E-Voting Undermines Public Confidence In Elections Even Without Evidence of Wrongdoing

from the conflict-of-interest dept

Are Republican operatives scheming to steal the election in Maryland this fall? Threat Level is reporting that the contract for transporting e-voting machines in the state has been contracted to a company whose president was the head of the state Republican party until 2006. I think the answer is almost certainly "no": while this certainly looks like a conflict of interest, I suspect it's no more than an honest oversight that will be quickly corrected. Still, it's troubling that we even have to worry about who transports voting machines. With ordinary paper ballots, it doesn't matter who transports them because there's nothing a moving company can do to undermine the election. But with e-voting machines, a moving company really could install malicious software that would undermine the election. And once an e-voting machines has been tampered with, there's no reliable mechanism for detecting the problem. Again, there's no evidence anything untoward has occurred in Maryland. But no matter who transports those e-voting machines, the public is being asked to take it on faith that they won't be tampered with. In a well-designed voting system, voters shouldn't have to take anyone's actions on faith. The entire process should be simple and transparent, so that anyone can observe it and verify that it was carried out correctly. The complexity and opacity of e-voting machines makes effective public scrutiny impossible, and so it's a bad idea even in the absence of specific evidence of wrongdoing.
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Filed Under: e-voting, maryland

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  1. identicon
    bzcat, 31 Jan 2008 @ 3:37pm

    The point of elections

    People think an election is when people say to those in power: “we trust person A” or “we want policy X”

    Watching election coverage on TV I don't blame them, but this is of course completely wrong. The point of elections is in fact the opposite.

    Elections is when those in power say to the people: “You want person A in charge... Well maybe personally you trust person B better but your friends, neighbors and even your family all want A, so we are going with person A.”

    This is precisely what president Bush said when he was (re)-elected*. He specifically said he had a mandate and would use it. And he did. He used his mandate by ignoring the Kyoto protocol, vetoing healthcare for poor sick children and allowing the GOP the let chemical plants that didn't want to pay for decent security fences of the hook... all pretty much universally unpopular stuff he figured rightly or wrongly he was entrusted to decide on.

    Its when president Bush says this that Kerry voters, (and “person B” voters all over the world) can do two things: A. Bring out the pitch forks, protest, complain and make lots of noise.... or B. Talk to their friends and neighbors about A and B using protected free speech... for four peaceful years.

    Needles to say, having credible evidence of how you neighbors voted helps in this decision. Electronic voting gives a result, but it doesn't give any evidence. None.

    Now many people will say “Pitchforks? you must be talking about crazy Kenya like stuff”. But westerners cant think its that crazy. Afterall, millions of American tax-dollars and European tax-Euro`s* went into funding the post election protests in the Ukraine and Georgia. And millions have been spend on organizing convincing elections afterward. And perhaps most important of all, lots of money *and time* has been spend on carefully monitoring these elections. (Of course these millions of dollars are nothing compared to the billions in foreign investment, oil pipelines and military bases that followed the election of so called "pro-western" parties)

    Those who spend the tax dollars care about convincing elections, at least when it comes to the Ukraine.

    So if the voters can't see the counting then there is not point in holding elections! You don't hold elections for the voters, or for those elected, you hold them for anyone who wants to observe them. The point of elections is watching your neighbors cast uncoerced votes and then seeing their votes, whether you like them or not.

    Its way more convenient and cheaper to hold lots of telephone opinion polls. If you hold big polls once a year or maybe once a month, doesn't that mean you listen to the electorate better and are therefor more democratic? Its way faster and cheaper than voting by mail, but its not that different.

    I am a software engineering student who specializes in embedded systems design and security. Even with all the JTAG debugging equipment and logic analyzers in the world I could not be sure of what I see going on inside a voting computer without asking voters what their vote is and keeping my own tally, possibly on a piece of paper.

    All I can say to electronic voters everywhere is don't leave me, my thirty classmates, the hundreds of other students at my school and the hundreds of thousands at schools like it alone with any voting or tabulation computer... even for a minute.

    With paper ballots the ballots are counted by the person you can see counting. With computer the votes are counted by the last programmer to touch the software. Do you even know the name of any of the supposed official DRE programmers? Replacing the software in an x-box or cell phone is harder than replacing it in all voting computer I have read about, which by now must be pretty much all of them. People crack x-boxes to play tens of dollars worth of pirated games and cell phones to get rid of annoying logo`s and expensive contracts all the time.

    *) After the supreme court decision the Florida counting went on. The last count done by the major media organizations found that under four ways of counting Kerry won the election!!!!! Also Bush won under four ways of counting ;-) Turns out it was in fact a dead tie ;-)

    *) Yes some European money didn't came from taxes but essentially from government slush funds with separate sets of books... thats besides the point.

    Requiring the use of paper ballots because "electronic systems are just too complex" is analogous to stating that we shouldn't use electronic wire transfers because paper money is the only verifiable means of currency transfer.

    If you want to pay someone anonymously without either party being able to repudiate the payment then paper money is the way to go. Ask any of the crypto guru`s. They have been trying to come up with ways of doing electronic cash for years. Wire transfers work because all parties can now all details, so the can disagree over the payment after the fact all they want without revealing who they are or how much they paid.

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