Easy For Anyone To Recalibrate ES&S E-Voting Machines

from the have-fun-with-it dept

Following on our earlier story demonstrating the calibration errors on ES&S e-voting machines in West Virginia, comes this report that notes the calibration controls are not protected and accessible to anyone. In other words, a pollworker or even a voter could modify the calibration to make it more difficult to vote for a particular candidate. While the overall risk may be minimal (voters would still see whether the correct candidate was highlighted), it could significantly impact voters' confidence with the accuracy of these machines and the sanctity of the election. It's still rather amazing how many stories we see on a near daily basis concerning how badly these machines are built.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
    identicon
    NeoConBushSupporter, Nov 4th, 2008 @ 8:02am

    Stop Reading THIS!

    GO VOTE FOR OBAMA . . . DO IT NOW!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    icon
    Ron (profile), Nov 4th, 2008 @ 8:16am

    Security

    Don't these machines have a lock on the door covering the guts of the machines? Or, was the thing designed for simple operation by putting the calibration controls right next to the touch screen? That WOULD make it much easier to calibrate.

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 4th, 2008 @ 8:28am

    I used a paper ballot.

    While I was voting, I could overhear someone complaining that the machine was voting opposite from what they were choosing. I was surprised (guess I really shouldn't be) on how many were waiting for these machines while there were several privacy booths for paper voting available without a wait.

    Ignorance is spreading like a plague!

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    Vinny, Nov 4th, 2008 @ 8:30am

    McCain / Palin

    McCain all the way !!!

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 4th, 2008 @ 8:31am

    How hard can it be to calibrate these things? Seriously, the calibration controls should be somewhere locked up and out of the place.

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    TheOldFart, Nov 4th, 2008 @ 8:43am

    Problem solved agest ago.

    You can't just lock them up after they're calibrated. Depending on the type of touch screen the adjustments can change for a lot of reasons. Capacitive touch screens can go out of cal just by moving/turning the machine while placing it.

    I keep harping on this but casino gaming devices solved all of these voting machine security issues about 15 years ago.

    The machines I designed the software used a simple, foolproof method. Since you can't rely on the user being able to touch anything on screen (yeah they can get that far out of whack) I just used the soft reset switch. If the reset switch was held at the time the machine was powered up, it booted into calibration mode. Once the touchscreen was calibrated the only way out of that mode was to hit reset or cycle power.

    The motherboard for gaming machines is in a locked metal cabinet that is keyed separately from the outer cabinet where the cash is collected from. So people who emptied coin buckets or changed printer paper could not see or touch the electronics/reset switch. Only people with an administrator key could get to that.

    Simple, easy and old (like me) solutions.

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    NObama, Nov 4th, 2008 @ 8:45am

    Re: Stop Reading THIS!

    OMG GO VOTE FOR THE SOCIALIST MESSIAH WE ALL WANT AND NEED...PAY MY BILLS, PAY EVERYONES BILLS...HERE USE MY PAYCHECK.


    can you honestly think "spreading the wealth" can happen?
    you can't tax money in the bank, you can only tax paychecks...so it is more like "spread the income" working people will be screwed by this false idol of hope, the democratic debutant, this Marxist wannabe.

    now I am not saying McCain is much better, but hell if I had to choose between burning my arm of or all four of my limbs I would choose the arm anyday...and so would you.

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 4th, 2008 @ 8:49am

    Re: Re: Stop Reading THIS!

    Too bad most of the rest of us have already tired of getting burned. Please go read up on socialism, Marxism, and while you're at it, capitalism. You seem to have a very thin grasp of any.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 4th, 2008 @ 8:54am

    This topic is about the voting machines, NOT the people being voted for. We it is a technology issue that just happens to have political ramifications. COULD YOU ALL PLEASE GO SOMEWHERE ELSE WITH YOUR POLITICS!

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    Ralph, Nov 4th, 2008 @ 9:16am

    Re: Problem solved agest ago.

    I was just thinking about that the other day while at a casino. They have plenty of gaming machines that use touch-screen displays, and I've never once had one that was so wildly mis-calibrated that it didn't play the game correctly. So, if it can be done for casino games, why can't it be done for elections? I'd venture a guess that those casino games are way more complicated than a voting machine needs to be.

     

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  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 4th, 2008 @ 9:24am

    Re: Re: Stop Reading THIS!

    gotta love the "spread the wealth" propaganda. More like "Tax you less", or "giving tax breaks to those who need it".

    How about we raise the taxes to what they were in the WW2 era, then you rich folks can do your patriotic duty instead of trying to get out of paying your fair share of the taxes. BTW, the top bracket for WW2 was ~90%. Now we just fund our "wars" (or defense of oil interests) with borrowed money that our grandchildren can pay back so you rich people can buy that extra Ferrari. Thanks for helping to destroy this great country that got you where you are today.

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    Iron Chef, Nov 4th, 2008 @ 9:31am

    Just some thoughts

    So the DOW is up 273 right now, which is amazing.

    I am curious if anyone saw it: the editors of "The Economist", thew their support to Obama this week.

    While simplistic on the surface, you need to understand that this is a magazine controlled by Lynn Forester de Rothschild, the same person who recently supported John McCain.

    Who knows, maybe the Editors of "The Economist", a traditionally conservative magazine, overthrew Lynn.

    Or maybe, and more likely, (not that I know anything) One or possibly both of the Clintons have been offered a position in Obama's Cabinet.

    Who knows.

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 4th, 2008 @ 9:57am

    I would like to, once again, express my amazement at how utterly and completely terrible those god damn voting machines are.

    How can something so *important* and *simple* be made so utterly shit? Seriously. A touch screen interface hooked up to a database. Does it need to be any simpler than that?

    And WHY ARE THE TOUCH SCREENS SO FUCKED UP?

    The shopping mall in the center of my city has touch screen information booths all over the place and for the few years they've been there, they've never once (in my experience, and I use them everytime I go there because I love using touch screen stuff because it feels like THE FUTURE!) messed up or read my input wrong.

    So can someone just summarise for me how a machine that *should* be amazingly simple, and definitely *is* amazingly important, can be so *utterly shit at what it does*? It boggles the mind. It's like producing a skateboard, only instead of rolling, it explodes.

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    NObama, Nov 4th, 2008 @ 10:03am

    Re: Re: Re: Stop Reading THIS!

    by Paul Benedict
    (Libertarian)
    Sunday, October 19, 2008

    Spreading the wealth around is an idea at least as old as Karl Marx's Critique of the Gotha Program in which he wrote: "From each according to his ability to each according to his need." To Marx this notion was a transitional principle leading to the workers' paradise. It was part of the "dictatorship of the working class." Ultimately, Marx desired that there would be no wealth to spread around. He desired the abolition of capital. That is, Marx envisioned the abolition of the means to relate to others in terms of employer and wage earner. It was an idea that never worked very well. Why? Have you noticed the flaw in Marxist logic? If there is no capital, there can be no wage earners, or in other words, no jobs. Therefore, Marxism leads to the absence of wealth! If you study Obama's tax plan you can see that he desires the abolition of capital also. Even if jobs cannot be generated, even if the United States is in the middle of a recession where jobs are getting scarcer every day, Obama is sticking to Marxist transitional principles.

    Although some five star generals might not like to hear it, illogical notions don't work in the real world. Because of the failure of these Marxist ideas in practice, as well as on the drawing board, one almost suspects the motivation of anyone in any government who proposes them. On one level the motivation seems plain. The appeal of Marxism can be outwardly pleasant. When we humans don't get what they want, it feels very unfair to us. It is easy to demand fairness instead of responsibility, and it is even easier to promise to make things fair by taking some one else's property and making a gift of it to those who desire "fairness." As a parent my response to the fairness argument has always been, "You bet life's not fair, and a good thing it's not! We live in America and other's don't. What's fair about that?" Well life may be getting fair for those who live in Red China. We're not far behind. In fact, capital seems to prefer Beijing.

    By the way, some wonder whether the United States bank bailout plans will work. Interestingly, here is the fifth of the ten Marxist preconditions for a workers paradise first outlined in the Communist Manifesto: "Centralization of credit in the banks of the state, by means of a national bank with state capital and an exclusive monopoly." Pope Paulson I, by the way, is conservative compared to the Europeans. They are completely behind Warren Buffet's notion of buying up bank stocks to "recapitalize" them into borrowing, but Henry Paulson had to be dragged kicking and screaming to this table. Even now, he only wants to use a quarter of the cool trillion dollars printed by the congress for nationalizing banks. Will such bailout plans work? It depends on what one means by "work." If one knows history and knows the failure of Marxist theory, one can be certain that the bail out plan will not produce wealth. However if one hates the United States because of its international prestige, its great abundance, and its liberties, and, as a student of Marxism, has been awaiting a crisis of capital to forward the communist agenda for the express purpose of ruining the wealth of nations, this bail out will work perfectly.

    By the way Marx had some interesting notions about marriage as well. The Manifesto reads: "Bourgeois (an employer's or rich person's) marriage is (because of rampant infidelity), in reality, a system of wives in common and thus, at the most, what the Communists might possibly be reproached with is that they desire to introduce, in substitution for a hypocritically concealed (system of free love), an openly legalized system of free love. Yes, any force that disrupts the marriage one's marriage was part of the plan for a worker's paradise. Likewise, the nuclear family appeared to be a threat to the communist theorist. Again the manifesto reads: "Abolition of the family! Even the most radical flare up at this infamous proposal of the Communists" Although, outside of the revolutionary party's "community of women" the destruction of the nuclear family would occur without intervention except for public schools. Once capital had been destroyed, of nature the workers paradise would feature no mothers and no fathers. Although Marx claimed that "the bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation into a mere money relation," he was wrong about that as well. No it would be a hundred and fifty years before the Supreme Court of California did this. Even if you don't like McCain or Obama, Californians should get themselves to the polls and vote "Yes" on Proposition 8.

    A careful read of the Communist Manifesto will reveal its ambitious aims to amass the power of the state in the hands of the few. This, not a workers' paradise, is what it has always achieved for those who have used its perverse arguments to their advantage. If you wonder why America has struggled since the late fifties, consider some of the other preconditions for Marxist communism that he first set out in 1847. Precondition #2: A heavy progressive or graduated income tax. Precondition #3: Abolition of all rights of inheritance. Precondition #10: Free education for all children in public schools.

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    Kilgore Trout, Nov 4th, 2008 @ 10:14am

    Re: Re: Re: Stop Reading THIS!

    I sense jealousy.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 4th, 2008 @ 10:25am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Stop Reading THIS!

    You sense intelligence. If I own all the chickens in the world and your mere existence relies on the flow of those chickens to your household, I have an unnaturally unbalanced control(dare I say monopoly?) over your life where it only means I lose a dollar or two per year if you die.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    WOW, Nov 4th, 2008 @ 10:27am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Stop Reading THIS!

    WTF!!!

     

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  18.  
    identicon
    R.Murdoch, Nov 4th, 2008 @ 10:29am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Stop Reading THIS!

    I love the opening discussion of socialism and then a conclusion on communism LOL - the 50s shall rise again (maybe you can get the colored to know thier place again too)! Not enough americans know the difference between an economic system and a poltical system . . . however the funny thing is it doesnt matter anymore.

    #2: A heavy progressive or graduated income tax. Precondition

    - So Teddy Roosevelt was a Communist? Or are you still talking about Socialism (do you even know the difference)?

    #3: Abolition of all rights of inheritance.

    - This was something Thomas Jefferson wrote alot in support of, having seen the effects of generations of aristocracy in europe get lazier and dumber generation after generation (this is an obvious detriment to society). Of course everyone knows the author of the Decleration of Independance was a communist, or is it socialist, which are you railing against again?


    #10: Free education for all children in public schools.

    - Yes certainly no one can see the benefit of an educated populace to a society? Having scores of ignorant, unemployable masses running around the streets would certainly create that "shining city on the hill" we all want America to be . . . LOL?

    Finally what does any of this have to do with the current election . . . nothing?

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    ehrichweiss, Nov 4th, 2008 @ 10:30am

    Re: Problem solved agest ago.

    "I keep harping on this but casino gaming devices solved all of these voting machine security issues about 15 years ago."

    I was mentioning this to some friends as well. The gaming companies also went through GREAT lengths to make sure that you can't use static electricity, etc. to turn the odds in your favor but someone a company that builds ATM machines couldn't work out some of these simple concepts with all their years of experience.

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 4th, 2008 @ 10:44am

    Re: Re: Stop Reading THIS!

    "can you honestly think ‘spreading the wealth’ can happen?"

    It already does happen, I pay taxes, I don’t get a refund, I write a check. Plenty of people in this country get a refund (if you got a refund they redistributed some of my wealth to you – ya moocher), some even get earned income tax credits an idea implemented by the famous socialist Ronald Reagan LOL? Make no mistake about it though, anyone who gets a paycheck in this country pays taxes (it’s even called the payroll tax).

    "you can't tax money in the bank"

    Sure you could, but no one is going too, it’s not income?

    "working people will be screwed by this false idol of hope"

    Working people are already getting screwed by payroll taxes, at least Obama is going to cut income taxes for working people and not just those fortunate enough not to need to work.
    We have tried the Bushien economics of flooding the investment class with capital, it doesn’t work (and never has actually). How about we go back to the Clinton era of equitable tax codes and responsible spending and hey, if this time Obama wants some head in the oval office, whats say we all just let it go and enjoy the prosperity reaped by intelligent, responsible governance.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    TheOldFart, Nov 4th, 2008 @ 10:49am

    Re:

    You're extrapolating from just one sample of touchscreen implementation.

    There are different types of touch screens, capacitive, resistive, surface acoustic wave and others. Each has its own pros and cons. With some types scratching the glass surface can cause them to register incorrectly, with others water, oils from the skin and dirt affect them badly. Back when I worked on them surface acoustic wave was the most trouble free but things have probably changed since then.

    Depending on what type of screen it is, if you can't touch the object you want directly try using two fingers spaced a couple inches apart so that the object you want is halfway in between them. Some types of screens will average the inputs and select the point in the middle.

    Cheap touchscreens do suck but the "you get what you paid for" law definitely applies there.

     

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  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 4th, 2008 @ 10:50am

    When, I actually went to vote. The Voting Supervisor plugged in a special key and calibrated the machine. So from my experience it would have been a little hard to change anything since my polling place calibrated the machine for every voter.

     

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  23.  
    identicon
    another mike, Nov 4th, 2008 @ 10:53am

    Re: Problem solved agest ago.

    So the elections should be run by the Nevada Gaming Commission? Well, maybe if the mob started running the elections again we'd actually get a fair shake. We'd at least get a public servant we can look up to.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    TheOldFart, Nov 4th, 2008 @ 11:06am

    Re: Re: Problem solved agest ago.

    One difference with casino systems is that they're tested by third party and government agencies who are tasked with finding problems before they go into the field.

    We got one machine back from testing in a Canadian province and they had hit the thing with static guns so hard and so long that they had bubbled the chromed plastic trim all over the place. The machines also had to function predictably when an entire pitcher of water was poured over them including aiming it into the cracks.

    The machines have an auto-play mode for testing where they play games the as fast as they can (which in some cases is very fast)by simulating the user inputs. One state requires that the machines be plugged into a power strip that cycles the power at random intervals. The machines have to auto-play the games for at least 48 hours while constantly being subjected to both complete power failures and brownouts as well as static shocks from test guns and from ordinary cattle prods. If the accounting is off by one penny at the end of that time, big fat fail. If the statistics deviate from the expected values, big fat fail.

    Each time a manufacturer fails it costs them tens of thousands of dollars re-submit the device with the errors corrected. If a single byte in an EPROM is changed it has to be submitted to testing again and if the testing authority deems a full round of tests must be performed again, off to the races it goes.

    That's what is wrong with the voting machines. There is no adversarial (in the good sense of the term) party involved. With casino gaming there are people/teams out there whose job it is to find problems and if they don't find at least some problems they can't justify their fees/jobs any more.

    That's actually very, very good for the gaming industry because people don't have any reasons to distrust the machines. If they distrusted them they wouldn't put their money into them.

    I'd compare voting machines to internet casinos. Online casinos can swap out the software in real time without you ever knowing about it. Nobody has examined their code for bugs or intentional hacks and nobody has legal jurisdiction over them. Their play statistics and payouts are secret. People who give them money may as well just save the middle-man fees and burn the money. Likewise with voting machines it's mostly just a bunch of govt types nodding their head and giving solemn sounding approvals of the devices when they have at best been minimally tested.

     

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  25.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 4th, 2008 @ 11:24am

    Bring your camera phone!

    If you see someone trying to "fixing a machine" Take a picture, because they're fixing the election.

     

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  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 4th, 2008 @ 11:26am

    Honestly, at this point, I am more concerned about the Black Panther members hanging out in front of a polling place in Pittsburg.

     

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  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 4th, 2008 @ 11:27am

    >> Bring your camera phone!

    SAME HOLDS TRUE WITH ELECTION MACHINES THAT ARE DESIGNATED "OUT OF ORDER" BY ELECTION OFFICIALS.

    As an election volunteer, I really can't take these pictures, hopefully someone will for me!

     

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  28.  
    identicon
    snowburn14, Nov 4th, 2008 @ 11:31am

    Re: Re: Re: Problem solved agest ago.

    Some very good points brought up here, especially the part about thorough testing BEFORE they're put in the field. As little faith as most of us may have in federal agencies, isn't this an area we can all agree should have the strictest of all possible government regulation? I don't understand why this is left up to local governments to control. I live in an affluent community, and while I've only been of voting age since 2000, I have yet to have any problems with waiting in line or difficulty voting in any way. Yet whenever election time rolls around, I hear countless stories of voting problems in places that (presumably) don't have as much money available to have the same technology and/or enough machines to go around. Granted, affluent community or not I have no idea whether my vote is actually being COUNTED properly, but shouldn't we all at least get the same illusion of having our votes count that the rich folk do? Or would that be too much like spreading the wealth? (couldn't resist :P)

     

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  29.  
    icon
    Crabby (profile), Nov 4th, 2008 @ 11:52am

    Re:

    It's really quite simple. The machines are messed up because they are being used by the government. The government can't do anything right.

     

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  30.  
    identicon
    Monarch, Nov 4th, 2008 @ 11:59am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Stop Reading THIS! by R.Murdoch

    "#10: Free education for all children in public schools.

    - Yes certainly no one can see the benefit of an educated populace to a society? Having scores of ignorant, unemployable masses running around the streets would certainly create that "shining city on the hill" we all want America to be . . . LOL?"

    Don't we already have scores of ignorant, unemployable masses running around the streets? I have met many people in the world who know more about Briney Spears child custody and who won survivor than know what a prime number is. And many people in the U.S. who couldn't even name 10 of the states, and would be lucky to name one of those 10 state capitals, including the state they live in.

     

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  31.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 4th, 2008 @ 12:12pm

    Its amazing, I have never heard of an issue with Canada's voting system. All we do up here is put an X in a circle, and drop the paper in the box. No hanging Chads, no electronics, just plain old pencil and paper.

     

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  32.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 4th, 2008 @ 12:48pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Stop Reading THIS! by R.Murdoch

    "Don't we already have scores of ignorant, unemployable masses running around the streets? I have met many people in the world who know more about Briney Spears child custody and who won survivor than know what a prime number is. And many people in the U.S. who couldn't even name 10 of the states, and would be lucky to name one of those 10 state capitals, including the state they live in."


    and doing away with education altogether helps solve this how?

     

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  33.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 4th, 2008 @ 1:01pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Stop Reading THIS!

    "Even if you don't like McCain or Obama, Californians should get themselves to the polls and vote "Yes" on Proposition 8."

    A "so called" libertarian that thinks the government should regulate marriage? I guess Libratarians are as big government as Republican conservatives now? There is something strangely ironic about the Democratic party becoming the party of government limitation and fiscal responsiblity . . . I guess we have to take it from where ever we can get it.

     

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  34.  
    identicon
    mobiGeek, Nov 4th, 2008 @ 1:56pm

    Re:

    Yes, but you have how many ballots to mark? In US elections there are many different ballots being voted on:

    - sheriffs
    - judges
    - dog catchers
    - various propositions/referenda
    - senators
    - governor
    - president

    Not saying that it couldn't work, but there are more confounding factors in the US.

    I recently read a study showing that the average post-secondary graduate takes approximately 10 minutes to get through a typical US election materials. How long does it take for the average Canadian voter?

     

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  35.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 4th, 2008 @ 6:29pm

    Re: Re:

    That's kind of my point, though. If a shopping mall can afford to purchase and maintain loads of touch screen terminals that are used by hundreds, perhaps thousands of people, ever day and *don't break down*.... how come the U.S Government can't provide a similar level of reliability?

    If whoever is in charge of my local mall can afford to set all that up to direct tourists to the toilets flawlessly, how come government funding can't provide a database with a touchscreen interface that doesn't routinely fuck up immensely. I mean, seriously, highlighting the wrong god damn candidate? That is *literally* the exact opposite of what you want from that machine. It's a failure on so many levels it honestly astounds me.
    It's the kind of mistake you'd expect from the first touchscreens to hit the market, or a company trying to make their own from scratch without ever looking at the specs for other machines.
    If the company tried to market these things in the commercial world, they'd get laughed out of every single sales meeting they had. How come they've gotten so far in corrupting the most important process in the US?

     

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  36.  
    identicon
    Dennis Byron, Nov 5th, 2008 @ 6:49am

    Major technological problem voting yesterday

    The first booth that I went into yesterday after getting my ballot (we use optical scanning) was missing the special pencil. All this babbling about touchscreen calibration is in the same league as my problem. You tell the poll worker and move on with your life.

     

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  37.  
    identicon
    nasch, Nov 5th, 2008 @ 10:20am

    Re: Re: Re: Stop Reading THIS!

    Paying additional taxes at tax time doesn't mean you're one of the ones having extra money taken away, it just means you didn't have enough taken from your paychecks to cover your tax obligation. Getting a refund check doesn't mean you're one of the ones not paying taxes and getting money back instead, it just means you had more taken out of your paychecks than needed to cover your tax obligation. You choose (in part) how much is withheld, so you can probably control whether you want to write a check at tax time, get a refund, or come as close as possible to zero. And that does not affect how much tax you are paying.

     

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  38.  
    identicon
    Celes, Nov 6th, 2008 @ 12:19am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Stop Reading THIS!

    Although in the case of "refundable credits", your refund amount can indeed be increased by more than the total amount of tax you had withheld. In those cases, where you are getting back more than you paid, where do you suppose the rest of that money comes from? (I'm not taking a position on whether or not it's a good idea, just pointing out that it does happen.)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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