General discussion


Electronic Voting Machines

By bobhog ·
Personally, I want electronic voting. I think it is safe and reliable when compared to paper balloting. In recent news articles, supposed computer science experts state that electronic voting is not safe.

Well, I don't hear these same "experts" telling us not to withdraw our money from ATMs or to stop online banking. Alternatively, arguments against paper printouts from electronic voting are just as perplexing. Some say it costs too much. Others bring up the safety issue. Again, we get all the paper we want from an ATM, in our mail, and at our disposal online. My question:

What is so unsafe about electronic voting and what makes it a larger risk than other forms of electronic commerce?


This conversation is currently closed to new comments.

Thread display: Collapse - | Expand +

All Comments

Collapse -


by wordworker In reply to Electronic Voting Machine ...

The problem with most electronic systems is that there's no easy or reliable way to audit results after the election. A few bad apples have ruined it for the whole bunch -- such as elections in which computerized voting machines show 100,000 votes cast in a precinct with only 20,000 registered voters. The older machines don't make it easy to handle provisional ballots (the voter isn't on the list but is allowed to vote pending proof of identification), or to cancel out ballots when the voter says "I made a mistake and want to vote again."

The ideal ballot is still a piece of paper on which the voter fills in ovals. If you don't like the results you get when you scan those pieces of paper, you can do manual recounts over and over. That's in stark contrast to punch-hole paper ballots, where the chads fall out or come loose when you handle the paper ballots.

I agree with your comment about ATMs and who doesn't remember when 90% of Web surfers wouldn't even DREAM of paying for something online.

If you look at the Federal Election Commission requirements for automated systems, you see that vendors have to meet stringent rules about how their systems store ballot images, how votes are tallied, and how those results can be audited after the election while still protecting the privacy of voters and preventing the sale of votes.

Frankly, I think it's the states and the feds who are at fault -- they're the ones who for too long certified and purchased machines that generated unreliable results. With the new FEC regs post-Florida chads, it's just a matter of time before they come up with systems that can pass the scrutiny of the people who are disgruntled over voter fraud and incorrect vote counts.

(I'm currently doing documentation for a vendor who is trying to bring a new system to market that will pass all requirements with flying colors. Wish us luck.)

Collapse -

Regulations, maybe

by bobhog In reply to audit-ability

Nice ideas. The govm't does place a lot of restrictions on vendors but similarly banking regulations on the safety of ATMs are equally extensive.

I really think auditing can be handled effectively on an electronic basis. For example, a voter would check in and receive a credit card type voter card. They could then swipe the card in the machine and punch in a voter registration number (akin to a PIN). This would validate their identity. The software limits single-elimination voting, a confirmation screen allows the voter to scroll through choices, then an exit screen allows them to submit. The drum printer rolls out a slip with a confirmation number and choices into an enclosed and locked box then another printer rolls out a slip with only the confirmation number that matches one on screen to the voter. The voter then confirms the numbers, hits submit, and cheerfully goes on her way.

I could understand that there are numerous methods that could be employed to stop the system. Some votes could have been cast fraudulently (wrong identity). Voters could be blocked from voting. All these things could happen but they would be excedingly rare.

I think the alternative, throwing out 20,000 ballots in one state for example, because someone didn't sign a lock box, voters double punched, or the votes got to an election center one minute after midnight is much more of a risk than the electronic systems.


Collapse -

Re-Count Requirement

by BatmanG8 In reply to audit-ability

Some states already have a requirement that systems must provide a means to do a re-count. Florida is one. It came up there because of vote rigging done on the old mechanical, lever-action, voting machines, that was discovered in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Collier brothers, in their book _VoteScam_, published in the early-to-mid 1990s, reported that they had found and caught on video-tape LWV people punching ballots in areas that had the cards.

The manufacturers claim that simply re-reading the vote totals from the machine constitutes a re-count, but analysis with the old voting machines suggests that the statutory requirement is demanding resort to a more fundamental source.

I've worked for the elections office in a county that used mark-sense forms. The ballot box is kind of like one of those cheapo shredders in that the scanner sits on top of each ballot box and scans and records each ballot sheet onto bar code, RAM, and a third form of storage I don't recall just now, before dropping it into the box. If a ballot is found to be invalid, e.g. voter marked 3 choices in a "pick 2 out of 5" item, it gives an error notice and drops it into a separate compartment, and the voter has the chance to try again. For some kinds of errors it pushes the ballot sheet back out without completing or storing the scan results... allegedly.

These, too, would be much better with a numbered receipt for the individual voter, giving them feed-back on whether it recorded properly and giving them another chance to invalidate the ballot or accept it. The touch-screen systems do have a final confirm or reject, but it really should give them a paper receipt that they can take with them.

Even that is tricky because of the need to keep voting as anonymous as possible to prevent strong-arm tactics.

Collapse -

Vote Fraud

by TheChas In reply to Electronic Voting Machine ...

My biggest concern is vote fraud either intentional or accidental in the code that tallies the votes.

Without a clear paper trail to verify the vote count how do you know that the numbers are correct?

It would be fairly easy to hide an algorithm in the core code that would shift votes from one candidate to another if the election was close.

It would be just as easy to hide the code from test runs.

At the root of ballet problems in the US is that too many voters don't take the time to read and follow the instructions.

My polling station has used punch cards for as long as I have been voting.
I always take out the punch card and verify that the correct bits have been punched out and that I have no hanging chads.

Personally, the skeptic in me believes that the ballot related issues after the 2000 elections were placed in the spotlight for 2 reasons:

1. Distract the public from the real frauds that were committed in Florida.

2. Provide a reason to give lucrative business to DieBold.

Yes, electronic voting does not have many of the problems that punch card and paper ballots have.
However, they present a new set of issues. Many of which are as yet not known.

Here's another question:
What happens when a touch screen system crashes near the end of an election?

And another:
Do you want your votes tallied by PCs running software from Microsoft?


Collapse -

Votting Errata

by bobhog In reply to Vote Fraud

I agree, one could bring harm by altering the code. But, again, I state that a hard-copy print of the results provides a validation of the vote. This is not rocket science here but there seem to be multiple camps bent on making it just that.

A perfect example of how "coding" can be manipulated in order to slant election results would be the last minute revamp of the Miami-Dade butterfly ballots prior to the 2000 elections. This demonstrated that no matter what system is in place, the wrong people with the wrong intentions can bring about their desired result.

I do not see people riding on stone carts or bathing in creek beds so what the heck is the hold up? (i mean to say, there is a risk to operating a car or living in a house... doesn't stop us from doing it... and most cars don't spontaneously explode and most homes do not spontaneously collapse dispite flawed engineering that exists even today).

Collapse -

Hard Copy

by TheChas In reply to Votting Errata

At this time, to provide a reasonable level of assurance, the hard copy needs to be for each vote.

Until a level of trust in the technology is established, we need a method to assure that each vote is properly recorded.

You mentioned ATM machines in 1 post. The banks run very detailed transaction logging with direct communication between the ATM and the bank computers.
The bank can audit and perform very detailed data mining on ATM transactions.

This is something that you could not do and keep the full secrecy of the ballot with electronic voting.

It took over 40 years from the invention of the car until it was "common" for a family to own their own car.

New technology takes time to gain acceptance and move into common use.

Where they have been used, there has been a steep training curve for touch screen voting machines.

In my extended family, just over 50% use a computer on a regular basis.
At least 30% of my extended family would have problems using a touch screen voting system.

Personally, I wish I could stay with my punch card ballot. Or, better yet, return to the mechanical machines of the past.
The levers, gears and counters on an old mechanical voting machine provide the feel that you did something.

By the same token, I "REFUSE" to use self serve checkout lanes in ANY store.
If I am ever in the situation where self-serve is the ONLY checkout, I will leave my merchandise by the checkout and walk out of the store.

I'm not afraid of the technology, or the process. It just is not "right".
Now, if there was a discount for using the self serve checkout, the cheapskate in me might be enticed to use it.


Collapse -


by bobhog In reply to Hard Copy

I can think of one technology that was wholely adopted without a long time for acceptance: the personal computer. I will go you one better: the Internet. Why stop there: the PDA.

I do not accept that the system deployed by banks have less security than that which would be used by voting polls. I say again, that the same system of audits, logs, and copies CAN be deployed for voting machines. The banking system, your SSN, your account numbers, etc. are protected by a wide array of security measures, falible, yes, but there nonetheless. And they are extremely effective.

I would question the logic that states that an electronic voting machine would have a greater learning curve than an ATM. If so, the designers are reinventing the wheel. That's why I posed the question. One would assume that on a discussion board hosted by a technology group, one would find forward-leaning, progressive individuals. Not a paranoid lot that would trust a high-school kid with their cash in the grocery store over a self-checkout lane where they have complete control of the transaction.

Personal computers have saturated more than 90% of industry and 70% of homes in the US, so I debate the notion that it would be difficult to use for the general population.

Collapse -

This will not happen until Biometric's is fullproof

by JimHM In reply to Electronic Voting Machine ...

The vote from home or electronic voting place isn't going to happen until there is a way to prove who you are. Finger print scan - eye scan - face - something that will be encoded into the system when you show up in person to register, then and only then will it begin.

Of course today all you do is walk in and tell them a name, they pull it up and you sign and vote.

But - for electronic they will wait for Biometric security before it will become reality.

Collapse -

Electronic Voting Machines

by pchat In reply to This will not happen unti ...
Collapse -

Electronic Voting Machine

by pchat In reply to Electronic Voting Machine ...

Related Discussions

Related Forums