Electronic Voting — I like it

I can count the issues I see with Electronic Voting on the fingers of one hand:

1) Entrusting public information that drives public policy to private, proprietary systems is counterintuitive and disingenuous.
2) When votes are electronically countable, they are also electronically transformable. Electronic ballot stuffing seems like it would be easier than large-scale paper forgery.
3) Voting machine glitches are more common the more complex the machinery is. The simpler the process, the less likely you’ll be faced with long lines at 7am because some poll worker can’t program a VCR, either.

That pretty much sums up the issues. And I still have one finger left, not to mention a thumb.

The benefits:

1) It looked cool and modern. Nothing says “progress in government” like shiny new election machines. Yes, I’m easily impressed (this may be “issue #4 — expense,” but I believe these terminals will eventually cut election-day expenses, because I’m a forward-thinking optimist.)
2) I was in and out in five minutes. No glitches, no lines, and the machine was FAST — even when I was insisting that it let me double-check how it recorded my selections.
3) Big, easy-to-read text on a nice touch-screen. No more itsy-bitsy fine-print in dark little booths. When I looked at the proposition for a school leeway, I was able to read the whole whing without squinting or bending over. (I voted yes on that one. No new tax — the vote was for a re-allocation of existing tax monies, which is one of the few bits of true democracy you’ll find in this representative republic of ours)
4) It scrolled a little piece of paper inside, which I could read, review, and approve or even reject. Apparently there is a hard-copy being made in case the election is contested. While this does not completely address issue #2 above, it goes a long way towards making electronic manipulation of votes more difficult.

So there’s my experience with electronic voting. Summary: I like it. I’m not denying that there are issues (I would love to see the software, encryptions, and everything related to the process open-sourced, or at least open to peer review) but they were transparent for me.

–Howard “I probably just elected Adolph von Hussein-Amin as the Tyrant Principio of the Secessionary Territory of Utah” Tayler

33 thoughts on “Electronic Voting — I like it”

  1. It scrolled a little piece of paper inside, which I could read, review, and approve or even reject.

    So it wasn’t a Diebold machine, then ….

    1. It said Diebold right on it. I’m pretty sure that means “Diebold.” It may not be one of the ones you’ve used, and it may be a “let’s resolve the paper-trail complaint” model, but it definitely said “Diebold.”

      1. Actually, I made a stupid error: I forgot, for a moment, that Diebold also makes non-DRE voting machines. It’s the DRE (Direct Registering Electronic) machines that have come in for all the flak recently, due to their appallingly poor security and absence of any kind of auditable paper trail whatsoever.

        Mea culpa.

        1. In fact, now that I think of it, I seem to recall reading that when considering buying a particular model of Diebold DRE machine, the State Attorney General of California told Diebold, “You WILL add an auditable paper trail to these machines, or they will not be approved as legal for use in the State of California.” And if memory serves, Diebold caved.

        2. The paper trail ones have come under flak too. Jams, overprints, running out of paper. Just as many problems, and you have to defer to the electronic record which defeats the point.

          1. Oh, yeah. If it won’t print, you don’t vote with it. PERIOD. “Deferring to electronic record” can kiss my pasty electoral ass…

            (It’s a shaved albino Democrat-donkey. Why? What did YOU think I was suggesting?)

          2. The printer stuff wasn’t nearly so scary as the procedural stuff. It sounds like they’ve got serious people-problems there, and until they fix them, ANY election system is going to find its flaws exploited.

            Fix the printers, though (with a failsafe that says “no printing means you vote again on a different machine, and this one is taken out of service until printing is fixed) and I think it would actually be okay.

          3. I actually witnessed this at the polling place I went to. The machine ran out of paper, so the election person brought the little polling module back to the front desk and they reloaded it for a new booth. The paper rolls were reel to reel and the whole module pops out and goes in the box to be counted later if needed. It also rolled up after the poll so the next person couldn’t see your votes.

            This was an ESS machine, though.

          4. Permanaent absentee voting

            Simple solution to all of this, here in California at least.

            Register as permanent absentee balloting, fill out real paper ballots at home at leisure.

            On election night, go to any polling place, take less than a minute to drop it off. No lines, no waiting.

      2. The touch screen systems at my polling place didn’t seem to be working very well; it seemed like somebody was continually changing the paper reel on one of them.

  2. Yeah. The issues and benefits you’ve listed are why I like the… well, I forget what they’re called. But they’re machines where you fill out the ballot on a touchscreen, and then it prints out an Actual Ballot for you to verify and carry over to the optical-scan reader. Nearly all the benefits of electronic voting (it takes a little longer, and uses more paper), all the benefits of paper voting (voter-verifiable and hand-recountable ballots, and the visceral feeling of holding the instrument of democracy in your hand).

    I see absolutely no good reason why the entire process shouldn’t be open-sourced, though. (I’m not counting “profits for the proprietary voting-machine manufacturers” as a “good reason”, though, so maybe I’m biased.)

    1. Heh…open-sourcing it would be no holy grail. Especially as it’d still need paying for (compare Novell-funded Evolution with mostly-hobbyist Thunderbird and tell me that it doesn’t make a difference), and that would still mean either corporate or, worse, government interference. (Hey, I’m a Brit. Every government-related IT project over here, ever, has been a complete disaster. Tampering doesn’t even come into it…)

      However, at least people would be able to see the horrible flaws in it, even if stupid project politics and oversized egos got in the way as usual. NOTABUG.

    2. Eh, that seems like a pointless waste of time. Why not just fill in the ovals directly? The optical machines are much more expensive than the touch screen systems. It’s a whole extra layer of complexity, and things that could go wrong. It also adds a single point of failure. A precinct could limp along with a couple touch screens out, but if your extremely expensive optical reading machines croaks, you’re screwed.

      The systems we were using printed each vote right on the thermal tape and showed it to you as you hit their buttons. At the end it printed all of the votes in a nice, condensed little bar code. The modules the paper came in were simple and reel to reel, and sealed. The election worker just pops it out and puts it in the box, then grabs another module and drops it right in. Simplicity.

      It also goes back to my idea about how the ballots could be counted by multiple places. The electronic vote is summed by the first company, the second company runs the paper tape through a bar code reader and gets another count, then the tape is given to an underpaid election worker to count them by hand. It would be better if the barcodes and such were printed on a separate roll of paper so the paper rolls don’t have to pass through the hands of two companies…

      Supposedly, the software used for our local elections on the ESS machines was written locally as well. I wonder how that affects the whole process.

  3. Whoa. I wish we (Maryland) were cool enough to have a Tyrant Principio. Where can we get one?

    As for glitches, I can attest that (some) electronic machines have been having problems. From what I heard, one machine at my polling place had been down for the entire day, and they hadn’t had any luck getting a tech in. It didn’t cause a problem as far as I could see (not very many voters when I went) but it was still notable.

  4. I was going to post a rant about why electronic voting machines are a bad idea, but the paper trail thing actually fixes pretty much all the problems (besides reliability, but obviously that’ll improve in time.)

    It’s the voting machines without a paper trail that scare me. 🙁

    1. And as far as I can tell, lots of jurisdictions are passing legislation saying “if you’re going to sell us a voting machine, it must have a paper trail.”

      1. That’s good progress, then.

        If we could just move to open-source voting machines I’d be even happier, but I don’t really expect that to happen.

        1. All you need to do is legislate peer-reviewed source for election machines, for starters. I’m not much in favor of legislating the free market, but in cases like this it makes a lot of sense.

          Lawmakers really can force companies to play ball, or go out of business.

  5. I’ll hold true to my New Year’s Resolution. But there are more legitimate concerns than the ones you named, most related to intentional fraud from within or without.

    1. And I didn’t name those because those are going to happen regardless of system, if you’ve got somebody interested enough in fraud.

      Granted, changing the system is a great opportunity for the group in power to slip some back-doors in, but Americans have been demanding change to the systems since November of 2000. I suspect the changes will continue to be overseen by enough people on both sides of the current political fence that any fraud will be extremely local, and will be caught out and made public fairly quickly.

      1. As always, Howard, you have more faith than I. 🙂

        But you should know that software is a force multiplier. It actually does raise the possibility that tampering with the code at any of three levels in the system can multiply the power of one malicious agent to affect the system, to a degree that paper ballot stuffing never could be achieved.

        As one of many potential examples, it’s been shown that you can pre-load negative votes for one candidate and positive votes for the other into the memory sticks of some machines, so that they read 0 votes when they are inserted. Votes come in, in excess of the negative vote number, so the stick shows positive votes for both candidates at the end of the day, but the totals counted are off by the amount of the fraudulent data.

        There are those of us who believe that important lines of power have already been crossed by unscrupulous actors within our government. There are those of us who believe that civilian planners of national security strategy have already shown a willingness to include domestic psyops to influence American public opinion in favor of their aims and policies. There are those of us who believe that the school of thought which brought us the Watergate break-ins is very much in play now, and might well bring us intentional vote fraud by means of the vast resources of our own intelligence agencies. And even if such a directive did not come from the top levels, there is not enough oversight to detect or prevent an ideologically motivated actor somewhere within the system.

        Those of us who consider these things possible or even likely may simply be paranoid. But if so, then make the entire system transparent to qualified independent agencies for review. That would go a long way toward reassuring me. The opacity of the system makes me fear for democracy itself.

        What’s the operative phrase these dark days? “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.”

        Right, Diebold? 😀

  6. Hard copy, voter verifiable is the only way to go. Sounds like Utah did it right. Too bad those folks East of the Mississippi can’t seem to get that part right.

    1. Hard copy, but not thermal

      I agree that hard copy, voter verifiable is the only way to go. However, I have to disagree with the use of thermal paper. Thermal paper tends to fade as time wears on, especially if exposed to any kind of real temperature variation (which would cut out the northern and southern states’ use). If we’re going to go electronic, let’s get a dot-matrix paper receipt (just like all of the stores used to use) that prints on carbon paper, one for the voter, one for the machine/pole workers. And if dot-matrix isn’t good enough, how about laser? The new color laser printers typically put a transparent serial number on every page they print anyways (prevents fraud to a degree). And the voter can still verify their vote.

      I like the idea of electronic voting because it can make the entire process a little faster and a little more real-time. Let’s just fix the issues with it first.

  7. In Minnesota. We get a sheet of paper, and we fill in the circles. Then we feed our sheet into a machine that counts the circles. Tried and true method, which can me manually recounted if the need arises.

    That paper that is printed in Utah, is that ever seen by the voter? The voter should be able to see the paper trail he/she is leaving behind.

  8. My experience with Firefox has made me a bit wary of the wonders of open source.

    I’m 99% confident that Big Brother isn’t trying to stuff ballots, electronically or otherwise. I don’t think we’d see the results being so close if he were.

    IMO, none of the voting machines make a crap’s worth of difference anyway. (Where 1 crap = 1 vote) What WOULD make a difference would be changing our one-vote-only system to something like where you choose your first-choice candidate, second-choice candidate, and your last-choice candidate, and the scoring system gives two counts to the first, one to the second, and negative one to the third. It would probably mean a flurry of third-party successes when it was introduced, until people realized they really would prefer Bush/Kerry over Bubba Smith, and stopped trying to cheat the system.

    Something like that. I’m not a mathematician, and experts have done the research.

    On a side note, I can’t stand the signs that just have a candidate’s name on them, perhaps with their party. I want signs with a web address that say something like http://www.WhyJohnSmith.com so we can get their takes on issues.

    1. An easier system is just an up-down vote on each candidate. You go in, there’s 5 candidates. You only want Bush? Just say yes on Bush and no on the others. You want libertarians or republicans? Vote yes on both. You think all the third parties are lame and want to make sure it’s a major party that gets in? Vote yes on rep and dem and no on the others. A condorcet vote would potentially be better as well.

      The system you describe is insane, really. It’s too easy to game.

    2. BTW, the method you describe is called the “Borda” method.

      As for the third parties, the reason the parties run such out-of-the-park style campaigns is that with the common knowledge of the spoiler effect, people are forced to choose between the lesser of two evils. The only way to get a vote in this system is to go so far away from the two main candidates that you can get a small number of people who honestly believe in you more than they fear throwing their vote away.

      If we had a voting system that did not punish voters for coloring outside the party lines a bit, we’d see the emergence of viable third party candidates that are actually qualified to lead.

  9. Indiana has a paper ballot that’s electronically scanned. There is still paper there that can be hand counted. I personally want a paper receipt with my vote printed on it so I can verify it scanned correctly up to that point.

    The Diebold system has serious issues the worst is that it has no paper trail at all. It’s proprietary and they’ve been scummy from the outset about any accountability.

    1. There’s also the problem of many of the electronic voting machines being owned by a company that is part owned by the Venezuelan government. Hugo Chavez anyone?

  10. There’s a reason why none of the voting systems give you a receipt that shows how you voted: a receipt makes the buying and selling of votes (or voter coercion) much easier.

    Without that receipt, you can take the vote-buyer’s money and then vote for someone else. That makes vote-buying a less attractive option for the vote-buyer.

    With that receipt, the union bosses (or the corporate bosses, or the abusive spouses) could demand to see how someone voted.

  11. I am a meat voting machine

    Wow, if this catches on in the frozen north, I’ll have to find a better way to spend election nights on my days off from my day job. Vote counting is a great way to spend the evening. How else can you find out how many people in your neighbourhood can follow simple instructions? (Place a checkmark in one and only one circle is open to soooo much interpretation, I’m tempted to sketch the Tagon’s Toughs logo next election just because I know they are required by law to accept it as a real vote)

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