Could It Be? Congress Actually Wants To Do The Right Thing On Electronic Voting!

from the please-make-it-happen dept

One of the topics we've talked about longer than any other topic on Techdirt is the problems with basically all electronic voting systems out there. Remember the good old days of Diebold, the well known voting machine maker? We wrote dozens of stories about its insecure machines starting back in 2003 and continued to write about the problems of electronic voting machines for years and years and years. We've gone through four Presidential elections since then and lots and lots of other elections -- and while the security on e-voting machines has improved, it hasn't improved that much and still is subject to all sorts of risks and questions. And those questions only serve to make people question the legitimacy of election results.

And, for all those years, it appeared that basically no one in Congress seemed to have any interest in actually doing anything. Until now. A new bipartisan bill has been introduced, called the Secure Elections Act, that would actually target insecure e-voting machines. The ideas in the bill are not revolutionary -- they're just what almost all computer security professionals have been calling for since we first started writing about e-voting machines all those many years ago, namely:

  1. Strongly encourage states to get rid of paperless e-voting machines so that there is a verifiable paper trail that can be checked to make sure the electronic votes were counted accurately.
  2. Do post-election audits of the machines to make sure that the machines accurately counted votes (i.e., not just in recount situations).
There's more in there as well, including a lot about information sharing on possible cybersecurity threats, which could be potentially quite useful, since elections are not run in any centralized way, but with locals (who often don't have much in the way of computer security knowledge) handling the details. This bill could help standardize some pretty key security practices that would make sure that the machines are safer and that the votes are more credible.

While some have raised concerns about the costs of getting rid of the older e-voting machines, the bill also allows for a grant-making process to help election agencies make this work -- and, really, the cost of botching elections seems like a bigger deal to me. The bill doesn't force states to get rid of the old machines (which Congress probably doesn't have the authority to do...), but does certainly give plenty of incentives (i.e. $$$$) for states to do the right thing.

The article (linked above) over at Ars Technica quotes a few e-voting system experts who are excited about the bill, but note that Congress should act fast if it wants states to actually follow through by the next election. And, of course, Congress is not exactly known for acting quickly. Still, this is a rare instance where it seems to have (finally) figured out how to take on an important issue and to do so intelligently.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Jan 2018 @ 4:14pm

    There's ZERO need for Electronic Voting Machines. You generally pull these things out every other year. So they get very little use and get old fast and cost a lot of money. In the end, you still need a paper trail. So what is the point of them?

    I used one of those machines for 1 year here in CA and never saw it again. Instead, we do the Fill in the Bubbles. On sheets that look just like the sample ballot you get in the mail. So it matches. So you can bring in your sample and just copy everything over easily. You're not using a #2 pencil, you're using a Pen.

    There's no computer tampering. There's no Hanging CHAD. Most people grew up taking tests like this many times throughout school. It's about as simple and idiot proof you can get. When you're done filling the 1 or 2 sheets out, you slid it into the locked machine yourself which scans it and adds the votes up. You have a real PAPER record of every single vote.

    I would also be int making people put their finger into Ink when done so they don't go getting bussed around voting 2, 3 or more times!!! Since the having ID is for whatever reason such a bad thing. The poor people after all, even though they need ID to get all the Government handouts. So let's go with the INK!!! Ink my finger!!!

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Jan 2018 @ 8:34pm

      Re:

      "I would also be int making people put their finger into Ink when done so they don't go getting bussed around voting 2, 3 or more times!!!"

      Aww, you were on such a roll, too.

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

  • icon
    UniKyrn (profile), 4 Jan 2018 @ 4:19pm

    I first heard the name Diebold in the 80's, when they made ATM's we had to interface with. The ATM's were of questionable quality, so when the split off the Election Systems group, well, I didn't think they'd just dumped the best of their engineers into that group.

    There is a reason they don't want you looking at the source code for their products.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Jan 2018 @ 5:04pm

    trump's election musta really scared congressional pols -they wanna make sure that don't happen again

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Jan 2018 @ 7:59pm

    "get rid of paperless e-voting machines"

    This is great, actually.

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

  • icon
    orbitalinsertion (profile), 4 Jan 2018 @ 10:12pm

    And what do we do about 1) making sure "new" machines are any better, and 2) only better machines may be purchased with the incentives?

    Of course they could save a lot of money, increase efficiency, and increase security, simply by using the damn optical scan paper ballots.

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

  • icon
    tweetiepooh (profile), 5 Jan 2018 @ 3:38am

    Cross in box system

    What's wrong with the put your mark next to the candidate system we use in the UK. Unless arranged before hand you can only vote in your "registered" polling station and you name is ticked off when you collect your voting paper.

    You go to a poll cubicle, make your mark then put the paper in the right box. (We do sometimes have multiple polls same day, usually different colour papers in different boxes.)

    When polls close the papers are taken to a counting station and after counting the results are posted. In my area we did have a situation with multiple counts when the difference between the 2 leading candidates was down to single votes. Papers are checked if needed. Observers are present at stations and count. These are mostly volunteers.

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

  • identicon
    a noncoward, 5 Jan 2018 @ 3:49am

    Voting Machines

    I was asked to lightly audit a set of voting machines about a decade back. By lightly, I mean I was not allowed to actually lay into a pen test, but was offered a full cradle to grave assay of the votes. That alone suggested a few ways to spoof the results- the easiest being to pre-print them on the results tape ( a paper talley of the vote count on a machine) and kill the print head. The machine would appear to print the results as expected. The protocol for the precinct votes constrained the official results to that first printout unless there was a call for a recount, so the fraud had a good chance of going undetected. Other methods available to unsophisticated county officials seemed plausible too.

    Electronic voting is attractive as it lowers the cost and accelerates the result reporting. It can be more accurate than paper alone. In all cases, however, the only way a voter can be sure of their vote is to have the machine print a paper ballot, and that ballot is reviewed by the voter then put in the ballot box by the voter. Audits can then validate the machine tallies with those printed ballots with precision.

    Here in Kentucky, it is legal to photograph your ballot. That offers a means to sell votes and obviates the secret ballot. Be rid of such laws in your state if you can.

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

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 5 Jan 2018 @ 4:10am

    Just add a printer that gives copies of the vote, one to the voter if s/he wants and one for a physical urn that can be counted as well for auditing purposes. This alone would make things much safer.

    Nice to see this thing being properly tackled. I wish they did it here as well.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Jan 2018 @ 7:07am

      Re:

      THat's almost exactly what exists at my California polling place, except without the duplicate copy. I punch the boxes on the screen, review an actual paper tape that prints out under glass, hit confirm on the screen, and the machine swallows the printout, presumably for "just in case".

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Jan 2018 @ 8:24am

    In my county, which uses ES&S eVotronic paperless systems, they actually print up ballots to use in case of machine malfunction, and then discard them after the election. So, the paper cost is already present.

    Also, all these 15-year-old machines are facing their end of useful lifetime. What does your 15-year-old PC look like? Something will have to be purchased sooner or later, and probably sooner. So, the idea that optical scanners is a new cost is fallacious. The problem is that no one budgeted for depreciation back when the current crop of machines were purchased.

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

  • identicon
    michael, 5 Jan 2018 @ 12:29pm

    Nevada as a model

    Nevada already has electronic machines that print a receipt (under glass, so it's kept with the machine) so that voters can verify that what they voted is what was counted, and so that there's a 100% accurate -- and readable! -- paper trail.

    This is trivial, and has been in place for 15+ years.

    WTF is the rest of the country waiting for?

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

  • identicon
    GEMont, 6 Jan 2018 @ 11:00am

    Making America Grate Again!!

    Now now, All this fuss over a "proposed new bill" is sorta silly.

    It hasn't been "amended" to meet T. Rump's corporate law standards yet.

    There aren't any corporate handouts, tax write-offs, or legal loopholes included in the bill yet. And its wording is far, far, too precise.

    I'm sure congress will have it "repaired" in no time though, as it is after all, about restoring the very foundation of America's lost Democracy.

    Gotta nip that in the bud now don't they. :)

    ===

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


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