Schwarzenegger Gets First Hand Lesson In E-Voting Problems

from the well-that-was-useful dept

It's been a while since we've had any e-voting stories, but with Tuesday's special election in California, you had to know something would turn up. While the state of California had talked about banning all e-voting machines until they were proven to be secure and possessed a verifiable paper trail, it appears they're still in use. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger learned a bit about the issue directly when he went to vote, and the machine told him he'd already voted. Turns out that in "testing" the machine last month, a voting official put in the Governor's name as a test, and so the machine assumed he had voted. Of course, given his position, he was able to get it sorted out, but you have to imagine that others might not have been so lucky. It also makes you wonder if the machines were still counting the same tallies from whatever this "test" was last month.

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. identicon
    Bret McDanel, 9 Nov 2005 @ 2:18am


    This implies that test data was present when the system went live for voting. How many tests were run? How many fake names were used which skewed the results? I live in California, and like most people I know voted absentee, so I did not get to see or play with an E-voting machine ... I may revise my absentee policy in the future just so I can see one and play with it a bit. They may get upset if it takes me an hour to vote on 10 topics though :)
    However, I am more concerned with the fact that if his name was listed as 'already voted' are there any cast votes that were from testing that stayed with the name alone. The mere fact that no one checked to see if the system was purged prior to live voting reaffirms my belief in state workers and also causes me *great* concern.
    Less concerning was how does the system identify who already voted? It cant be simply by name, that would be far too easy to spoof, also what about the 50 John Smiths in a given district? So there must be more data, data which was accurately used for the test. Authentication information should be more than what is available from a page out of the phone book, although I fear given that the state put its best minds on this that it wasnt...
    Personally I have no problems with e-voting machines provided they do little more than reciept printing. You select the various different things you want to vote for, when you are finished you press 'print' and out pops a paper ballot with a machine readable *and* human readable information on what you voted for. That way it can be verified by the voter before stuffing in a ballot box. If it comes down to a handcount the human readable information can be used to verify results. This should remove all concerns that everyone has with the system, reduce failure rates with the reader systems (see florida for dangling chad issues) and generally make the voting experience better.
    But no one wants to make such a simple system, instead they want a network enabled black box that leaves no trail. While that may ultimately not be the worst thing, let the best geek win, in the short term I think that it will just cause more problems.

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

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Nov 2005 @ 2:29am

    No Subject Given

    Oh shit, we were supposed to vote today?

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

  3. identicon
    jeremiah, 9 Nov 2005 @ 3:57am


    What is this "voting" thing of which you speak?

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

  4. identicon
    Chris H, 9 Nov 2005 @ 4:50am

    No Subject Given

    From a programming perspective that is incredibly scary to see happen. Somebody F'd up BIG time and I'm sure they'll never know how extensive it is, unless the time of the vote is logged and they can dismiss entires made before a certain time period. But given this situation has happened I doubt there is anything like that in place.

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

  5. identicon
    Tim Kimrey, 9 Nov 2005 @ 4:57am

    Re: E-voting

    Over on this would get a 5 for insightful.
    I agree with your receipt idea all the way. I would even like to see the source code and data tables for this system.
    I just voted in Virginia via e-vote and it does come up with a confirmation screen at the end identifying your choice, but this is one case where I would like to have a paper receipt with time stamp on it.
    The thought that CA's system still had test data in it amazes me to an extent, but then again the criteria for government systems seem to be a bit different from that of corporate systems.

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

  6. identicon
    Matthew, 9 Nov 2005 @ 5:38am

    No Subject Given

    So you're telling me the thing goes by name alone and not something a little more secure like SSN or DL#???
    Are we sure these were put together by sane people?

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

  7. identicon
    Eduardo, 9 Nov 2005 @ 6:00am

    This is a incredible mess!!


    Have anybody there??? Anybody with, at least, two neuronious?????

    They make test at the same data behaviour of the real world??? They never had heard about "training" or "test" behaviour??

    What a big mess. And, please it's not a tech problem, be honest this is a low intelectual issue!!! Do not exist computer system able to solve it!!!

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

  8. identicon
    nonuser, 9 Nov 2005 @ 6:03am

    an achilles heel

    You can expect these systems to be modified almost continuously up til election day due to bureaucratic indecisiveness, political pressure, bug fixes, etc. So there has to be a backchannel to allow the developers and administrators to test the system. We all know a lot of money is at stake in most elections, and some people can be bought, while others have brilliant but twisted minds.
    I get somewhat of a warm fuzzy feeling when I see election officials carting away boxes of ballots from poll sites on TV. Obviously, paper ballots can be stuffed, but at least that can't be done from a laptop in an out of state hotel room ... you've got to have lots of people on the ground doing the dirty work.

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

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Nov 2005 @ 9:23am

    Re: E-voting

    I live in California, and like most people I know voted absentee...

    Same here, but I didn't vote absentee-- they were nice enough to give you a paper ballot upon request...

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

  10. identicon
    giafly, 9 Nov 2005 @ 11:45am

    Looks like those Testers "voted" Democrat

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

  11. identicon
    aReader(), 9 Nov 2005 @ 12:37pm

    Re: E-voting

    If your receipt indicates what you voted for, it will be un-democratic and probably unconstitutional as this can facilitate the "buying" of votes. If you are following Techdirt, requirement of a paper trail (and not a receipt) was debated so that votes can be tallied if required and the vendors did not agree to that. Slashdot had a comparision of e-voting machines in India vs USA and it turned out that machines in India were much more reliable as they are simple. They don't have any networking capabilities (no remote attacks) and have to be hauled to a central place to get the votes "out of it" - sounds rudimentary but worked liked a charm!

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

  12. identicon
    Alaric, 9 Nov 2005 @ 3:44pm

    Ban E-Voting

    E-voting is and will always represent a huge security threat. It should be banned. That is especially the case with existing solutions which have centralized tabulators which could easily be hacked.

    Democracy is worth waiting for counting and exit polls give us an idea of what happened well before that.

    The exit polls are proven, except interestingly enough when mr. bush runs. The latter says more than anything else. The UN Actually uses exit polls to monitor elections. Only in america are people dumb enough to think that a new and vulnerable technology (e-voting) is more reliable than something which is proven over DECADES. In any case, We can wait a day and we can use machine like we have here in NY State which have never had hanging chads, etc.

    Democracy is worth it. Ban them E-voting machines. By the way before someone starts calling me a lefty or something else let me make clear that i support the libertarian and constitution parties. I consider integrity of voting rather important and not a partisan issue.

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

  13. identicon
    Newob, 10 Nov 2005 @ 3:04am


    Human beings are strange animals. They can electronically reproduce sound and transfer it across the planet, but they can't figure out how to electronically count votes. How many megabytes are in a sound file, and how many votes could be counted if they were notes in a song? In a presidential election, the highest number of people possible of voting in the US is not 200 milllion, but a small collection of mp3s (say about 50 4-minute songs encoded at 128 kbps) will carry that many bytes easily. 200 megabyes is a drop in the bucket of peer-to-peer file sharing, and the same song can be copied over and over without any loss of information. In fact, the more copies of a song, the less possible that an incomplete or fake version of the song will be mistaken for it. We take for granted that robust decentralized information-sharing systems can indefinitely preseve information, but we store all our votes on single centralized computers, where simple errors can infect the whole count. We report the whole voting process from start to finish on TV like a sporting event, but leave the counting to official bodies that cannot be trusted to follow campaign finance laws; when it would be simple to allow anybody to download the votes and count them on their personal computers, or even their cell phones, where it would be easy to compare tallies with everybody else, and no play-by-play by the talking heads and pundits on TV would be necessary. Stupid humans.

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

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Nov 2005 @ 10:22am

    Re: Duh!

    One word explanation: corruption.

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

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: I Invented Email
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories


Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.