(Mis)Uses of Technology

by Mike Masnick

More Missing Electronic Votes: Candidate Who Voted For Himself Gets Zero Votes

from the easier-to-spot-when-it's-small dept

Remember how the media was saying there were no major e-voting problems in last week's election, just because they hadn't seen any? Once again, the risk isn't in the problems you see, but the ones you can't see. Or, rather, the votes you can't see... or recount. We already pointed to Florida's missing votes, and now comes the news that there were missing votes in the Waldenburg, Arkansas mayoral race. How do we know? Well, candidate Randy Wooten got zero votes for mayor, and he claims he voted for himself (though, I have to admit that it's rather amusing that his wife, who noticed the zero votes, had to ask him if he voted for himself, as it sounds as though she did not vote for him). You can spot these sorts of problems when something like that happens in such a small population, but how would it have been spotted in a larger scale case?

Reader Comments (rss)

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  1. identicon
    Ricardo Friaz, Nov 13th, 2006 @ 12:37am


    This sounds extremely worrisome. What's a reasonable explanation for this? That he didn't vote for himself, by accident? Even if it was a bug, you just don't mess with voting, man.

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

  2. identicon
    Jerry Kew, Nov 13th, 2006 @ 12:58am

    Stainless Steel Rat

    it is the basis of the plot of Stainless Steel Rat for President

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

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 13th, 2006 @ 5:16am

    I'm all for high tech stuff, I am a techie by nature but should we really rely on technology when the technology has proved again and again to be faulty? The old system, as old and slow as it was, at the very least was reliable. No smartass programmer could tweak voting with a few lines of code and human error couldn't erase entire databases of votes.

    At the very least, don't use the technology until you can promise there will be the same level of discrepancies as the old method. Progress isn't progress if the new method is worse than the old.

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

  4. identicon
    Dave Basener, Nov 13th, 2006 @ 5:33am


    I, too, am a techie - software developer for 23 years and SysAdmin for 5. I love gadgets, I build robots...

    But with computerized voting I have to ask, "What problem are they trying to solve with it?" In my area we don't have any hanging chads, we blacken a circle using a technique familiar to anyone who has ever taken a standardized test - which is pretty much everyone. Our precinct has one of the highest voter turn-outs in Illinois and our votes are always counted before dawn the next day.

    A nearby township uses an e-voting mechanism which involves entering a 4-digit code number using a dial to position a backlit marker over your selection. Voting uses the same mechanism. During the day 3 of their 5 machines went dark and the preprogrammed cell phone to get tech help had the wrong number programmed into it.

    So again I have to ask "What problem are they trying to solve with computerized voting?" and, though I am not a dabbler in conspiracy theories, I have to answer, "We need them because without them it is too hard to steal an election."

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

  5. identicon
    krum, Nov 13th, 2006 @ 6:01am

    Hear hear...

    I, like the above commentera, am a huge techie and I have to agree that if it isn't broke, don't fix it. I live in Oregon and we not only have a ballot similar to an SAT test but we also vote by mail. It may have it's flaws but no one can argue with a big black circle next to your choice. Also, since we vote by mail, we receive our ballots a few weeks ahead of election day so you don't have to make time out of your Tuesday to vote and it gives the poll counters plenty of time to tally up the results. The feds should come up with a standard for all elections. Maybe not Oregon's way but some way that makes it easier and more accurate but with a paper trail as a backup. But I suppose that would make it too hard to rig an election and steal votes.

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

  6. identicon
    Dan, Nov 13th, 2006 @ 7:09am

    How good was the old system?

    Where is the proof that the old system didn't/doesn't have it's own set of flaws?

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

  7. identicon
    Wyndle, Nov 13th, 2006 @ 7:11am

    RE: Hear hear...

    I agree with the don't fix it if it isn't broke philosophy, however, there are many who say that "their" old method was broken (anyone seen Chad hanging around lately?). I second the idea of a standardized method but I know we'll run into a brick wall there. The Constitution was worded so that the Federal government could not tell the states how to hold their elections.

    While I am a tech junkie and a sysadmin for the past 8 years I firmly believe that e-voting in it's current form is nothing but mass voter fraud, intentional or not (if only we had the proof, right?). The systems as I understand them are so full of security holes that Bill Gates can finally say, "See, I told you it wasn't just me." I don't know how evil minded all of you other tech heads are, but I can think of a dozen scenarios per political party involving electronic manipulation of votes.

    I say pull out the printing press and mail out standardized bubble forms for a 100%, Nation-wide redo of the elections.

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

  8. identicon
    Republican Gun, Nov 13th, 2006 @ 7:12am

    Write in ballots

    Write ins are not counted(reported), unless a certain amount of them have be received. A write in for only one person will not report, but 5,000 write in votes for one person will report. It said something to that effect on my scantron ballot(which is the best way to vote).

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

  9. identicon
    Sam, Nov 13th, 2006 @ 7:35am

    Two thoughts

    I had two thoughts upon hearing this story the first time. One was the same you had - did his wife not vote for him? Next was whether he really did vote for himself. If you're know you're going to lose big why not skip voting for yourself. If you do lose big but have some votes, it doesn't matter. If you lose big but have no votes - claim you did and oh man what a scandal. You can get a second try and to top it off the town knows who would have won and appathetic (non)voters may show up for the runoff.

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

  10. identicon
    Ryan, Nov 13th, 2006 @ 7:43am


    there are some places where you just can't have technology. Sure it can work, but in some places you don't want technology.

    Voting is one. You want a paper trail so that anybody can verify things are legit.

    The lottery is another. Which do you think is more honest? Seeing the balls picked out of the bucket, or trusting a computer to pick 6 numbers (a computer that already knows the numbers existing on every ticket).

    It's the reason why games like Roulette, Craps, and Blackjack are popular. The player can see that it's not fixed.

    In my view, electronic voting machines are always a bad idea. I'm glad we had the paper ballots in Michigan, and I hope they stay that way.

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

  11. identicon
    Rust In Rivers, Nov 13th, 2006 @ 7:52am

    Just because i'm paranoid doesn't mean they're not

    As a software engineer with 10 years of experience, I think the idea of electronic voting is insane. (Especially one with no paper trail). If I don't trust code and computer systems only the naive in the general public are going to have faith in it. I preferred the giant metal mechanical lever pull systems. I thought they worked great and it takes quite a few well placed conspirators to pull fraud on a system like that. The primary motivation for electronic voting was to build more faith and confidence in the American voting system. On that measure electronic voting has failed miserably.

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

  12. identicon
    neum, Nov 13th, 2006 @ 7:56am

    God help me...

    I know where Waldenburg is. I used to drive through it on the way to college. All it is is a gas station, a bar, and a crappy steak place. It seems like with less than 100 votes, they could keep them straight.

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

  13. identicon
    Bob, Nov 13th, 2006 @ 7:57am

    Nothing wrong with technology just people

    I don't think there would be a problem using electronic voting if it were on the up and up. It's just too easy to have code written that will favor one person/party over another. ... and these days I don't trust politians at all. They are pawns of big business. We should only use paper ballots and even then the watchers need to be watched.

    Not trying to rant, but please be vigilant and aware.. it's your country.

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

  14. identicon
    Tashi, Nov 13th, 2006 @ 8:27am

    Electronic voting is so flawed, there is evidence to suggest that the concept of committing fraud backfired on the people that may have tried to commit it. So there's no guarantee that electronic voting will work at all, let alone work in a way one side wants it to. Without the proper metrics and testing (and transparency) in place that software (let alone voting software) development needs, there's no telling what anomalies will pop up.

    In a very interesting turn, proposition for light rail passed overwhelmingly in Kansas City after being turned down some 7 times. But city officials and the Transportation Authority were so surprised it did pass, that they are trying to take steps to actually block any and all development and funding now that it has passed. How ass backward is that? Government by the people, for the people? Apparently no, not even if you vote yes on it.

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

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 13th, 2006 @ 8:33am

    I'm a sysadmin geek. I love new gadgets and stuff. But I have a serious problem with trying to "fix" a problem before one exists. The only "fix" necessary for our voting system is to standardize the entire country on a single type of ballot system, one which has been proven reliable over the test of time (obviously not the hanging chad type, which is ridiculous in the first place). Going electronic with voting is so stupid and idiotic, words cannot express it. As we have already seen, it will cause WAY more problems than it will ever solve.

    The bottom line: "if it ain't broke, DON'T FIX IT!!!"

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

  16. identicon
    Rich, Nov 13th, 2006 @ 8:43am

    All voting is "electronic"

    Folks, just because you darken an oval with a pencil, doesn't mean it's not an electronic vote.

    What do you think happens to those "scantron" sheets? They get scanned by a machine (computer) and tallied into a database stored electronically on a... "Computer", which is then transmitted electronically to another computer for reporting.

    Where I voted they had both the old scantron and new "e-Voting" machines, but the pollworker I went to didn't even tell me I had a choice. The e-Vote machine was in the front corner and I didn't see it until I had already cast my scantron vote.

    I would rather have voted using the e-machine to support the concept.

    Lastly - I too voted for myself (write-in) and it didn't show up in the tally.

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

  17. identicon
    mojoworkin, Nov 13th, 2006 @ 8:46am

    still don't get it...

    Here's the real troublesome part: This guy probably can't even prove he voted for himself, as there is likely no paper backup.

    Even the crappy little s#!tbox liquor store on the corner can provide me with a reliable paper backup for my "choices" and even compute the change, so apparently the technology exists.

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

  18. identicon
    Fugita, Nov 13th, 2006 @ 8:52am

    Easy fix!

    Simple, fix for these issues is a national id card that is coded with a computer id format. Use that id to access the system and enter your vote. Since you are accounted for when you enter, you should have a vote in the system. And if the cards are smart cards you can have your voting history stored in the card as well. The card would not send any data out only take the data in and in the event of any type of issue it would be a simple matter of checking cards at random to verify there information in the database to see if they match. But no one ever thought of this idea because people in the US are to scared to get a National ID Card!

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

  19. identicon
    Ryan, Nov 13th, 2006 @ 9:03am

    bad idea

    so, if my card stores my votes... that means every other govt agency that requires me to provide this card (and they all will) gets access to my voting history? bad idea.

    Rich... I know they get counted by machine, but the good part is that the paper scantron sheets don't get destroyed... and they're marked with a pen (at least ever one i've used), so you can tell if they've been modified.

    That way, if anybody questions the results of the electronic machine, you still have all the papers with their ovals to back it up.

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

  20. identicon
    Brad Eleven, Nov 13th, 2006 @ 9:10am

    MSM is full of it

    These jerks don't have any better handle on "what's happening" (or even "what happened") than anyone else. Clue #1: Their broadcasts are composed of "stories", which are opinionated by definition. They do often stick to what actually is known to have happened, but then they keep talking!

    It's human nature to make up things about significant events with a lack of facts.

    Still think they're accurate? Notice how all of them, without exception, have been reporting that the Democratic Party holds a majority in the US Senate. Many of you reading this probably believe that this is true, to the point of swearing/affirming it in some formal setting.

    Now for the facts: The Republican Party has 49 elected Senators. The Democratic Party has 49 elected Senators. The remaining two Senators are Independents, who say they'll vote "with the Democrats".

    The proof that there is no such thing as "with the Democrats" is left as an exercise to the reader.

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

  21. identicon
    sairen, Nov 13th, 2006 @ 9:18am

    scantron vs. electronic

    Yes, true the scanned standardized-test-style sheets are computerized as well. But it isn't really "electronic voting" per se that has people up in arms. It's electronic voting without a paper trail. And of course, those scantron sheets are your paper trail.

    I think that style is the best compromise between electronic and paper. They don't have to be hand-counted by a human, making them fast, but there's a paper trail in case a human recount is necessary.

    I think I also heard of a case where the ballot was scanned/counted while the voter still stood there, and if any circles were inappropriately or unclearly marked (the equivalent of a hanging chad in this system, I guess) the ballot would be spit out and the voter would have a chance to remark it. No guessing required.

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

  22. identicon
    Press F1 to vote "Yes", Nov 13th, 2006 @ 9:44am

    Re: All voting is "electronic"

    So the scan is electronic, I have no problem with that. AND I have no problem with e-voting ...

    What I have a problem with is no paper trail. No discernible way to diagnose is a mistake has happened and no way to recount votes in the event that one has.

    Technology is not the problem here (although I agree with many about not fixing a non-problem), transparency, the ability to audit and trust are the problem.

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

  23. identicon
    Steve, Nov 13th, 2006 @ 10:39am

    Re: How good was the old system?

    The old system matched the exit polls more closely. I think on the dvd extras of Weapons of Mass Deception, it said exit pollers at some locations just gave up reporting results since the evoting machines reported such different results. I don't know how widespread the differences are, but at least the exit poll comparision is something empirical that we can trace.

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

  24. identicon
    lil'bit, Nov 14th, 2006 @ 3:52pm

    Re: Re: How good was the old system?

    Steve forgot to mention that exit polls are considered very accurate, accurate enough to be used to indicate voting fraud - at least in countries other than the US.

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

  25. identicon
    rev dr c.r.tillman, Jul 30th, 2008 @ 3:12pm

    can the mayor be elected with zero votes

    I believe that the mayor could be legally elected without one vote . he was the only qualified candidate so he wins! please give me your legal thoughts

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

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