(Mis)Uses of Technology

by Mike Masnick

Maryland Governor Wants To Scrap E-Voting Machines; Go All Paper For The Election

from the not-a-partisan-thing dept

Following all the problems (both technical and human) in last week's primaries in Maryland, combined with the rather damning report on the security of the machines put out by Ed Felten (which Diebold has responded weakly to, making all sorts of claims that don't refute anything Felten put in the paper), Maryland's Governor, Robert Ehrlich is calling for the state to scrap all of the e-voting machines for the November election and focus on paper ballots. This comes as even more problems were found with the electronic voting machines used in the election. Of course, the head of the Elections Board and the state Senate President are fighting against this plan, saying that they can "correct" the problems with the machines. That would be impressive, considering just how many problems have been found with Diebold e-voting machines over the years, and the company's blatant unwillingness to deal with them.

The rationale for keeping the machines also leaves us scratching our heads: "We paid millions. These are state-of-the-art machines." Two responses: The evidence is pretty clear that these are not state of the art machines. They're badly made, with ridiculously weak security, and a company behind them that bullies its critics, blatantly misleads in its responses to security problems and cracks jokes about their weak security when confronted. Therefore, it really doesn't matter how many millions you spent on them, the machines are a problem. The Senate President also accused Ehrlich of simply using this issue as a political ploy to rally his supporters. By the way, for those of you who want to believe e-voting is simply a big Republican conspiracy (based on some offhand remarks by Diebold's former chief), we should note that Ehrlich (who wants to scrap the machine) is a Republican, and the folks who want to keep the machines are Democrats. So, once again, we'll note that this is not a partisan issue. It's an issue about having secure, fair and accurate voting.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    JackR, Sep 21st, 2006 @ 3:16am

    Nice to see

    Well, at least someone is taking a stand. Of course, there's a lot more to clean up than just the voting machines.

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

  2. identicon
    Tek'a, Sep 21st, 2006 @ 3:31am

    it still..

    it still nearly boggles the mind.

    Diebold makes ATMs. expensive, secure machines that work remotly with banks and credit unions and such. there is a good deal of money riding on the assumption that these machines are secure and dependable. sometimes there Are problems, sure, though most often its with information being intercepted or spoofed between the machines and the aformentioned far-off servers and banks. these problems are tracked down best as possible and smushed.

    Diebold also makes some E-Voting machines. they are probably as expensive as an ATM, or easily more. they seem unable to provide a dependable link with remote systems that could help assure accuracy. they are not physically secure. their dependabilty is questioned, because of repeated damning flaws. when there is a trouble in the system, it is ignored, covered up, called a feature while the physical hardware of the machines is just as buggy as some code.

    the ATM in my store may see 50 to 100 visitors a day. sometimes more. it has not needed a service call in over a year (traced to a corroded connection in the network plug).
    how many user in an election for a machine? how many elections using it per year?not sure myself, but why are there reports of such hardware failure, malfunction and difficulties?

    its the same company, right? why is the security of joe blow taking out a couple $20s to buy girly mags more effective and reliable then my ability to cast a vote?

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

  3. identicon
    Jon, Sep 21st, 2006 @ 5:11am

    One thing you failed to mention

    I heard about this on NPR this morning. Maryland law actually requires electronic voting machines, so ditching them for this election would require a special session of Maryland's lawmaking body.

    Not to say that a valid election isn't worth a special session, but it's not quite as simple as just abandoning the voting machines.

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

  4. identicon
    Greg, Sep 21st, 2006 @ 5:39am

    Yeah Bob Ehrlich. I might actually register to vote this year, because you are awesome.

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

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 21st, 2006 @ 5:50am

    It's about the standard ...

    The problem is that our governments (local and federal) are unwilling to hold corporate vendors to the same standards as financial institutions, research organizations, NASA and others. Places where accuracy is of the utmost importance. Is that not also true of our voting system?

    Do you think that a financial institution would buy an ATM from Diebold that had the same weak security and accounting flaws as these voting machines? Absolutely not. Losing even a penny on the billions of transactions that take place daily would result in substantial losses.

    But our government(s) have a history of investing millions, even billions in technology and not holding the vendor(s) to high professional standards.

    I love technology, but only when it works properly. Otherwise, it's simply a time-wasting nuisance. I'll be voting via absentee ballot this November - whether I'm travelling or not - just to make sure it's down on paper.

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

  6. identicon
    Robert, Sep 21st, 2006 @ 5:52am

    Tommy Boy

    "Because they know all they solda ya was a guaranteed piece of shit. That's all it is. Hey, if you want me to take a dump in a box and mark it guaranteed, I will. I got spare time. But for right now, for your sake, for your daughter's sake, ya might wanna think about buying a quality item from me. "

    Just becuase you spend millions of dollars on a system does not mean anything. A good salesman can sell ice to Eskamos. An example of this is when I was in high school, the local school district here in Maryland bought a program called locksmith for all the PCs in the school. I cracked the program in a little over five minutes. The Superintendent of the County came to the school to see how I did it. She just couldn't let go of a simple fact that they had spent millions on this program and that it could be defeated by a freshman in high school. Simply stated:

    Cost does not equal quality.

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

  7. identicon
    Brian, Sep 21st, 2006 @ 5:55am

    Human Error

    An important distinction to make here:
    The problems that occurred with the machines that voters actually use to vote were almost exclusively caused by human error, in this case, the election officials not showing up on time, or not packing the activation cards in the right kit, or not getting the memory cards afterward.
    The technical problems that occurred were with the electronic poll books, that is, the computers used to check off that person X arrived and voted at station A, and should not be permitted to vote at station B, C or D. These machines are the buggy ones, and the ones which did not reliably transmit data to other stations to prevent double voting. It seems to me that putting paper poll books back in action would not require a special session to change the law, and would be a prudent move.
    All that having been said, the arguments by Maryland officials are ludicrous and hypocritical. In the one case, they say that swapping out systems 7 weeks before the general election is "crazy," but they felt it was okay to buy these electronic poll books in July for the September election. Let's do the math, that's, um, about 7 weeks!
    And to be completely honest, I don't think the recent Felten revelations had anything to do with this. The governor doesn't really mention this report, and seems focused on what went wrong on Election Day, not any academic reports.

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

  8. identicon
    Scott, Sep 21st, 2006 @ 6:06am

    Re: it still..

    There is really no privacy in an ATM, the trail that points back to every transaction is absolutely mind boggling.

    Voting is not supposed to be able to be tracked back to an account, then to a location, then to a machine, then to a card, by date and time, all with a PIN.

    Think about it.

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

  9. icon
    chris (profile), Sep 21st, 2006 @ 6:19am

    uhh, you can't do that

    just how are these elections going to be tipped into someone's favor if the whole process is open for review by anyone? paper votes are hard to manipulate because there are so many of them. if you want to make 10,000 votes disappear, you have to load them in a truck or something, rather than just hitting the delete key.

    the whole point of using machines is to put the ability to review the validity of the voting results in the hands of the incumbent party. if you stop using machines, where minority distrcticts (the people who always vote for the wrong guy) are just a bunch of rows in a database, then rigging elections becomes very difficult.

    when are you hippies going to realize that there are more important things than having everyone's votes count? the only important votes are those that maintain the status quo.

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

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 21st, 2006 @ 6:46am

    Re: uhh, you can't do that

    You know this is the most disorganized, uneducated statement I have ever seen on TechDirt. That is saying a lot.

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

  11. identicon
    Celes, Sep 21st, 2006 @ 7:30am

    Re: Human Error

    But I must add that going back to paper ballots may eliminate a lot of that human error.

    In the Maryland polling place where I vote, many of the workers are little old ladies and gents who don't seem to have a good grasp on the technology or requirements of the e-voting machines. They understand paper ballots. One solution is to re-train the poll workers, but that will take time (and almost certainly longer than 7 weeks, judging by their current average competence level). The other solution is to go back to the system that the workers understand.

    I think paper ballots are a good idea, if only for this one election. By the time the next election rolls around, it's possible that everyone will be competent enough to go back to electronic voting (technical problems with the machines notwithstanding).

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

  12. identicon
    ebrke, Sep 21st, 2006 @ 8:21am


    What is most worrisome is that the election officials and the Maryland senate president feel that a few million dollars are more important than a voting system that can be trusted by the citizens of this country. Good for the governor, I hope he holds firm on this. This is not a partisan issue--anyone who believes it is needs their head examined. This can operate with devastating effect on the local level as well as the national level.

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

  13. identicon
    David, Sep 21st, 2006 @ 8:26am

    To #9...

    Wow, just wow. The only important votes are those that maintain the status quo? Why vote? Let's just have someone else come up with whatever the status quo should be, and go from there? Sounds good to you? Idiot.

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

  14. identicon
    Jon, Sep 21st, 2006 @ 8:50am

    Re: uhh, you can't do that

    I'm pretty sure comment #9 was tongue-in-cheek. That is, a joke.

    And if it wasn't a joke, it was a troll.

    In either case, nothing to get worked up about.

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

  15. identicon
    Matt Bennett, Sep 21st, 2006 @ 8:51am

    I've always said the e-voting has really been pushed by democrats. Y'know, the whole thinking '04 was "robbed" from them by hanging chads, and somehow e-voting would fix that. Neither was true.

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

  16. identicon
    Jimbo, Sep 21st, 2006 @ 8:53am

    I can't keep up with Techdirt spin machine.

    When a Republican "does it" (corruption, theft, potential voting fraud etc.) it's just another example of all policiticans are corrupt. When a Democrat "does it" great pains are taken to show how the Democrats are the "bad guys". Brilliant.

    I have no idea what the politics of the State of Maryland are. Regardless, Diebold is deep in the pockets of the Republican Party and (surprise) every single example of potential vote fraud that could occur with these machines benefit the Republiicans - except for this one apparently, so cleary according to TechDirt everybody is guilty.

    But by definition the ONLY party that could possibly lose if votes were counted fairly and accurately is the PARTY THAT CONTROLS THE ENTIRE US GOVERNMENT. So what is the Republican incentive to do this?

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

  17. identicon
    Franssu, Sep 21st, 2006 @ 9:04am


    Well, voting in the US seems really a complex affair. E-voting, punch cards... You really love to make simple things complicated, it seems.

    In France, the system is as follows:
    Voter enters in station. Somebody verifies he's on the list. There is a stack of envelopes, and one stack of ballots per candidate. Voter takes one ballot of each stack and one envelope. Voter goes to booth, and puts the ballot of his candidate of choice into the envelope, and keeps other ballots in his pockets to throw them away. Voter gets out of booth, and puts the envelope into a box, signs his name in the list, end of story.

    Counting does take time, but every voting station finds volunteers for that. Representatives of each party are here to make sure everything goes smoothly. And we get national results in the hours following the end of the vote.

    So, please tell me, who the hell needs fracking machines to count votes ?

    And if there are no volunteers to take care of democracy by opening the envelopes and counting the ballots, then maybe you just don't deserve democracy after all.

    End of ranting.

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

  18. icon
    Nick Burns (profile), Sep 21st, 2006 @ 9:45am

    Diebold is still attacking their critics

    "We're secure! We're secure!" Saying so, doesn't make it so: Diebold says e-voting hardware secure, critics off base

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

  19. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 21st, 2006 @ 9:53am

    "It's an issue about having secure, fair and accurate voting."

    Accurate voting with paper? Isn't that what was used in the previous elections is Florida that led to the complaints of voter fraud? Just how secure, fair, and accurate are the results going to be if they state has to scrap the current system and come up with something else in less than 50 days? I do not belong to any party, but I usually vote for Republican candidates. I don't care if the Governor is a Republican, switching to paper at this point will cause more problems that it would solve.

    I have yet to see any reports where a security flaw was found before an election, that was not corrected by the time of the election. If there is no known method to exploit a flaw at the time of use, that sounds secure to me.

    BTW, I voted for Clinton when he was first elected president, and I voted for Bush both times. I am glad to see a report on the other side where it is the Democrats that want to keep the e-voting.

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

  20. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 21st, 2006 @ 10:03am

    Re: it still..

    As long as Tek'a is comparing the security of ATMs to e-voting machines, has she read this article?

    Reprogramming Your ATM For Fun And For Profit (Mainly For Profit)

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

  21. identicon
    Jimbo, Sep 21st, 2006 @ 10:14am


    It isn't an inherent American love of complexity that makes voting difficult in the US - it's political power and contempt for the minority viewpoint that does.

    As I said, the Republicans (the party) are in complete control of the federal government and they have a vested interest in maintaining the system as it is. Period.

    Republicans (the average Republican voter that is) simply don't care that system is unfair and corrupt and doesn't represent the needs or desires of other, non-Republican Americans.

    Whether that itself makes us undeserving of democracy is an open question.

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

  22. identicon
    Michael Dwyer, Sep 21st, 2006 @ 10:49am

    Re: Voting in France

    The problem with that method of voting is that it allows one to sell their vote. In other words, you could walk out of the polling station, and show the challenger's card to someone as prooif that you voted for the other guy. Then, you would be paid in some way. Maybe a few dollars. Maybe someone won't kill your family. Either way, you couldn't vote privately.

    The idea is that if the Democrats bring in a busload of homeless people to vote, there isn't nothing to say that those people must vote Democrat.

    Same thing with the ATM/voting machine comparison. Yes, they should have a paper trail. However, the paper trail must be such that you cannot tell how an individual voter voted. You don't get a receipt that shows your votes.

    I think you could do this by having the voting machine print out your vote on a card. You can then visually inspect the card (behind glass). If you okay the card, it drops into a secured box. If you reject it, it goes into a reject bin.

    At the end of the election, you check the counts on the computer. If there are doubts as to the validity of the counts, you can open the sealed boxes and count the votes manually. They should match identically.

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

  23. identicon
    BobbyBoy, Sep 21st, 2006 @ 10:58am

    To Matt Bennet

    The thinking wasn't that '04 was robbed by the chad. 2000 was robbed by the chad, and '04 was robbed by people thinking that moral values are more important reasons to vote for a president than the economic welfare of our country, our growing debt, our educational crisis, our horrible image and hubris with regards to the international community, our failure to find success in Afghanistan, our failure to secure Iraq, our failure to find Bin Laden, the out-of-control lobbying by special interest groups whose interests do not match those of the country, our healthcare crisis, our worker wage crisis, our energy crisis, our border crisis... did I forget anything? Oh yeah, and people can't stand rich ketchup heiresses.

    But then again... our country will be destroyed in a matter of moments if Richard Simmons were to get a legally sanctioned marriage, or if we weren't allowed to put the Ten Commandments up on a courthouse, or if people start believing in "scientific" theories such as evolution.

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

  24. identicon
    Check the Roll, Sep 21st, 2006 @ 11:30am

    Once again Mr. Rubin and the other naysayers in this country are doing their best to discredit the entire technology industry with the latest doomsday warning about touch screen voting. When is this group going to 1) show proof that an election HAS been corrupted by these terrible security flaws in the machines, and 2) proved that no election to date using the "old fashioned" method of paper ballots was NOT corrupted?? In both cases, the side of the equation that has been so terribly missing is the HUMAN intervention required to grant access to machines or paper ballots.

    I say NO SYSTEM IS HUMAN PROOF! If idiotic county officials are granting the bad guys access to any voting system we cannot assume the resulting election is anything but corrupt.

    Oh, and one other comment: If we want to look at the Maryland problems where "little old ladies and men" just can't catch on to this new fangled computer voting machine, did anyone ever have a thought that maybe they also have trouble counting or seeing marks on a paper ballot? Would this in any small way affect the outcome of an election??? You know, maybe it's time these folks became ex-poll workers!

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

  25. identicon
    eskayp, Sep 21st, 2006 @ 11:36am

    Re: Tommy Boy

    Tommy Boy:
    Are you saying that the adage
    "You get what you pay for"
    that is so popular with upscale vendors
    could possibly be untrue?
    Please, -- say it isn't so!

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

  26. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 21st, 2006 @ 12:14pm

    to the guy responding to the french voting practices.

    who's to say you don't take a camera phone into the voting booth, and snap a picture of the final ballot? there's proof you voted for the guy.

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

  27. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 21st, 2006 @ 12:57pm

    French people only vote for one thing?

    In the last major election there were at least 30 different races or issues to be voted on (governor, lieut. governor, state senator, United States senator, state rep., U.S. Rep., state and county auditors, state and county treasurers, sheriff, several judges, city manager, city council, and many more positions I can't even remember and probably don't matter). In some races there were was many as 7 candidates. Even if for each item on the ballot there was an average of only 3 options, that would be 90 stacks of paper. That would be entirely too difficult to keep track of for the voters, and to ensure that people don't vote for 2 candidates.

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

  28. identicon
    Dan, Sep 21st, 2006 @ 1:20pm

    ATM != voting machine

    Diebold bought the voting machine technology from another company, and the ATM and voting machine divisions are totally separate. Equating the quality of their ATM technology with the quality of their voting machine technology makes no sense because they're worked on by different people using different technologies and different software under different management. If ATMs were this crappy and insecure, the public would be outraged.

    It's been demonstrated to death that Diebold machines are insecure, unreliable junk. Diebold has yet to make a single convincing argument to refute any of it, and they've had years to do so.

    Governor Ehrlich has the right idea. Maryland should use paper votes if it's more reliable, and further they should probably sue Diebold for the cost of the garbage machines.

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

  29. identicon
    ogman, Sep 22nd, 2006 @ 6:55pm


    Yeah, well I HAVE registered to vote, against Bob Ehrlich, the worthless jerk. He's the one who wanted the damned machines so bad in the first place, and whined about all the reports that said they were insecure. Talk about a flip-flopper!

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

  30. identicon
    Kim W, Oct 27th, 2006 @ 11:47am


    I agree! Bob Ehrlich is the biggest a-hole I have ever seen. HE is the reason I am a democrat now! Talk about flip-flopping. How can you tell Bob Ehlrich is lying - when he's breathing!

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

  31. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 31st, 2006 @ 7:49pm


    Bob Ehrlich is Not going to win.

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

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