(Mis)Uses of Technology

by Mike Masnick

Can E-Voting Be Fixed? And, If So, Why Isn't Anyone Doing It?

from the some-suggestions dept

While there are some who still say that electronic voting serves no good purpose, there are others who believe that with some changes, e-voting could be reasonable to try out. Wired News has asked some of e-voting's biggest critics how they would build e-voting machines that were more trustworthy, and most of the ideas seem fairly reasonable. Of course, nothing would be completely hackproof or fraud-proof, but the suggestions Ed Felten and David Wagner make certainly seem not just to make sense, but like they should be the bare minimum that anyone designing an e-voting system would insist on. The system they describe isn't that complicated: a touchscreen machine that prints out a ballot that is handed in (so like filling out a regular ballot, but with the benefits of both a touch screen and a paper trail), no removable memory cards, simple e-voting software built from the ground up for that purpose (so other features aren't left over from old code) with the source code open and available for anyone to inspect. Also, have some sort of check to make sure that any software loaded onto a machine is the same as the code that was officially certified. These aren't huge monumental changes anyone is talking about... but it doesn't seem like any of the e-voting companies are interested in following through. Of course, it would seem like a huge opportunity for a company to step up and provide exactly this, as election officials who are getting beaten up over bad e-voting machines would (hopefully) be happy to embrace a solution even the experts were more comfortable with.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Rob, Oct 18th, 2006 @ 5:54pm

    relevant project

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

  2. identicon
    RantMax, Oct 18th, 2006 @ 6:23pm

    Hackproof == No vote privacy

    To hackproof it, we should all have private keys we plug-in during the vote, vote with the public key and erase the private key off the PC.

    For example, smart cards work this way (sort of).

    Then, when the voting day is over, random check of 1-2% of the votes is done "did you, Ann Marry Colbert, vote for republicans?" " yes, no"

    I can't see why people should hide who they voted for. The problem problem is in the secrecy and ill-understood need of vote privacy.

    If one's public announcement of his vote can have severe repercussions on his life, then what kind of democracy is it anyway?

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

  3. identicon
    zcat, Oct 18th, 2006 @ 7:16pm

    Completely hackproof voting is impossible, but electronic voting can be made as secure as paper votes simply by using paper;

    1) The voting machine records votes electronically, providing all the useful feedback, sanity checking and disability features that electronic voting can provide.

    2) At the end of the process a ballot is printed which is human-readable and can be verified by the voter (blind voters will have to take this on faith, but if the system has no way of telling blind from non-blind voters it won't be able to systematically alter votes without being detected.

    3) The ballot is posted into an optical scanner, providing the realtime results that only electronic voting can provide. From a computer-generated ballot rather than pencli-marked boxes, it should be trivial to tabulate with near 100% accuracy.

    4) The paper ballots _are_ the votes. The paper records are locked away, and the handling of them is monitored by volunteers from two or more involved parties, from the start of the election until the results are considered final.

    5) Immediately after the election a percentage of the results are randomly audited (manually, or by a completely different scanner). If there's any significant discrepancy whole electorate gets recounted, preferably at the expense of whoever manufactured the 'faulty' scanners.

    Open source? Cryptography? Reciepts? All totally irrelevent.

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

  4. identicon
    |333173|3|_||3, Oct 18th, 2006 @ 7:34pm

    Re: Hackproof == No vote privacy

    Actual;ly, if I was your boos and you vote for the other party, and I find out, so I think hey, I can just hint that I might fire you if you don't vote for my party. How would you feel if I just fired you for not voting the right way?

    THat is a large part of the reason for secret voting.

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

  5. identicon
    Hud, Oct 18th, 2006 @ 7:43pm

    You're kidding right? What's so hard to understand?

    The Republicans could only LOSE by fixing our chaotic votiing system - because they control the entire government. What's the incentive to change this?

    It's not a technical question. The Republicans wants to hang on to power and they don't give a crap if you want to vote about it.

    Get it?

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

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2006 @ 7:45pm

    Public Voting Records Can easily affect People's l

    Quote: "If one's public announcement of his vote can have severe repercussions on his life, then what kind of democracy is it anyway?"

    A person working under an elected position could have their life severely impacted by their vote being public record. For example in VA we have elected Sheriff's, the employees of this agency may vote for a new candidate rather than to re-elect their current boss. They may be happy overall with their job, but just want a few changes that the other candidate is offering. If they are to vote for the other candidate and the current Sheriff be re-elected, they could easily lose their job if this was public information.

    While this example is based on a local elected office, the same can be true for any elected posistion, all the way up to the President. A person does not have to vote for their boss in order to be a productive and faithful employee, but in order to maintain the respect of their employer they must have the right to privacy when it comes to the election.

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

  7. identicon
    evote, Oct 18th, 2006 @ 7:46pm

    Re: zcat

    Actually systems like this exist now and are being certified by for use as we speak. They create a human readable paper ballot using a touch screen. The optical scanner can read back the paper ballot so even the blind can have their vote verified. I believe they will be in common use in the next few years

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

  8. identicon
    naveen, Oct 18th, 2006 @ 8:37pm


    using boimeteric voting would be good. just take the finger reading of those who r eligible for voting andbe issued a voting card. on d-day, they boimeteric is scanned regularly and they have to electrincally vote and the answer is displayed back and they can change their answer once and if cancelled again; hteir vote remains cancelled.

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

  9. identicon
    Jossle, Oct 18th, 2006 @ 8:49pm

    Maybe it is all the debate about who or what caused the problems in the first place?

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

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2006 @ 10:01pm

    Fix the Fix?

    Can E-Voting Be Fixed? And, If So, Why Isn't Anyone Doing It?
    Well, obviously that would make it more difficult to "fix" election results. Generally speaking, people don't like to make things more difficult for themselves.

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

  11. icon
    Lonny Paul (profile), Oct 18th, 2006 @ 11:12pm


    They already have. Bush is in office, isn't he?

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

  12. identicon
    Randolph, Oct 19th, 2006 @ 12:54am

    Your votes don't count anyway

    How many of you actually think your vote counts? Unless you sit in the Electoral College, it doesn't matter how votes are made, or what technology is used. At the end of the day, you live in a Republic, not a Democracy.

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

  13. icon
    MadJo (profile), Oct 19th, 2006 @ 5:11am

    Re: Your votes don't count anyway

    It's not just in the USA that this is a hot issue.

    Here in The Netherlands we have exactly the same issue, and recently in Belgium there were a few strange happenings with e-voting machines.
    Germany is also recalling some of their e-voting machines (the ones made by NEDAP).

    E-voting as it is right now, is unclear, unsafe, and undemocratic.
    The government can't say for 100% certain that the results that come out of the vote-booth are really what the people voted, because there is no transparency.

    With the paper-trail at least you have a failsafe, and a way to check the results of the e-voting system in case of requested recounts.

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

  14. identicon
    Myself, Oct 19th, 2006 @ 6:03am

    That sure is a loaded word..

    You meant "repaired" but I read "rigged". Or did you mean "neutered"?

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

  15. icon
    ConceptJunkie (profile), Oct 19th, 2006 @ 7:50am

    Re: Hackproof == No vote privacy

    Because the moment people know who you voted for, campaigning becomes that much uglier. You can register with a party if you like, but that doesn't force you to vote that way.

    Let's say you are a registered Republican and want to vote for a Democrat this fall. Would you want the Republicans knowing that and spamming or Karl Rove calling you wanting to know why you betrayed them, and how by voting Democrats, you are contributing to making cannibalism legal and asking you if you are strapping explosives to yourself? I know I wouldn't.

    Similarly, if you voted Republican in a very close race that kept the Democrats from taking the House this fall, would you want Howard Dean calling you and screaming, or reprimanding you for voting to make rape legal and contributing to the torture of Barbra Streisand in Guantanamo. (Well, OK, I would like that, but assume it's someone who didn't deserve it.)

    That there would be repercussions from knowing who you voted for doesn't mean there's something wrong with the system or the country. And to top it off, there is lots wrong with the system and the country.

    Verifying who voted for whom isn't necessary, but a paper trail is and the electronic voting drive is contributing to an increasing level of distrust in the election system which, to me, is far more dangerous than Republicans robbing us of our rights or Democrats selling us out to terrorists or the French.

    It was said that Nixon chose not to contest the 1960 election because of the unrest it would cause and that it would damage people's trust in the system. While I don't know if that's true or not, I could believe that politicians from 40 or 50 years ago would make that decision. Nowadays, either party would gleefully jeopardize the whole system to gain an advantage over the other. The NY Times is already predicting mass chaos in those states that are implementing e-Voting, and while it might be the NYT just fomenting unrest, or trying to hedge the Democrats' bets, or that they really believe this will happen, either possibility is equally bad. Both parties are doing everything they can to give people the feeling their votes don't count. I can imagine that if recent national elections had gone differently, the parties' roles would have been completely reversed, and while I believe that the Rule of Law ultimately won in Florida in 2000, it wasn't because the Republicans were pure of heart and the Democrats were trying to steal the election (or the other way around), but merely that by following the poorly-thought-out but established rules, the Republicans won and it was to their advantage to argue that way.

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

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 19th, 2006 @ 7:52am

    Re: Your votes don't count anyway

    Thinking like this is ridiculous. My vote counts for everything, but the president and in Maine and Nebraska(I think), their vote counts for him too. Do you know why? Because they break their electoral vote up among the districts won by each candidate. 10 districts vote bush and 10 districts vote Kerry, then 1/2 of the electoral votes go to each candidate.

    BTW, even if my vote for President doesn't count, I can still stymie the office by who I vote for in Congress. The point is that a few states should not be able to dictate the direction of the country. I have worked this out and given populations, New York and California would rule elections. Between the two, they would override 28 select states worth of votes, going by population.

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

  17. icon
    ConceptJunkie (profile), Oct 19th, 2006 @ 7:53am


    You could argue that Democrats are the ones fomenting distrust of the system because they simply can't win elections.

    Stop being so partisan and admit that both sides are corrupt. It's the only conclusion that makes sense.

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

  18. identicon
    ehrichweiss, Oct 19th, 2006 @ 8:05am

    Re: Hackproof == No vote privacy

    My mother worked for the county clerk and office politics would get you fired if they found out you voted against someone they liked. Other non-government workplaces have the same attitude AND in many places they can fire you for whatever reason they want and don't have to state any reason so the point is moot if you wanted to sue.

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

  19. identicon
    tek'a, Oct 19th, 2006 @ 11:57am

    glood and doom

    for all you folks crying about the possible abuses of "what if my employer asks who I voted for!" you could do what people do daily, when their employer does anything. sue.

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

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