

Your grandma doesn't need to verify her vote as much as she just needs to vote, and explaining how to vote using a punchscan ballot is very simple. If she would like to verify her vote, she doesn't need to understand the crypto that is used, she just needs to follow some simple instructions on a website. And of course, if she would like to understand the crypto, she is welcome to read about how it works.
For those people who are completely satisfied with not knowing the specifics of the voting systems in use today, using punchscan requires no extra effort.
posted by finite at 5:59 PM on March 2, 2008

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