Diebold Machine Didn't Count Votes, But Diebold Says Not To Worry: They Can Tell You The Actual Vote Totals

from the whoops dept

The situation in Maryland with Diebold voting machines already looked pretty bad with no real fix in sight. However, they’re apparently even worse than we had assumed before. Tim Lee, over at The Technology Liberation Front points us to a story on Avi Rubin’s blog, posting an email from a Chief Judge for the recent problematic election. Turns out that one of the Diebold machines at his site recorded zero votes on the memory card for the election, despite the fact that fifty-five people were logged voting at that machine. There was no warning or error message on the machine that would have, you know, let anyone know that the machine shouldn’t be used or their votes wouldn’t be recorded. While in the end, they were able to recover the votes by looking at the additional on-board memory (not the memory card) on the machine, Rubin points out all of the problems with this method, including the fact that they’re reliant on Diebold to recover these votes and provide an accurate tally. Once again, this seems to highlight just how many problems there are with these voting machines and should make everyone question why we’re rushing them into the voting booths so quickly, without adequate tests.


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Comments on “Diebold Machine Didn't Count Votes, But Diebold Says Not To Worry: They Can Tell You The Actual Vote Totals”

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50 Comments
Joshua says:

The reason is twofold...

They don’t want to look like they are capable of being wrong (whether for ego, fear of being voted out, or something else, I can’t say).

I know I am gonna look paranoid because of this but, the second reason is that they think that the errors in the machines will work out in their favor and they don’t want to lose that resource (false though that resource may be).

chris (profile) says:

Re: The reason is twofold...

it’s not paranoid, it’s true. electronic votes are way easier to skew (and delete) than the paper kind. that’s why open standards, blackbox voting, nonprofits and universities, and all those other things will never happen. it costs too much money to get into office for the powers that be (both democrat and republican) to let the people decide.

historically, the people have chosen to change things, which is a real threat to the status quo.

Saragon (user link) says:

Here's a thought...

Why, exactly, has no competitor to Diebold tried to make voting machines that address this plethora of concerns? When I used one of Diebold’s machines back in 2004, it seemed to me that the devices weren’t any more complicated than, say, a piece of home automation equipment. With enough forethought and testing, shouldn’t a startup competitor be able to grab a huge chunk of market share just by capitalizing on Diebold’s failings?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Here's a thought...

MIT has some notes on it in their OpenCourseware project. I read a bit, and it’s a more tricky problem than I realized at first. At least, to do it right. I doubt that Diebold is anywhere close to doing it right.

One complication is that ticker tape method won’t work, because you’re not supposed to have any actual record linking you to the actual vote you cast. (you know hide behind the curtain and anonymous ballot thing)

But then, you also need to ensure people only vote once. Also, people need to be able to verify that the vote they cast is actually recorded correctly.

And you need to be able to recount the votes later on.

L17: “Introduction to Electronic Voting” by Ben Adida (PDF)
http://ocw.mit.edu/NR/rdonlyres/Electrical-Engineering-and-Computer-Science/6-897Spring-2004/E2483BFE-56D8-44E2-BD3F-AA98D4E435A8/0/l17.pdf

L18: “Mix­-Net Voting Systems” by Yael Tauman Kalai (PDF)
http://ocw.mit.edu/NR/rdonlyres/Electrical-Engineering-and-Computer-Science/6-897Spring-2004/8682F3D1-7680-4357-AAC3-534960D245A1/0/l18.pdf

both links are found on this page: Lecture Notes from their Spring 2004 Cryptography course. http://ocw.mit.edu/OcwWeb/Electrical-Engineering-and-Computer-Science/6-897Spring-2004/LectureNotes/index.htm

Anonyomous of Course says:

Re: Here's a thought...

There are competitors that address the issues.
I voted a couple of weeks ago in a local election
and was offered the choice of taking a pencil
into the booth and marking the paper ballot or
using the machine. I decided on the machine
out of curiosity.

I was given the same paper ballot and told to
insert it into a slot in the machine. The ballot
was sucked inside. Then I navigated a touch
screen menu to select my votes. I was asked
to confirm my selections then it marked the
paper ballot and spit it out.

I then dropped the paper ballot into the same
box with those people had marked with pencils.
They would be collected and tallied optically as
usual.

It fullfills the requirements without breaking the
system. Seems reasonable to me. I’m glad we
didn’t go with Diebold. Sorry I can’t recall the name
on the machine!

RevMike (user link) says:

Re: I Don't Get It

I still have to wonder how difficult it would be to hang a printer off the thing. You know, one of those little Epson jobbies that designed to print receipts on “NCR” rolls. The yellow one is retained (inside the printer) as a journal, and the white copy is given to the voter.

While the idea of an audit trail in general is a very good one, this particular scheme is actually subject to a different type of abuse. One of the restraints against ‘vote buying’ is that there is no way to be certain that the voter actually voted the way you want. If the voter recieved a paper receipt, the less scrupulous ‘bosses’ would demand to see the receipt in order to either receive some special benefit or just receive something to which you should be entitled. Historically, unions and civil service have been infamous for this sort of abuse. Of course there is no reason that an employer might not try to base a promotion or even continued employment on a vote.

Rick Gutleber (profile) says:

Re: I Don't Get It

Diebold has machines that do that. They’re called “Automatic Teller Machines” and they have been around for decades.

This whole Diebold situation smacks of grotesque corruption, but I cannot understand what our elected officials from either party hope to gain by undermining our whole election system.

It’s frightening, and I think it’s long time for state to fight back (like Maryland is trying to do.)

Here in Virginia, the ballot system we use seems to be the perfect situation for anyone except the visually impaired (for whom accomodations would be required):

We are given a very simple sheet with the candidates for each position clearly spelled out with little circles to fill in. The voter fills in the circles and feeds the ballot into a machine. The ballots are optically counted by machines, but there is obviously a hard-copy backup, the ballots themselves. This system cannot be any simpler, and I imagine its costs are an order of magnitude less than these ridiculous Diebold machines.

How long would an ATM from Diebold go unchallenged if it was divulged that there were security issues. Do you think the banks would stand for it? Well, they why do the politicians, and more importantly the Federal Election Commission?

Sometimes I don’t even recognize this country any more.

Shohat (user link) says:

Retarded Engineers ?

I am a proud engineer . I develop stuff . I like to see something I’ve made work in the hands of others . I love to see my software serve thousands of clients . I take pride in these things , like any professional does .
Ignore the company , marketing , politics , money … the key problem are the engineers . Get some professionals to build the thing . I am pretty sure it’s not that complicated . We have a live video feed from a robot on Mars , I am pretty sure someone can build a normal voting interface .

Martin Stone says:

Re: Retarded Engineers ?

I don’t think that the engineers are retarded as much as they aren’t being given a clearly stated task. In thinking about voting, it seems to me that there are two separate and distinct pieces to the puzzle. One is casting the ballots, the other is counting the ballots.

Casting the ballots is relatively simple and a task to which touchscreens are well-suited. One thing that people want and that they are not yet getting is a printout showing that the machine received the ballot stating the choices that the voter wanted to make.

Counting the ballots is a very different task to which touchscreens are completely irrelevant. Assuming that the ballots have already been cast and that the printout verifying the actions of the individual voters is available to the individual voters, we now need to get the votes from the individual machines to a central location for tallying. Another thing that people want and that they are not yet getting is a printout showing that the individual machine accurately recorded the sum total of votes cast. Yet another thing that people want is a printout showing that the central location received the information from the individual machine completely and accurately. A third thing that people want and that they are not getting is an alternate means of counting the ballots so that if need be there can be a valid and tangible recount. Invisible bits and bytes are just fine, but in the event of a problem, people want substantial tangibility to make certain that the will of the people is being honored.

Clarence T says:

Re: Retarded Engineers ?

I agree to a certain extent, but it more probably is the company suits. I am a software engineer and I have been in countless situations where the product was advertised and even touted long before the coding was completed to expand and prepare the market for the application.

Our development schedule was basically created by marketing suits with their heads up the CEO’s A$$ and of course they had no ability to determine the schedule other than to say that such and such program was developed in this time period. having CIOs is supposed to alleviate us of this pain and it does for the most part.

Anyway, that forced us to release a buggy program that we were NOT proud of because the prez and VP got the CEO to sign off on Bull@#$%. It could be the same with Diebold. but what’s worse is that this goes to the very heart of our right to vote.

We could have so little control over the actual outcome of the election that its beyond scary. How far fetched is it to imagine this being exploited to fix an election Baghdad style? One dollar the right way and !boom!, a machine’s not working, the chad problem goes high tech, votes are miscounted and Jeb Bush’s our next president, thus,

I agree wholheartedly with the person who suggested the open source format. Created by the people for the people, you know, the stuff this country was built upon.

Jason Lallo says:

the bottom line is, there is no good reason for them to be making these machines that do not leave a solid paper trail..

Heck, a few months ago my bank accidentally added a digit into my bank account, making it so i had 3,000 more dollars than i should have.. if there was no paper trail for them to look at , i could’ve easily left it at that.. of course i called them and let them know of their error that they would’ve eventually discovered anyway.. point is, with no tangable evidence in these matters, it makes it a heck of a lot easier to mess up the numbers, and worse yet – not even know if they’re messed.

The government’s gone insane, to allow these crazy poll machines for their elections..

Serious doubter says:

>>I worked the last major election in Ohio as a Diebold “Field Engineer” (6 hours of training, then into the field).

Wow, that makes me feel SO much better. So our national election could theoretically come down to the actions of a tech with only 6 hours training. Way to go DIEBOLD.

>>Our machines in our county DO have printers securely attached to the machines AND they keep an audit trail of the entire election.

Somehow I find that utterly laughable. I have never once seen a printer attached to a voting maching. Nice try spook.

Tom McDonald says:

Re: Re:

I live in a small village in western Wisconsin. At the fall primary, we had the choice of paper ballots or a touch-screen machine. The machine (I don’t know who made it–probably Diebold) had a printer attached to the left side of the screen, under clear plastic. Once I made and entered my choices, my choices were entered electronically and were printed out on a scrolling paper roll.

Even after the first printing, the machine gave me the chance to review my choices and make changes if I wanted. Only after I indicated I had, indeed, finished voting did the machine print a final version and clear for the next person.

Personally, I was pleased with the experience. But again, this is small-town Wisconsin, where an election night isn’t complete until the election officials (people I see every day) sit down over a pot of coffee and go through the votes by hand.

If you, Serious Doubter, have never seen a printer attached to a voting machine, I suggest you talk to the election officials in your county/parish and ask them why. And then push for machines that leave a paper record.

Of course, bitching is fun, too. 🙂

Anonymous Coward says:

How simple is this machine? All it does is count, it has no decisions to make…. it looks at the (hole punch or pencil mark) and adds (1) to a tally… that’s it! people still total the tallies up in the end. I really don’t understand why these companies are making it so difficult…. Ohhhh wait it’s the perpetual money coming in for the ballots! I think that some open source of machine design should be created and that way ALL ballots are the same size/shape for all elections. then a ballot would only cost a few pennies to print instead of they way it is now.

DixieDogAce says:

Reply to Serious doubter

Yep, six whole hours on how to change the paper rolls and reboot a tablet PC, and with my 25+ years in the IT industry (anybody out there work with paper punch cards? I did) 6 hours was overkill.

I am not a Diebold employee, nor was I when I worked the elections as a “Field Engineer”… we were Independent Contractors.

As far as your comment
>>I have never once seen a printer attached to a voting maching. Nice try spook.

Well, I’ve never seen Washington, D.C. with my own eyes, but I’m pretty sure it exists.

Tashi says:

As fast as the republican ship is sinking, this is going to be the only way Republicans can win an election.

All of the $195,000 Diebold has given in political contributions since 2000 went to the Republican Party or Republican candidates, as has all of the over $240,000 that the company’s directors and chief officers have donated, according to OpenSecrets.org.

Read the rest here.
http://www.yesmagazine.org/article.asp?ID=683

Diebold machines are designed to do nothing but split the vote 52% 48%… in that range. And of course it’s not voting that counts. It’s who controls the counting of the votes.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

And in NY state, the Democratic Party (that has run the state for 40+ years) is removing the mechanical voting machines that have worked for ove 60 years, in leau of the new “digital” voting machines. They claim that they are too expensive to repair. But are willing to spent 100’s of millions of dollars on an unproven and unreliable system. Seem the Republicans are actually winning the races here. There is an alterior motive on both sides of the political isle.

Mike says:

Computers and voting does not mix

The newest technology is not always the best. I do not want to cast my vote on a “computer” like device. There are way to many factors which can go wrong and, also they are way to easy to hack. In New York most of the machines are still the old Cog and Gear type machines which work completely on mechanical means. They do not rely on electricity or are hackable. Bring back the old “mortar and stone” systems they work!

Mike says:

Computers and voting does not mix

The newest technology is not always the best. I do not want to cast my vote on a “computer” like device. There are way to many factors which can go wrong and, also they are way to easy to hack. In New York most of the machines are still the old Cog and Gear type machines which work completely on mechanical means. They do not rely on electricity or are hackable. Bring back the old “mortar and stone” systems they work!

Shel says:

How difficult can this be?

None of this makes any sense. How difficult can it be to make a computerized voting Kiosk that is connected to a database server, or a series of servers (for backup). If financial institutions can compelete hundreds of millions of dollars of transactions each day using computer networks, we should be able to operate a secure fault tolerent voting system.

Let’s get the politicians out of the voting booth and let the geeks in!!!!

Rabid Wolverine says:

Electronic Voting...

It’s wrong, wrong, wrong!

At least with paper ballots, punch cards, little slips of paper or whatever you have something tangible that exists in the ‘real world’ and not as a bunch of electrons or magnetized particles on some memory card or server.

Can you imagine trying to follow an audit trail through the labyrinth of cyberspace?

It will lead to massive election fraud.

What would the founding fathers say…

Vampiro. Moon Glorious. says:

Registered to vote, but..

I’m registered to vote, but haven’t because I can never decide which con artist should be the lucky one to sit on their useless, fat ass getting paid tax payer’s money to talk shit.
I have yet to see one elected person that makes any good for America and it’s citizens. Being a lower-middle class man, I am automatically disqualified from ever winning the popularity contest. Not that I want to be surrounded by the other “officials” during my work day anyway. Competence is hardly even found at the mayoral level, let alone the House, Senate, and Presidency.
The American Empire is falling fast to become a piss bucket.

steve says:

Printers on Diebold machines by DixieDogAce on Oct 10th, 2006 @ 6:23am

I worked the last major election in Ohio as a Diebold “Field Engineer” (6 hours of training, then into the field). Our machines in our county DO have printers securely attached to the machines AND they keep an audit trail of the entire election.

I wouldn’t trust an toolbox like you with my vote. Screw Diebold and you for working with them.

The ass attitude you have makes me understand why you and Diebold get along

Chris says:

Your vote accounts to nothing anyway, and the government only does what pharamcuitcal companies and lobbyists tell them. If you really want to make a change make a public scene invoving enough people to get network media attention to generate enough bad PR. This is the only way you’ll get anyone’s attention up on captial hill, because their image is the only thing they care about.

u no says:

WTF?

When did commenting become so angry and hateful. I do not know any of you and none of you know me, so how can I be angry with you? Anyways about the story, I agree with whoever said “get the politicains out of the voting booths and get the geeks in,” or something like that. I whole-heartedly believe that electronic voting is the future, and once it gets over the initial “growing pains” and people quit griping for the sakw of griping, it will be fine. Maybe the country will have to wait for the next generation to get out of school before anything happens. As a whole we tend to be more tech savy than the average person from previous generations. Oh ya, bitching is fun, as long as it is directed at the right people.

Reed says:

Just let the machines decide!

“Why bother voting. Just let Diebold tell us who won before the election.”

I agree, with all the voter fraud already going on and now this new threat of electronic voting machines what is the point of voting at all?

Honestly, no-one even knows what they are voting for anyways! I mean they may have an idea of what someone told them or something they read somewhere, but the fact is they simply are not informed enough to make a good vote.

So if at best we have ill-informed or mis-informed voters who’s votes may or may not be counted why do we even bother anymore?

If we all just stopped voting then the system would HAVE to change one way or another. As long as we keep getting herded in like sheep to the polls what chance we will ever have at making a difference in our government?

Viracocha says:

If Diebold can produce ATM machines that can track billions of dollars worth of transactions to the penny everyday, I don’t see the complications in something as rudimentary as counting votes.

If it’s shown next month that these e-vote machines are screwing over voters again, then that means the social contract with our government has been broken. If the government cannot prove that the election totals are accurate, then the American People are no longer obligated to follow its dictates.

Abolish the machines. That way NO political parties can use it to tamper with our elections.

Viracocha says:

If Diebold can produce ATM machines that can track billions of dollars worth of transactions to the penny everyday, I don’t see the complications in something as rudimentary as counting votes.

If it’s shown next month that these e-vote machines are screwing over voters again, then that means the social contract with our government has been broken. If the government cannot prove that the election totals are accurate, then the American People are no longer obligated to follow its dictates.

Abolish the machines. That way NO political parties can use it to tamper with our elections.

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