E-Voting Isn't Perfect, But It Takes Less Work to Corrupt Big Elections

from the O(1) dept

Thad Hall, a political scientist at Caltech, complains that e-voting critics rarely make apples-to-apples comparisons between electronic and paper voting systems. They contend that if traditional paper voting systems were subjected to the same kind of close scrutiny that e-voting endures, security experts would find flaws—ballot tampering, ballot box stuffing, and so forth—at least as serious as the problems commonly identified in touch-screen voting machines. Rice computer scientist Dan Wallach responds by pointing to a new paper he's written proposing an elegant way to think about the security of voting systems. Computer scientists use "big-O" notation to describe the complexity of algorithms. He suggests a similar terminology to describe the effort required to compromise voting systems as a function of the size of the election. A security flaw that can be compromised with an effort proportional to the number of voters N is said to be a O(N) flaw. A flaw that can be exploited with an effort proportional to the number of polling places is an O(P) flaw. A flaw that can be exploited with a constant amount of effort, regardless of the number of voters, is an O(1) flaw.

The last kind of attack is the most dangerous because it's feasible for a small number of people—perhaps even a single individual—to do a lot of damage. The reason paper-based elections tend to be better than touch-screen elections isn't that the former don't have flaws. The difference is that attacks against paper-based voting systems are far more likely to be O(N) or O(P)—that is, you have to tamper with a lot of ballots or corrupt a lot of poll workers. In contrast, because they contain re-programmable computers at their hearts, touch-screen voting systems are far more susceptible to O(1) attacks such as a custom-developed virus or a corrupt employee at the e-voting vendor. Because they allow a single individual to do extensive damage, they're much more dangerous than other kinds of attacks, even if carrying them out takes relatively more skill or effort than other attacks with O(P) or O(N) cost. The reason to prefer paper-based voting to touch-screen voting isn't that paper voting is flawless, but that the attacks against them are labor-intensive enough that it's difficult to carry out large-scale attacks without getting caught.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2008 @ 4:42pm

    touch-screen voting systems are far more susceptible to O(1) attacks such as a custom-developed virus or a corrupt employee at the e-voting vendor.

    Or just plain incompetence on the vendor's part.

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

  2. identicon
    Davidc, 3 Sep 2008 @ 4:45pm

    I remain firmly behind Oregon's vote by mail scantron ballots. No way to turn voters away from polling stations or influence a vote on any scale that matters. The ballots come in at varied times (whenever the voter puts it in the mail) so it would be extremely difficult to intercept and alter ballots on a scale that would be significant. Scantrons are something the everyone knows how to use at this point and its not confusing to anyone. I cant even come up with any issues we have had with our past few elections since Oregon started the program.

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

  3. icon
    slimcat (profile), 3 Sep 2008 @ 5:00pm


    Just seems like a lot of work to tell many people (I hope) what they already know by a little deductive reasoning.

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

  4. identicon
    Max Gomes, 3 Sep 2008 @ 5:25pm

    Already in use

    In Brazil this system is used for more than 15 years.

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

  5. identicon
    The Late Mayor Richard Daley, 3 Sep 2008 @ 6:09pm

    Memorandum from the Chicago political machine (1960)

    Chicago was doing this in the 60's...

    How to steal an election
    Vote early and vote often

    Our election get-out-the-vote effort was pioneered by Mayor Richard Daley in 1960 when he stole the election from Richard Nixon.

    1. Cemetery Voters: Read the obituaries every day. One must keep track of everyone who dies, so that they can be registered in the appropriate cemetery precinct. We have voters in the Mt. Olive Cemetery who have been voting for 100 years. Relatives will often assist as keeping the dead voter on the rolls also keeps the Social Security checks coming in. If you know of someone who used to live in Chicago and who died, they are still eligible to vote.

    2. Homeless Voters: Register the homeless at the Cook County Courthouse instead of General Delivery. All they have to do is hang out at the courthouse one day a year to claim residency. Then round them up and give them free cigarettes to vote. We used to give them bottles of wine, but they couldn't remember to vote our way.

    3. Nursing Home Voters: Early (or absentee) voting has greatly expanded our capabilities of increasing the turnout. Take bags full of early ballots to nursing homes, and get everyone in the home to vote...especially the Alzheimer's cases.

    4. College Students: College kids like to screw the system, and they'll vote more than once just for the sheer pleasure of it, especially kids at Catholic universities.

    5. Voters Who Have Moved: Voters who have moved often can vote in the precinct where they used to live, and then in their new precinct. They will not be on the rolls in the new precinct, so they'll vote a "Provisional Ballot." Not to worry. When the ballot is questioned after the election, we will have our political hacks permit the votes to be counted.

    6. Voters Passing Through O'Hare: Many votes can be obtained by soliciting voter registration at our airports. They are legally residents of Chicago, at least for a few minutes.

    7. Motor Voters: Take license plate numbers of out-of-state cars passing through on the freeways, run them through DMV to get their addresses, and automatically register them in Chicago. Then vote them. They won't know, since they actually live in Wyoming.

    8. Illegal Aliens: Some of our most reliable voters are the thousands of illegal aliens we have in the city. In exchange for not telling INS where they live or work, one can get a solid block of votes.

    9. Newborns: Our children are more and more precocious, so we register them at birth. Maternity wards are some of our best precincts.

    10. Recount The Votes: In the unlikely event our candidates don't win the first count, then demand a recount. Fill the recount room with loyal supporters, and tow away the cars belonging to the enemy. If you can't win a recount, then you are not a Chicago Democrat.

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

  6. identicon
    Enrico Suarve, 4 Sep 2008 @ 1:33am

    Diebold/Premiers 'Accidental' O(1) flaw...

    Diebold/Premier have confessed to a flaw which has apparently allowed votes to go missing for the last 10 years

    Sounds to me like they were basically forced to go public after Ohio election officials managed to get enough data to out them. Bear in mind that this is the same company which has persistently refused to hand over code, assist investigations etc even when presented with court orders in some cases

    Seems the conspiracy theorists were right about votes going missing after all... kinda makes me wonder if they were right about some of the other voting irregularities?

    eVoting - giving you the leaders you deserve since 2000

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

  7. identicon
    DS, 4 Sep 2008 @ 6:03am

    Bring back Ye-Olde mechanicial voting booth

    They worked great in New York for, gee, how many years, without any major scandal. No hanging chads, no double marks, and our old people keep their mouth shut if they are too stupid to figure out who to vote for. So if your handicapped you have to ask for help. I've never seen any blind or wheelchair bound person turned away from voting, turned down when they've asked for help, or beat up in the parking lot by someone that's helped them.

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

  8. identicon
    Overcast, 4 Sep 2008 @ 6:42am

    Diebold/Premier have confessed to a flaw

    It would only be a flaw if it was dropping votes that were *not* intended to be dropped - in otherwords.

    But what if they get paid to drop votes? After all, it's more profit - in the best interest of their stockholders (politicians) of course.

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

  9. identicon
    Overcast, 4 Sep 2008 @ 6:44am

    Bring back Ye-Olde mechanicial voting booth

    And yes, they need to - they keep pushing it and they'll bring back the "Ye-Olde Revolution"


    Sorry NWO types, you'll just have to work hard to fix the elections, when I vote this year, I will outright REFUSE to vote on a Diebold machine, even if I gotta' make a scene about it ;)

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

  10. identicon
    DannyB, 4 Sep 2008 @ 6:52am

    Purchased Election Solutions

    The O(1) effort may be the reason Diebold felt it could better market its systems by renaming the company to Purchased Election Solutions.

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

  11. identicon
    Phillip Vector, 4 Sep 2008 @ 10:31am


    I'll name a few issues for you seeing as how I hate the mail ballot.

    1) Loss of ballot in the mail. Either way. There have been several times when I simply haven't gotten a ballot, but my wife has at the same address. No idea if it got back to them.

    2) Homeless have a right to vote as well. Don't have an Oregon address? Sorry. You don't get a vote.

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

  12. identicon
    DS, 4 Sep 2008 @ 12:28pm


    Don't forget, it was not the so called "Neo-Cons" that started this whole mess. It was old people in Florida that ha NO IDEA how to A: Follow an arrow, or B: ONLY PUNCH ONE THING when a card tells you to ONLY PUNCH ONE THING. Not to mention to COMPLETELY punch out a hole, not some half punched, half not punched bullcrap. In the gross majority of ways to look at the rejected punchcards, Bush still won. It's only when you started counting ever single thing a count for Gore did he win. So when you're talking about the NWO types, you have to remember, they sit on both sides of the fence. Thought police is thought police, regardless if they are on the left or the right.

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

  13. identicon
    Nasch, 4 Sep 2008 @ 1:36pm

    Re: Re:

    3) If they're read, tallied, etc. by computer (sounds likely), they're vulnerable to these O(1) attacks like any other computer voting system.

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

  14. identicon
    Bettawrekonize, 16 Jul 2009 @ 9:16pm

    The elections are already corrupt and have been for a while. A book I recommend is "no debate" by George Farah.

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

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