Congress Looks To Outlaw E-Voting Machines Without An Audit Trail

from the let's-see-how-that-goes dept

Over the past few years, it seems that more and more people have realized the problems with e-voting systems. Amusingly, in the comments to our last post about the limits Florida was trying to put on researchers testing the e-voting machines for security, we had someone show up in the comments claiming that this is all a big charade — and that e-voting machines are thoroughly tested by government agencies. Despite being asked a few times, the commenter has not explained why the company hired to do the testing was barred from further testing after they were unable to document whether or not they had conducted the tests at all. His response was that we’re all just a bunch of conspiracy theorists, and that no one other than approved government agencies should get to test these machines, since we’re all too ignorant to understand how e-voting machines should work, and because of our ignorance we’d hand over info to irresponsible parties (which seems like an admission that the machines aren’t actually safe — if there is information that can be handed over that would cause problems, then the machine shouldn’t be used in an election). He also accuses anyone (including respected professors Ed Felten and Avi Rubin) of just being “conspiracy theorists” though none of us have put forth any conspiracy theory — except for the commenter. He claims that the security concerns over e-voting machines are really a big conspiracy to spread fear and make everyone mistrust the voting system so we stay home on election day. Of course, it’s not clear how that fear is targeted in a way to ensure that one side wins — but perhaps we’re not thinking it through enough.

In the meantime, it looks like Congress must be up for continuing this “conspiracy.” Despite the fact that most in Congress seemed to show little to no interest for many years as security experts pointed out the problems with the machines, now they’re talking about introducing new legislation that would require that e-voting machines have an audit trail. It’s not clear how a system that allows for recounting the votes is a way to add more fear to the e-voting process and keep us home, so I hope the same commenter can enlighten us on how this conspiracy works.

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Congress Looks To Outlaw E-Voting Machines Without An Audit Trail”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Beck says:

Require Audits Too

The law should require that audits be conducted. After each election, compare the paper votes with the electronic votes on a random sample of machines. If there are any discrepancies, require the entire election to be audited.

In Ohio the paper audit trail is the “official” ballot in case of a discrepancy, but they never do the comparison. Some places might actually have rules preventing an audit.

566 says:

not so simple

legislating toward a particular technology tends to not be a good idea. technology moves too fast and so do those with malfeasance on their mind.

constitutionally, voting methods should be established by the states. the fiscal coercion by the fed with HAVA surely wasted a lot of money.

wise legislators leave this matter to the states. grandstanders pander to the paranoid.

Matt Bennett says:

Re: not so simple

Well, as I understand it, this is NOT legidlating a particular solution (i.e. paper trail) just that there IS one (any verifiable audit method).

Besides which, you want to avoid legislating a solution because it inhibits progress. Fine. But I don’t really think our voting system is one of those things that has to always mover onward and upward. I think the old ways in this case are probably fine.

g says:

Re: not so simple

So in a Federal election, the states should get to decide basic audit procedures so theyre all different?

It’s a FEDERAL election. States can add aditional rules, but the Fed should have something to say about it.

Hopefully somehting good, that reduces the massive vote fraud that appears to have been happening, but of course cant be proven because of lack of auditing…

566 says:

Re: Re: not so simple


> the old ways in this case are probably fine…

depend on how old, eh? ;^)

i see your point re. not legislation a particular method of audit. valid. but until it’s proven vvpat’s are effective, i don’t think they should be legislated, at any level of govt. as i understand it, it all depend at which point in the system’s process the audit trail is generated. vvpat can give a false sense of security.

the states can do what they like. we’re not a democracy – thank god. in fact, there have been times (early on in the republic) when the states sent electors to the electoral college without any popular vote. the method of voting is left to the states. delegates to the electoral college are not necessarily obligated to to cast their vote by anything other than they way they themselves choose to vote.

but i think you know this and i misunderstood…

zcat (user link) says:

voter-verified PAPER audit trail?

The summary doesn’t really make this clear and I’m not sure what the current proposed legislation says right now, but any legislation that eventually gets passed needs to specify a “voter verified printed audit trail”

I expect various parties will do their utmost to water down this legislation so that an “electronic audit”, a journal file or a second copy of the database, will be sufficient.

To have any value at all the audit trail MUST printed in human readable form on PAPER, and visible to the person voting.

Tim Bruning says:


That isn’t even a summary
if he wanted to reply to this guys comments, why didn’t he just do it. why did he have to start a whole new thread. Someone must have made this guy upset.

i’m pretty sure that they already require audits. i don’t think this is anything really new, just adds a piece of paper to the process

TheDock22 says:

Re: Re: Funny

Okay, so Tim’s from an E-voting firm. But I agree with him about the summary. The author should have posted 90% of what he wrote in the orginal thread and not start a new one. And Boo on Techdirt for allowing this whole summary.

The other 10% makes a good point. If congress is getting involved, there’s a problem. Plus, I think paper voting kind of defeats the purpose of the E-Voting system. Plus, how would a piece of paper get worked into the system anyway? And we all know paper votes aren’t accurate and free of tampering (or user error *AHEM* Florida). Why make such a fuss over e-voting? It’s the new wave, we just need to get used to it.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Funny

Plus, I think paper voting kind of defeats the purpose of the E-Voting system. Plus, how would a piece of paper get worked into the system anyway? And we all know paper votes aren’t accurate and free of tampering (or user error *AHEM* Florida). Why make such a fuss over e-voting? It’s the new wave, we just need to get used to it.

This is all very clear in the descriptions of the system. The paper system is a verifiable audit trail. All it’s saying is that if you’re using an e-voting machine, there should be a way for (1) the person voting to check to make sure their vote was recorded properly and (2) a way to go back later and recount the votes. This is reasonable for an election.

I’m not sure why you’re confused about how the system works. It’s been described extensively in many places.

The most popular version has a simple printer and paper roll under a glass window in part of the machine. After you vote, it displays on the paper what it recorded as your vote and you indicate if it’s correct. There are, indeed, still problems with this system, but it’s a lot more trustworthy than before and has nothing to do with the butterfly ballots.

The reason people make a fuss about e-voting isn’t that they need to “just get used to it,” but because they want to know that their elections are fair and accurate.

Why is that a problem?

TheDock22 says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Funny

I have read the documentation. I thought that people could verify their votes before they submit, I’m actually shocked to find out they can’t.

Plus, I’m from Montana, we do not have E-voting and probably won’t for many years. I’ve never seen one, but I sure wish I have. It sounds really cool.

And nobody knows if their vote is really accurate nor if the election is fair. You just assume everything will be peachy after you hand over your ballot, never to lay eyes upon it again. Someone could easily make fake ballots and toss the real ones away, leaving no paper trail when an audit comes along. We just have to hope for the best.

Jo says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Funny

I am in complete agreement with Mike that a paper trail is an effective means of creating a verifiable audit and the concept is pretty simple.

I’m not sure why anyone would oppose a paper audit trail done correctly. But it isn’t as easy just throwing a paper roll on to a machine and everything will be perfect. There are several logistics to work out. First of all, how is it funded? Certainly our tax dollars will pay for it, but what seems like a small addition to the system is truly an expensive thing to do for local and state jurisdictions. What happens when the ink or paper runs out, what happens when the paper gets destroyed and the memory is the only thing intact, yet the election law says the paper rules all? These questions (and more) do have answers, we just need to decide on the best route.

The E-voting firms already have paper audit systems for their election equipment, and all the jurisdictions have the option to purchase and use it, although many have not and many are not, as of now, required to do so.

This is a very healthy debate, and Mike has, for the most part, done a great job at addressing some of the important points. I’m just trying to bring some perspective to the conversation; let’s not discourage different perspectives and opinions here, Mike.

MyNameIsMatt (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Funny

“Plus, I think paper voting kind of defeats the purpose of the E-Voting system. Plus, how would a piece of paper get worked into the system anyway?…It’s the new wave, we just need to get used to it.”

This’ll come off as offensive, and I’m sorry, but you’re an idiot who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. You shouldn’t speak out so definitively unless you know what you’re talking about (IMO). E-voting doesn’t have small problems that don’t really impact the voting process except on a few occasions. E-voting has huge problems that our old methods didn’t have. Why change a system that works for one that is SLIGHTLY more convenient, but with more flaws and much bigger flaws?

For a GREAT read on this issue you should read:
How to steal an election by hacking the vote

Primary and early e-voting problems point to gathering storm

TheDock22 says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Funny

This’ll come off as offensive, and I’m sorry, but you’re an idiot who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

The only thing offensive is you assuming I’m a man.

E-voting doesn’t have small problems that don’t really impact the voting process except on a few occasions. E-voting has huge problems that our old methods didn’t have. Why change a system that works for one that is SLIGHTLY more convenient, but with more flaws and much bigger flaws?

If we went by that assessment we would all be sitting around without electricity, I mean candles give good light and bulbs back then were only a slight improvement, and electricity can electrocute you and is bad for the environments (both huge flaws)

All I’m saying is there IS a way to make the system work, but I don’t think a paper audit is the most efficient way. And when they find the best way to audit, it’ll be a great advancement and more people will vote and voice their opinions.

MyNameIsMatt (user link) says:

Re: Funny

It’s not about requiring audits, it’s about having a system that’s actually audit able. Now, the paper trail could still be hacked, but it gives a definitive audit trail that in the case of the hardware being hacked, and the software being altered to cover it’s tracks (as has already been proven possible), once the paper trail is printed you can’t change those results like you can in software. So, if the voter verifies their paper trail too, then you’ve got a reasonable audit trail. Of course, there are still plenty of enormous problems because most audits wouldn’t require using the paper trail unless there is a special circumstance, so the smart hacker could steal the vote and even under suspicion, not force a paper audit.

If you really are from an e-voting firm as Mike says, then it’s really sad you’re fighting such a situation. The innovations required for a secure e-voting system aren’t that complicated right now because so many experts are covering the problems. The lack of desire to produce quality work is a rather saddening state to be in, especially when you’re working on something as important as voting. I don’t know, maybe you’re just too partisan to care, or you’re just too lazy to want to actually fix problems. Either way, it’s a sad state to be in.

Enrico Suarve says:

Re: Re: Funny

Damn good point

Tim/Jo/Whoever – If you are from an eVoting firm (come on Mike tell!) then your company stands to make money off this

Development of new systems/upgrades
Production, rollout and sales of new systems

This is like a money pit for you

So why the long face?

Just curious – this isn’t a conspiracy honest ;0)

dorpass says:

Re: Just to be clear...

What exactly is your problem with paper audit? You have not put forward a single reason why it’s a bad idea and did not propose an alternative either. I can deduce though, if you are against paper trail, that the only other option left is electronic audit of the electronic record… considering that it is questioned in the first place, how is that going to solve anything?

TheDock22 says:

Re: Re: Just to be clear...

I don’t really have a problem with it, it’s just expensive, like Jo said earlier. You have to buy the paper, the ink, the machines to do the printing, and pay people to deal with it. And after the paper records are useless, you have the cost of destroying all those records. Beside, if you want to get environmental, that’s a lot of tree for one election.

I think it would be fair to have an electronic audit process, as long as the program built to do the auditing is produced by a different vendor entirely. Hell, why not pay three companies to develop different audit programs and run all of them to verify the data’s integrity? Breaking into one system is chore enough, add enough different ways of auditing and it’s much harder to get around. Plus, have a computer run an electronic audit is much faster than paying all those people to shuffle through stacks of paper.

dorpass says:

Re: Re: Re: Just to be clear...

Environmental issues have nothing to do with this problem, neither does the expense. E-voting has been a huge financial drain and will continue to be so in the foreseeable future, how does that help?
And how do you suppose having electronic auditing systems going to work, if the ORIGINAL system is compromised? To make it work as you desire, not only will you need 3 systems, but they will need to operate in PARALLEL. So three independent systems by three vendors that are different yet can accept common input? At the time when one vendor cannot create a single working system? And weren’t you just talking about high costs and then introducing two more vendors into the equation and complicating design beyond reason?

Sorry, computer tested by a computer is laughable if you remember that the problem in the first places exists because a computer system cannot be implemented without glaring problems. Add one more and you got problems squared.

MyNameIsMatt (user link) says:

Re: Just to be clear...

I get your sentiment here. It’s kinda like we’re moving into a new century and our best hope is something from centuries ago. It won’t solve the bigger problems, but it can (possibly) solve one problem. That being once someone points to a voting location and say, “we need to recount there, and the computers look like they got something wrong.” This happens, and it happens more often then should be allowed, but without a paper trail you can’t do much.

The big problem is that the computers that are the voting machines can be hacked, and there are even cases where there were paper trails that the voter was supposed to verify, but no matter what she chose, she couldn’t get the vote she wanted (so she voted from someone she didn’t want). Also, the paper trail might come out right, but unless someone points at a voting district and says, “something’s fishy there. Look into it,” you’ll never know that the computer count doesn’t match the paper trail. The computer was compromised, but there wasn’t any reason to assume it was.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...