No One Will Trust Elections So Long As Questionable Voting Machines Are Used

from the time-to-fix-the-system dept

Following last week's New Hampshire primary, I've been besieged by people pushing stories suggesting massive problems with Diebold/Premiere's optical scan machines. It's well-documented that the machines have poor security and can be hacked, but it's a big leap to go from "can" to "were." And while some point to discrepancies in the vote tallies in places that used the Diebold counters and places that hand counted, a more thorough look at the numbers doesn't suggest anything nefarious. However, the really key point is that, thanks to years of doubletalk from e-voting vendors, as well as story after story after story about e-voting insecurities -- which none of the major vendors took seriously -- we've now reached a point where many people's natural conclusion is that these insecure machines were at fault. This is an issue that could have easily been solved years ago if the folks at Diebold/Premiere, ES&S, and Sequoia hadn't acted like e-voting security was a private matter, rather than a matter of national interest. If they had recognized that their own business prospects would be much stronger if the populace actually trusted their machines, perhaps they would have actually responded to security concerns, rather than laughing them off or denying them entirely. So while there may not have actually been any security problems with the voting machines last week, it's Diebold's fault that so many people think it's plausible.


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  1.  
    identicon
    RobertinSeattle, Jan 14th, 2008 @ 12:40pm

    Voting Machines: The REAL Story

    I have been pondering this issue in context with a much bigger story. It's all about What-If's that keep coming to mind as we charge along the path to a wired world. If the general population (thanks in no small part to the MSM and ranting bloggers to reinforce their drumbeat) continues to mistrust ALL voting machines, then it simply maintains a status quo in which an outdated "representative government" keeps running this country. Electronic voting is the levelling quantum shift that gives individual voters the power that was lost when we gave that power to our Senators and Congressmen a couple of centuries ago. Let's face it - politicians do NOT want you to trust anything that begins to take their power away.

     

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  2.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger, Jan 14th, 2008 @ 12:59pm

    Re: Voting Machines: The REAL Story

    Let me see if I'm reading this correctly. You're saying that E-Voting machines are just fine and that the politicians are feeding these misleading stories to make us think that they are insecure. Thus, keeping the power in their hands where it would be in ours with these machines. Tell me if I got that correct.

    If that is the case than how douse the manufacturers telling us that the security issues that we have proven are there aren't a problem? The miscounting? The unexplained failures and lack of proper backup?

    The hand counting votes have, so far, been much more accurate than the E-Machines and it didn't stop Bush from getting elected even though the popular vote said Kerry (not saying Kerry is better but that's just what happened.)

    We no longer have the power of the vote any more. We depend on the big states that have the most people in the electoral college to determent what's best for us all.

    In the long run the E-Machines are just a symptom of the real problem. We no longer believe that we have any say any more. One vote douse not make a difference any more. That saying about throwing your vote away by voting for a third party, that's completely true since they can never be elected with the system we have today.

    In conclusion, maybe you should try proving that the E-Machines are OK instead of just telling us some tin-foil-hat story.

    Your last remark about the politicians power is correct, we've been saying that here for years now.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2008 @ 1:01pm

    Re: Voting Machines: The REAL Story

    That's an interesting point, but brings up other issues. You suggest that the politicians want us to mistrust them because it takes power away from them, but it won't at the moment without constitutional reform.

    At the moment, electronic voting is simply trying to speed up the counting process and remove a few steps from how votes are calculated. Absolutely none of it removes a need for Senators or Congressmen (at present at any rate) or takes from their power. Nothing CAN without changes to the Constitution.

    We're a long way off from the capabilities, but eventually it will be possible with reasonable security to have all motions, actions, and functions of Congress done by the people. This however, is unconstitutional and against what the Founding Fathers wanted.

    Such a thing would create mob rule, which they were against. The reason we are a representative republic rather than a true democracy is to PREVENT mob rule.

    Rant about conspiracy if you so wish, but I admit to being a patriot. I believe in the Constitution, and more importantly in the actual intent of the Founding Fathers. MANY so-called patriots would rather have a true democracy (which the United States is NOT, nor intended to be) or surprisingly a fascist regime. An aside on the latter, many of them don't realize that's what they want but it is.


    Back to the story at hand, I'm really surprised how the government is acting in regards to the e-voting security. Or rather, how they aren't acting. This should be a federal level operation, not a state level, and they should do very thorough, and more importantly, probably public tests to validate the security of the machines.

    It's a real shame so much power is at stake, it's too difficult to ensure the real security of the machines from ALL tampering. If it was something more utilitarian such as for use by the military or transit such a thing would be nearly guaranteed.

     

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  4.  
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    Ven'Tatsu, Jan 14th, 2008 @ 1:05pm

    Re: Voting Machines: The REAL Story

    How is electronic voting a threat to the current power holders? If anything it is a benefit to them. They are the one's with the most access to tamper with the hardware. Electronic voting for the most part changes how votes are counted but does little to change how they are cast.
    If you meant touch screen voting, not electronic voting, I can accept that but I would still disagree that it has a large effect on how people pick candidates.
    If you mean online voting, well I don't believe, having worked programing for online retail for a number of years, that you can trust that a person filling out a web form is who they say they are no matter how much information you require that they give you.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2008 @ 1:09pm

    Questionable

    Problem is machines are being questionable. If people not allowed question machines then machines not questionable. This show freedom of speech bad for orderly society and undermine confidence in authorities.

     

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  6.  
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    Petréa Mitchell, Jan 14th, 2008 @ 1:18pm

    Sure they will

    People trust elections performed on dodgy machines all the time. Have you ever felt a need to question results from New York State, for instance? It's only very recently that it finally got serious about replacing its lever voting machines, which for a long time have been generally acknowledged to have a worse error rate than any other type of voting, mechanical or electronic.

    Full disclosure: A relative of mine used to work for one of the numerous small e-voting companies you haven't heard of because their security and integrity have never been called into question. This is part of why it annoys me so much to see an entire category tarred with the same brush, while stories of problems in other forms of voting get totally ignored. (If anyone's interested in an example of the latter, I can tell you about the failure modes that popped up during the latest election over here...)

     

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  7.  
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    Von, Jan 14th, 2008 @ 1:43pm

    correction

    ... uh, it was Gore that won the popular vote - Kerry was millions of votes behind Bush!

     

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  8.  
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    Steve R. (profile), Jan 14th, 2008 @ 2:00pm

    All Voting Machines are Questionable

    Every method of voting is susceptible to some sort of manipulation. This issue is being overblown.

    Nevertheless, it appears to me that Dilbert (comic strip) must be working at Diebold. From what I have been reading their voting machines are over-priced security risks.

    When a government buys any product, such as a voting machine, the source code should be in the public domain and available for public inspection. I wish governments would refuse to do business with companies that will not disclose the source code.

     

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  9.  
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    Hellsvilla, Jan 14th, 2008 @ 3:18pm

    Re: All Voting Machines are Questionable

    When a government buys any product, such as a voting machine, the source code should be in the public domain and available for public inspection.

    Where do you draw the line? Should that apply to OS and Ofice Productivity apps as well? How about the software that runs the DMV and/or the Social security systems? Even the Database apps? The web servers?

     

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  10.  
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    Paul, Jan 14th, 2008 @ 3:19pm

    Same shit different bucket

    No one trusted elections BEFORE shady voting machines.

    Find something legitimate to blog about and quit posting FUD Mike.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2008 @ 3:24pm

    "No One Will Trust Elections So Long As Questionable Voting Machines Are Used"
    What garbage - people will trust them as much as they trust all the elections in which questionable voting machines have already been used and sites like techdirt will continue to write garbage like "..a more thorough look at the numbers doesn't suggest anything nefarious" when anyone with half a brain can figure out that if you can't trust the voting machines then you don't rally have the numbers so you can't give them a "thorough look".

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2008 @ 3:31pm

    Re: All Voting Machines are Questionable

    Every method of voting is susceptible to some sort of manipulation. This issue is being overblown.

    That's the same rationalization used by some heinous criminals: "So what if I like to (insert heinous crime). Hey, nobody's perfect. My crimes are being overblown."

    That fact that none are perfect is no excuse. Some are worse than others and the issue is not being overblown.

     

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  13.  
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    emit, Jan 14th, 2008 @ 3:32pm

    All

    Machines are not the issue, as corruption both analog and digital. Such as the recount request in NH this past week, from leaving Ron Paul's votes completly out.

    see: http://grannywarrior.chipin.com/recount

    The voting process itself, and how the machines report and feedback is the main issue, Deibold or not. I want to simply get a receipt for my vote. Nothing more, nothing less.

    And on this receipt I would like to have an encrypted string, which can be entered into a public online system, where you can enter a valid code to see how things add up online against the 'final' count.

    This way, we can see very clearly if 100% have been entered, and if the strings on your receipts, match the votes that are recorded.

    No match, then you can go to re-vote, and do the process again until it does.

    All out in the open, all simple, and everyone accountable.

     

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  14.  
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    Overcast, Jan 14th, 2008 @ 3:34pm

    A machine is no more honest than the administrator - or anyone, really who has access and the knowledge of how to work it.

    Do you really trust Government? Since when - in the 10,000 year course of man - has government ever really been 'trustworthy'?

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2008 @ 3:37pm

    Re: All

    And on this receipt I would like to have an encrypted string, which can be entered into a public online system, where you can enter a valid code to see how things add up online against the 'final' count.

    Sounds like you want to be able to sell your vote.

     

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  16.  
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    Rich Kulawiec, Jan 14th, 2008 @ 6:23pm

    This is why paper/pencil wins

    Yes, all voting mechanisms are subject to gaming, fraud, manipulation, and other means of changing election results. However...the more complex the system, the more steps involved, and the higher the level of sophistication required to operate it, the more opportunity exists for these. And when blackbox mechanisms (such as closed-source voting computers) are introduced, then fraud should not only be suspected, but expected.

    It's time to return to the simplest possible voting systems (and procedures). They're easily handled by lightly-trained personnel, and means for detecting fraud with them are well-understood. Their only real downsides are (a) the manual labor involved and (b) the delay in producing results. As to (a) elections are so infrequent that I don't see it as a serious problem. As to (b), as has been noted elsewhere, the US has already nicely survived not knowing who its next president would be for weeks; it can easily do so again.

     

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  17.  
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    Steve R. (profile), Jan 14th, 2008 @ 6:53pm

    Re: Re: All Voting Machines are Questionable

    The "line" is the program that manages the voting tallying. DMV Database etc. It's absurd to extend the "line" to some low probability logical extreme and to then assert that a proposed solution is somehow unworkable.

     

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  18.  
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    Steve R. (profile), Jan 14th, 2008 @ 7:04pm

    Re: Re: All Voting Machines are Questionable

    I guess, we might as well give-up voting since no voting system is perfect. Again, the logical extreme card is being played.

    I fully agree that some voting systems are better than others. I also have said that Diebold voting systems seem to suck.

    We seem to have a witch hunt that is finding all voting systems defective, no surprise there, but it also precludes the fact that we have to vote and we do have to us a voting system. Based on negative hype being repeated over and over again with little progress in actually implementing a more "perfect" system - the issue is overblown.

     

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  19.  
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    Sam S, Jan 14th, 2008 @ 7:15pm

    The machines from dibold can be hacked, but then any machine can be hacked if left in a lab with a full toolbelt and full access.
    In the real world we pay people called election judges and police to make sure people fooling with voting equipment get a free ride to the nearest jail cell.
    The stories about insecurities are getting old and repeated over and over. To the poing whenever a voting machine is talked about people with half a brain repeat the same old arguments. Pointing to questionable non real world hacking.
    No form of voting is 100% safe. People who point out a problem with a machine should remember balot boxes can be stuffed to.

     

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  20.  
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    Teresa Blakely, Jan 14th, 2008 @ 7:40pm

    Questionable Voting Machines

    We must not trust the recording of our vote to unobservable memory chips and data bases. Thousands of votes can be altered undetected by a few insiders or by outsiders if modems are used to transfer votes between precincts. Why are we paying extraordinary sums of taxpayer money to purchase voting machines that digitally record unobservable votes? Touchscreen voting machines or DRE's require constant, complicated, expensive security procedures that are seldom implemented. We need to do away with digital vote counting altogether and return to paper ballots.

    A transparent election system is essential to maintain the confidence of the voter. Herein lies the essential flaw inherent in all electronic vote tabulation systems. Vote counting that takes place inside a machine is not visible and therefore not transparent. Continuing to allow the use of DRE's with a verified paper trail is like putting lipstick on a pig. Many reputable election protection advocates and computer security experts consider DRE's with an add on paper trail to be "worse than useless because they provide an illusion of validation". Keep in mind it is entirely possible for the paper receipt generated by the touch screen to show one candidate while the computer memory records a different candidate.

    It is a serious mistake to use DRE voting machines that are extremely fraud friendly in a time when it is widely known how insecure these voting machines are. I recognize there are serious problems with optical scan vote tabulation as well. Having an actual paper ballot captures the intent of the voter on election night in a permanent verifiable manner and allows for an audit and a recount. If a DRE voting machine is corrupted or malfunctions on election night votes are irretrievably lost. I support optical scan of easily readable paper ballots with mandatory random audits of machine tallies against paper ballots for now. Hopefully the citizens of this great country will decide to take back control of their elections from the Republican voting machine vendors. Computer security experts who know the limitations of their technology advocate for hand counted paper ballots counted at the precinct or optical scan with a rigorous audit.

     

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  21.  
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    Rich Kulawiec, Jan 15th, 2008 @ 5:43am

    Teresa's nailed it

    Let me add that I'm frankly appalled at the technical ignorance displayed by those who have failed to educate themselves properly on this issue -- for example, those who are unaware that it does not require "a toolbelt and a lab" to hack these systems in an undetectable manner. Such people should clearly spend the next few years reading the necessary background material and thus providing themselves with at least a minimal grasp of the facts, rather than publicly displaying their profound ignorance.

    I'm equally appalled at those who don't grasp what's at stake here. The franchise is a right so precious that people have fought, bled and died to acquire and maintain it -- and it's at risk here. Surely even the most mediocre student of history is aware that threats to that right (whether real or perceived, and in this case, it's both) are not only threats to representative democracy, but dangerous and destabilizing.

    But I suppose I shouldn't be surprised: our educational system has spent decades failing to teach students basic critical thinking skills, and we are now reaping what's been sown.

     

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  22.  
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    Sam S, Jan 15th, 2008 @ 2:40pm

    Yes, Teresa and Rich nailed it

    They are exactly what the article was talking about. That as soon as a story, any story about election machines is posted anyplace. That someone will post something about the "problems with voting machines". Even if the problems are in the past and no longer apply. That its a trust issue perception, that they see it all as one big problem. To the extent that Teresa points out problems with a voter VERIFIED paper trail.

    Keep up the good work of posting things that unfairly erode the trust anyone may have in the machines. Especially dont let reality get in the way.

     

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  23.  
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    Teresa Blakely, Jan 19th, 2008 @ 1:22pm

    Questionable Voting Machines

    To Sam S
    Problems with electronic voting machines are very much a present day problem. Please review the findings of the just released Ohio EVEREST study. My husband is a software engineer of thirty years. His opinion of the voting machine technology is that it was extremely incompetently designed and does not meet minimal security considerations.
    Here is an excerpt from an article I wrote for Op Ed news. EVEREST, Brunner's independent testing of Ohio's e-voting machines, assails the mountain of lies perpetuated by dishonest voting machine vendors and complicit Board of Election supervisors who sold the public a bill of goods concerning the security of these machines. EVEREST like the countless, credible, critical, reviews of electronic voting machines that preceded it, found numerous serious security vulnerabilities in basic electronic voting machine system design and implementation.

    As part of the EVEREST project, MicroSolved, Inc. (MSI), performed penetration tests of three voting machines systems in use in Ohio, Premier (Diebold), ES &S and Hart. MSI's Executive Summary report concluded that all three vendors had failed to adopt, implement and follow "even the most basic set of information security guidelines" used in other industries.

    MSI uncovered a myriad of common vulnerabilities and weaknesses many of which have been known for several years and still exist in the system components. They reported that many components lacked basic security controls such as firewalls, antivirus and other mechanisms for protecting system integrity.

    Princeton computer scientist Ed Felten considered the EVEREST report to be the scariest e-voting security report yet. He questioned how the ES&S iVotronic touchscreen voting machine ever got certified, noting that a machine with so many design errors must be susceptible to misrecording or miscounting votes due to ordinary glitches that plague computer systems. He considered the iVotronic too risky to use even if all poll workers and voters were angels.

    Among the many potential touchscreen security breaches that alarmed Felten was an undocumented backdoor function that allows a voter or poll worker to alter vote totals using a magnet and a personal digital assistant.
    Teresa Blakely

     

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  24.  
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    Eleanor Hare, Jan 19th, 2008 @ 4:42pm

    Re: Re: Re: All Voting Machines are Questionable

    Use paper ballots and recount a random selection of them to be sure the count is correctly recorded.

    When the internal building blocks of the voting machines were examined (see report for the Ohio Secretary of State), it became painfully obvious that all of these machines have serious flaws that can cause malfunction of the machines. Touch-screen are the worst because there is no way to recover the intent of the voter. The add-on paper trails compromise the privacy of the ballot because the votes are recorded sequentially.

    If the manufacturers didn't know how unreliable their machines were, why did they insist that experts not examine the source code?

     

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