What Kind Of Voter Verified Paper Trail Is It When The Voter Doesn't Verify?

from the just-wondering dept

Ed Felten has a great writeup discussing a study done in Ohio about e-voting technologies used in a primary this past May. While most of the stories we’ve written about concerning e-voting machines are about the specific technology and security risks or flaws in the underlying technology, this report looked at the actual voting process to see what happened and where problems showed up. In this case, the e-voting machines were from Diebold, using the “voter verified paper trail” that Diebold finally added to some machines, after years of resistance. However, as Felten notes, the report found that the paper printers failed in about 10% of the machines: “the paper roll was totally blank, or scrunched and smeared beyond reconstruction, or broken and taped back together, or otherwise obviously wrong.” Felten goes on to point out a few important points. This doesn’t vindicate those who fought against the paper trail, as the point of the paper trail isn’t to be better than the electronic count, but to work together, to make sure the end result is more secure and hopefully more accurate. However, it does suggest that the technology still has a long way to go, and “just adding a paper trail” is not enough. However, there’s one bit of information that a commenter on Felten’s post raises that deserves some attention. Considering a big part of the paper trail is that it’s supposed to be “voter verified” (i.e., the voter can see the paper printout and compare it to his or her actual vote), the fact that some of the printouts were blank, scrunched or obviously wrong suggests that the “voter verification” isn’t actually happening. What’s not clear is if this is an education issue, a user interface design issue or something else. No matter what, it’s pretty clear that we’re a long way from having secure and accurate electronic voting machines.

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Comments on “What Kind Of Voter Verified Paper Trail Is It When The Voter Doesn't Verify?”

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nod says:

Enough Already

If we can do electronic banking, how on earth can’t we do electronic voting? Haven’t atms always printed receipts so you had a paper record of your transaction in your pocket just in case? There’s no need to reinvent the wheel here, unless we’re otherwise totally incompetent or blatantly corrupt. The optimist in me hopes for incompetence, but even then, this is getting ridiculous with how long this is taking to straighten out.

William says:

Cheap machines

States don’t want to pay thousands of dollars for machines that are only going to be used once a year. The problem is making them good AND making them cheap is impossible. Things like ATMs work great because Businesses pay tens of thousands of dollars per for them. But voting machines have to be cheap and flimsy by there very nature. But it is the future and there is no avoiding it so you might a well get used to it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Cheap machines

Yes, willy, lets just roll over and let someone smack on a couple thousand votes here and there under our noses and subvert an election. Accept it, because we must!

Move back to Russia, man. Obviously more your style how the politics are done there.

My only concern about electronic voting over the net is only that family, employers, etc, might eventually conceivably stand over a vote and pressure one to vote one way or another. Beyond that, though, I think it’s an obvious idea, not too complicated, and worth the small risk I just mentioned. Hell, imagine the entire forests it’d save, or the millions of pounds of raw materials going in to rigged Diebold machines.

Hopefully they dont run unpatched, legs-wide-open Windows servers though 😉 Some darkhorse candidate from Turkmenistan would astoundingly win by a landslide.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Cheap machines

Oh, I just considered too that some people might not have a computer, and might be inconvenienced by going to one of countless public computers at public library’s in every significant town in all of America. And once they get there, they might not know how to easily navigate to a site such as “www.AmericaVotes.Gov” or the likes.

But then realized, those people don’t need to be voting any more than illiterate people don’t need to be voting. If one cant read, or cant click a few buttons and follow on-screen prompts, they dont know about any modern issues anyway. So, not a problem there!

asymptote says:

secret ballot

I want my vote to remain secret. But I want to verify that my vote was counted accurately. I would be happy if the machine would accept my vote, and then print out a ticket with a random number. The election results would ultimately be posted for everyone to see, on the Internet, in the newspaper, etc. I would look for my random number to confirm that my vote was counted accurately. Could my vote be traced back to me? Could someone devise a method to figure out how I voted by the time of day maintained in the machine, or by some other empirical method? And would I be able to search the database for my random number without my search leaving any trace that could be tracked back to me?

Steve Arnold says:

Re: secret ballot

Here’s the real problem with voter-verified ballots:

If you can put a number into a system to confirm how your vote was counted, then you can prove to someone else that you voted in a particular way.

This will inevitably lead to “Bring your John R. Doe ballot reciept in to our office and get a $50 gift card!” vote-buying scams.

We don’t want that.

asymptote says:

Re: Re: secret ballot

Point taken.

Our desire for secrecy provides the opportunity for fraud. Knowing there is an opportunity for fraud, I won’t trust the outcome of any election until I can be satisfied that my vote was counted accurately. But I can’t get that verification without the secrecy of my vote being compromised.

If I must compromise, what is more important? I’m starting to think that I would prefer to know that my vote was counted accurately, and risk that some jerk could use my vote against me — rather than know that my vote was secret, and risk that some jerk changed my vote to support the opposition candidate.

Josef K. says:

I've been thinking

I’ve been thinking for a while about how you could achieve both a secret ballot, where it’s hard to enter votes from outside the system while also providing a proper paper trail.

– Machine and server store a long value, which is known to be good when the machine is first switched on to vote. This value could be given during the initial machine/server welcome.

– After machine sends a vote both server and machine hash this number and use the result to verify their next transaction.

– Each of these numbers would appear on the paper trail, and can be used to match an electronic vote to a paper receipt.

– If the numbers on both the client and server don’t match, the machine is ‘locked’ with the last (pre-hash) value displayed.

– Even if the current number is intercepted, it is known that each vote entered after the ‘last good key’ in the actual machine is bad, and can be erased/logged after a quick telephone call from an election official.

– User then goes to another terminal and votes.

This all assumes the machine isn’t tampered with electronically or physically, and if that can happen then frankly you’re screwed anyway. When you have the votes and paper receipts collected, you can then:

– Sample a statistically random set of votes from those recorded in the database against the paper receipts. The size of this sample is inversely proportional to the difference between winning/losing candidates (smaller gap, bigger sample tested as fewer fraudulant votes would be needed to sway the election).

– Sample a random set of paper votes to check they exist in the system. In all cases, unless voided, paper votes are regarded as ‘correct’.


Smiley says:


Ehm, Diebold is one of the BIGGEST manufacturers of ATM machines. Of course they can print a damn receipt accurately. Why not mis-print 10%+ of the vote receipts and scream imperfection-never-gonna-work-anyway to all the proponents of a paper trail.

This shit is so ridiculuos. But, most things are these days in the mis-guided state of ours.

Lonny Paul (user link) says:

Well, balancing the two ends is a challenge...

Imagine if you could only bank with a card wtihout your name on it – remain anonymous. Or how about a national ID card tht would be associated with your vote?

People are retarded over “I can’t tell you who I voted for.” Maybe if more people did, they’d realize that Diebold and other companies have had huge electon related data-losses and inconsistencies and a representative from the Florida legislature hired a company to write a virus that would fix the election 51/49. It was delivered prior to the Gore/Bush election.

Still wanna keep your vote secret!

The truth is out there – if you keep looking.

Techie Geek says:

Will never trust electronic voting

I am a cracker. I have lived UNIX most of my adult life. I know Windows almost as well. I know what I can do with any computer. I will NEVER trust e-voting.

What is so difficult about scrathing a cross behind a name? Why do we have to have e-voting? It cost to miuch and it can NOT be trusted. You are all talking about a paper trail. Why do the job twice? A cross is easy. 1 line diagonally left to right and another that crosses it left to right. You do it once on a piece of paper and it is done. Easy. If you cannot do that, then ask a voting official to help you.

Scott says:

Re: Who cares?

Actually, that is the fault of your state….Many states require electoral voting to represent their popular vote. i.e., if 60% of people vote for candidate A and 40% vote candidate B, candidate A gets the votes.

If I recall properly 2 states do something different, maybe 60% for A and 40% for B, but I can’t remember.
There is no federal law in regards to this because that would defeat the purpose of having state elections.

lil bit says:

Who? Why?

Election day, inaguration day – as far as I know, they have been at the same time of year as they are now forever -more or less. The Presidential inaguration was in March, I believe at some time in the past, I don’t know when it changed. My point is, who cares if the results are available within hours? I think most of us would pick fairness and accuracy over speedy results. It’s the media with a ratings stake that want immediate results – hence the development of extremely accurate exit polling (until 2004, if you can believe certain people)

It facinates me how easily people have accepted the idea that there are tens of thousands of illegal immigrants, felons and ?? out there voting and don’t question the “need” to prove our identity before voting or the switch to electronic voting machines. The fraud is in the battle over which ballots get counted – 3 million uncounted in 2004! Florida 2000 was the partially the result of mechanical failure. If simple punch cards are subject to inconclusive results, why would anyone push for even newer technology that is even more prone to mechanical failure (or outside “influence”)?

Scott says:

Seems simple

Why can’t the machine provide a scrolling paper trail so that when I submit my vote a paper scroll like a register receipt that is “under glass” is shown.

I click, tap, whatever, a button that says verify paper ballot, my vote comes up in that window on paper, I verify, then click, tap, whatever, “Ballot Ok” or some other message. The ballot is cast, the paper ballot is stored inside the machine just like now and I am all done.

I realize people would have to work here, but this is the freaking vote, not ordering a half-shot double espresso mocha latte.

Anonymous Coward says:


Its because the banking/ATM companies have vested interests in keeping the equipment secure and accurate. (Laws and lawsuits, money, etc)

Electronic Voting machine companies have vested interests in keeping them vulnerable and non trustworthy. They actually GET more federal grant money every time they say OMG OMG the machines need fixing! Then the fed gov hands over a bunch of money. Thats not even touching the likely possibility that some of the people running the companies are in bed with some polititions and getting money to do so (one of the e-voting machine’s CEO’s was indited for fraud if I recall correctly, then there’s the infamous letter promising to hand an election over).
And of course its cheaper all around if they dont bother fixing it.

Allan says:


Electronic voting can be just as reliable as electronic banking, electronic autopilot, or an electronic stock exchange.

The votes should only tally if the receipt printer works, and an internal optical character (or magnetic ink) reader can confirm that the ballot receipt was legibly printed. In other words, if the printer is busted, or out of paper you can’t use it: the machine requires service.

The NIST is working on electronic voting standards.


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