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The State of Electronic Voting In the 2008 US Elections 223

Posted by Soulskill
from the no-paper-trail-no-problem dept.
Geek Satire writes "Voting works only if you believe your vote gets counted accurately. The 2008 US elections have avoided many well-known problems of the 2004 and 2000 elections, but many problems remain. O'Reilly News interviewed Dr. Barbara Simons, advisor to the Federal Election Assistance Commission, to review electronic voting in the 2008 US elections, discussing the physical security of storing and maintaining election machines, the move from electronic back to paper ballots, and why open source voting machines don't necessarily solve problems of bugs, backdoors, and audits."
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The State of Electronic Voting In the 2008 US Elections

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  • Help America Vote? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by HaeMaker (221642)

    I am hoping with an all Democrat government we will get a "Help America Vote" act that actually helps America vote.

    It's a shame we have to wait until a party comes to power that benefits from better voting for the government to fix the problem.

    • It benefits *every* party to have more accurate voting. What is doesn't benefit is certain less-than-honest *individuals* or small organized groups. I find it ridiculous that all members of a whole political party could be evil in such a way as to desire falsifiable voting. You seem to be implying that the Republican party is such a party. I know other people that would just as completely believe that the Democrats have base, evil motives. The world isn't that simple.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by AoT (107216)

        It benefits *every* party to have more accurate voting.

        Not necessarily. It benefits the Republicans to keep turnout low by a number of means, which they regularly use, or have used. This isn't universally true of Republicans, though almost so of Republican politicians.

        This election Charlie Crist, Republican governor of Florida, extended the hours of early voting and caught hell from members of his party because of it. They as much as admitted that high turnout would ruin any chances they might have.

        There are plenty of cases of Republican Secretaries of State

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Lordnerdzrool (884216)

          Again, no. Democrats even did it this election. How many states have they sued Nader in because they were afraid of there being an alternative to vote for? The only difference was the strategy employed. Republicans tend to do voter suppression in the form of intentionally making lines longer by removing machines from certain areas that lean to the Democrats, and giving the machines to areas that tend to lean Republican. Democrats outright prevent people from running for office so they can present themselves

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by AoT (107216)

            I'm certainly not going to defend the Democrats election tactics against the Greens. I've been in plenty of campaigns that were targeted by them. I don't know how many states they sued Nader in, I can't seem to find it for this election, it was 20 in the last one.

            Democrats outright prevent people from running for office so they can present themselves as the "lesser of two evils" to unconvinced moderates for the purpose of getting votes. Both are forms of voter suppression and both very actively deploy the tactics in every election.

            No they aren't both forms of voter suppression. One is voter suppression, the other is legal wrangling. The whole idea of getting Nader off the ballot is to get those people to vote Dem, not to get them not to vote. Again, I'm not saying that

            • It's to get them not to vote.

              If you were a staunch Nader / Green supporter, you would not vote for the party that prevented freedom of choice at the polls.

              And chances are, you would be ideologically different enough not to vote republican.

              It's about keeping 3rd parties down. The democrats have done this for decades against the Greens and the Republicans did it to whatever the party Perot started.

    • by Kamokazi (1080091) on Friday November 07, 2008 @09:05PM (#25683979)

      Because clearly, no one likes Republicans, and they only stayed in power due to vote manipulation. Just like how the faked the moon landing. And they were responsible for the JFK assassination.

      Seriously, I would like them to abolish the two-party system entirely, and by proxy the electoral college. I really think most people are generally moderate in their views, but are forced to pick sides they may not wholly agree with and make assumptions about members of the other party, who may sometimes fall closer in line with their views.

      • by Firehed (942385) on Friday November 07, 2008 @09:54PM (#25684323) Homepage

        You could... you know... not vote for either of them. My ballot had two third-party candidates listed in the presidential race, plus a write-in spot. I've seen pictures of other ballots that had at least half a dozen third-party candidates listed, plus the same write-in spot.

        The problem isn't the lack of options, but all of the media telling us that there ARE only two choices. I'd bet just about anything that if, for example, Bob Barr (libertarian candidate) would have taken a fairly significant chunk of the votes had he been given equal airtime and if there wasn't the general perception that only two parties exist. Probably double-digits in the popular vote in one election cycle, and then becoming a legitimate contender in the second when people are aware that other options exist.

        The two-party system is caused by the same sources perpetuating the stagnant economy - the plethora of 24-hour news organizations. Most people believe what they hear on TV*, so as long as they continue to be told that we're entering the second great depression or that there are two and only two candidates exist, people will spend or vote accordingly.

        *which is the real problem, of course. But good luck solving laziness.

        • The two-party system is caused by the same sources perpetuating the stagnant economy - the plethora of 24-hour news organizations.

          Question: When did the two party system spring up? Was it with the advent of 24 hour news organizations, or was it with the advent of our political system? Because I'm pretty sure TV did not invent the two party system, the constitution did (albeit unintentionally.)

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Ironchew (1069966)

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Instant-runoff_voting/ [wikipedia.org]

          I think that the two-party system is a natural outgrowth of only being able to vote for one candidate. Instant-runoff voting (a system where you can rank the candidates you want to vote for) would work out far better, if only because lots of people would choose their favorite third-party candidate as Number 1, and have an established party that they don't hate somewhere further down as a safeguard. In our current system, we waste our vote if we don't pick

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by nedlohs (1335013)

            IRV is used in Australia. Australia has a two-party* system. So clearly that isn't a ailver bullet.

            *OK, one party is a fixed coalition of two parties - but that coalition is defined before the elections, and never changes, so really it's two wings of a party.

        • My ballot had 5 candidates for president listed. Dem and Rep, as well as Lib and Mountain, and an Independant. There were several offices that had a Mountain party candidate listed, but then the Mountain Party is essentially our branch of the Greens, they just take an extra firm stand against chopping the tops off of mountains and pushing for timber regulation. 795 registered members in the state, and usually several times that vote for any given one of their candidates. I think 20kish has been their bes
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by mi (197448)

      I am hoping with an all Democrat government we will get a "Help America Vote" act that actually helps America vote.

      Are you referring to these Democrats [heritage.org], or these ones [economist.com]?

    • by Neoprofin (871029)
      That's funny, according to those voter advocates that did the huge documentary on Diebold incumbents favor failure prone electronic voting machines, with no regard to party.
    • by VagaStorm (691999)
      I'm not a us citizen, so there might be a reason for this that is publicly known, that I'm not aware of, but why is a registered voter tied to a party in the first place, and more importantly, why dos you have to register to be a voter to vote. Over here, once you turn 18 you are automatically a registered voter. Every one born is entered into the national system and given a "social security number"(we have another name for it). Every one that lives here working must have a this number since it is used to p
  • by Brian.Kirby (1328523) on Friday November 07, 2008 @08:58PM (#25683927)
    Forget electronic voting, let's abandon democracy altogether, and start up "Internetocracy", where all major political decisions are voted on by slashdotters and Internet trolls! Want to bomb Iraq? Let's make a slashdot poll, and see if we should do it! I nominate Cowboy Neil as a viable solution to improving our economy.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by philspear (1142299)

      WORST... IDEA... EVER. I do not want to live in a country ruled by porn sites. It would be more interesting at first, but would quickly become disgusting.

  • by erroneus (253617) on Friday November 07, 2008 @09:02PM (#25683961) Homepage

    My vote was paperless. I have no idea if my vote was recorded properly or if it wasn't manipulated in some way after the fact. The only indication I have that it wasn't was the fact that the race was really close and several republicans lost seats largely due to "straight ticket" voting. (many people are hating republicans you know)

    One thing will help stop some election fraud -- aggressive criminal prosecution.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by megamerican (1073936)

      The voting machines are fine. The person who raised the most money won!

      • by Shatrat (855151)
        I can't help but wonder if this would have been modded troll if McCain had raised the most money and won, and I voted Obama.
    • by ArsonSmith (13997)

      Funny, my vote was on paper and I have no idea if my vote was recorded properly or if it wasn't manipulated in some way either. I had to trust that someone droped it in the right bucket and not the trash. Then that it got counted at all. Which actually it didn't. The election was called before the results from my state were even in. Ohh well.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        There is a difference between votes not being counted(which is very bad; but mostly avoidable with the right safeguards) and votes being irrelevant to the outcome(which is virtually certain in any real-world situation). The whole electoral college aspect makes that especially noticeable; but it would occur slightly more subtly in pure popular voting as well.

        If you have x votes for candidate one and y votes for candidate two, and candidate one is winning by x-y votes, the last (x-y)-1 votes you count will
        • by ArsonSmith (13997)

          Nice long description of the non-problem. Whether or not it mattered in the outcome of the vote due to one side already having enough votes doesn't mean that my vote would have been counted even if I was in the first voter in the first district of the first state. It also doesn't mean that it wouldn't have been counted 5 times. It also doesn't mean the the box it was dropped into wasn't stuffed with 500k votes for another candidate.

  • Is it that hard? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nmp0906 (1402471) on Friday November 07, 2008 @09:07PM (#25683997)
    Am I the only one that is completely confused by how difficult it seems to be to make an electronic voting machine and have it actually work?
    • by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@gmai l . c om> on Friday November 07, 2008 @09:18PM (#25684069) Homepage

      Why should you be confused? When you have a problem domain that encompasses strict accuracy, strict accountability, a strict audit trail, strict legal requirements, etc... etc... How could you possibly believe it could be anything other than hard?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Nathanbp (599369)

      Am I the only one that is completely confused by how difficult it seems to be to make an electronic voting machine and have it actually work?

      First, I'd like to point out that it is nearly impossible to make an electronic voting machine of any kind and prove to everyone that it works given the standard limitations on voting in the US. This limitation is that there is no way to prove to anyone how you voted. Given that limitation, and all the possibilities for sabotage (hardware and software), proving that your system works is nearly impossible. (I am aware that there exists cryptographic methods of doing this, but I sure wouldn't trust Diebold to

  • by darjen (879890) on Friday November 07, 2008 @09:18PM (#25684073)

    Voting works only if you believe your vote gets counted accurately

    When the only electable candidates are those chosen by the mainstream media, and controlled by special interests, I would say most emphatically that voting or democracy doesn't "work". Voting machines should be the least of our worries when it comes to the integrity of our political system.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by gurps_npc (621217)
      Wrong. You have the wrong idea of what voting is supposed to do and as such you think it has failed. Voting is not intended and is totally unsuited to 'finding the best candidate'.

      What voting does is:

      1. Ensure that a candidate pays some attention to the rest of the country.

      2. Convince the majority of the armed forces of the country that their is an EASIER, CHEAPER, less DANGEROUS way to remove the current political leader than starting a revolution. (No, it won't work if the country is spit geograp

      • Convince the majority of the armed forces of the country that their is an EASIER, CHEAPER, less DANGEROUS way to remove the current political leader than starting a revolution.

        This isn't a purpose of voting at all - because the US Armed Forces are sworn to support the Constitution.

    • When the only electable candidates are those chosen by the mainstream media, and controlled by special interests, I would say most emphatically that voting or democracy doesn't "work".

      I'm reminded of that Churchill quote "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." It's all good and well to cynically talk about the problems of voting, dominated by special interests, mainstream media chooses for us... but really it would be wierd if it worked perfectly, wouldn't it? Finding a system where special interests could NOT exert disproportionate influence, and where canidates were ONLY chosen by quality, not any funnels o

      • by darjen (879890)

        Churchill, as usual, was wrong. The best alternative to democracy, imho, is no government. Please take a look at the following and let me know what you think:

        Democracy: The God That Failed [lewrockwell.com]
        The Ethics of Liberty [mises.org] by Murray Rothbard

        • Before I read them I have to ask: are they advocating anarchy in theory? Because if they are, I've got better things to be doing. If they are convincing that it would work in practice, I might read it out of curiosity.

          • by darjen (879890)

            They are pretty convincing to me that it would work in practice. Especially the Ethics of Liberty.

            Obviously, most people would have to change their mindset before it could happen. Drastic change in political systems happened in the past, and I see no reason why it couldn't happen again.

    • Voting machines should be the least of our worries when it comes to the integrity of our political system.

      Oh, quit your whining - you have a choice between Democratic OR Republican!

      This is actually quite simple - wherever you have several trillion dollars to hand out to the 'best' taker, there will be corruption. If you want to get the corruption out of Washington, you have to get the money out of Washington. It'll never happen any other way; no matter how many regulations they throw up, people will find

  • NY had a real easy process this time, remarkably like last time and the time before, etcetera, etcetera. Thanks to much effort on the part of Voting System vendors, we now have these Big Honkin' (tm) Sequoia Machines (thankfully not in use in my county). They were sitting in the corner, while the Good Old (tm) Mechanical, no-power-required just kept chugging along, processing votes without a hitch. As usual.

  • by atomicxblue (1077017) on Friday November 07, 2008 @09:22PM (#25684101)
    Anyone happen to catch the election returns? I haven't been able to find anything on the internet how it ended... :p
  • Paper??? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by onkelonkel (560274) on Friday November 07, 2008 @09:23PM (#25684111)
    In my poor benighted country we lack the technological sophistication of the mighty US of A, so we are forced to mark our votes on small pieces of paper called ballots. The poll clerk checks your ID, crosses your name off a list and hands you a ballot. On this ballot are printed in no particular order the name and party affiliation of the candidates. Next to each name is a circle. You place an x in the circle for the candidate of your choice. Then you go back to the poll clerk who places your ballot in the ballot box. If you mess up your ballot he will give you a new one.

    Each candidate is allowed to have an observer at each polling place, and at the counting of the ballots. This system is fairly simple, fairly transparent, and all the votes get counted. It also scales well (more voters = more polling places). Why do you need electronic voting or voting machines or anything else besides a paper ballot and a pencil. I'm honestly curious why this wouldn't work in the US.
    • Re:Paper??? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 07, 2008 @09:42PM (#25684225)

      Hello fellow Canadian Citizen.

      I wondered this myself, here is the short answer:

      The Americans don't just vote for a president, they vote for a billion and one other things at the same time. Sheriffs, Propositions, Senate, House, Governors, Who gets a puppy this year, etc, etc.

      Combine the multitude of voting decisions with the need for accessibility for the impaired, and it's easy to see why they are looking for faster, easier, more accessible ways for people to cast their votes.

      Oh, and they have over 10x the population we do, electronic voting certainly tallies properly.

      All that said, I agree with you, and I think the US should just suck it up and go back to paper. Having votes count properly is worth the time, cost, and effort. The new guy doesn't come into power for 100 days, they have all the time they need.

      • Re:Paper??? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Snowblindeye (1085701) on Friday November 07, 2008 @09:54PM (#25684325)

        Oh, and they have over 10x the population we do, electronic voting certainly tallies properly.

        I've heard that argument before, and I don't think it holds. As the grandparent said, paper voting should scale, cause you have more ballot places for a larger population.

        Case in point: Take Germany. They use paper ballots with a circle and an X, just the GP describes. It works fine and you have the results with the same speed as you get them in the US. Faster, if you compare it to 2000. A recount would be much faster, cause they are easy to read.

        If they can do it for 50 million voters, then I don't see why it won't also work for 100 million voters in the US.

      • I agree with your argument that casting votes for multiple offices and legislative initiatives lends itself to electronic tabulation. Your argument that population is prohibitive to paper based voting is not, however, considering that the vote tallies from the major population centers of Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, etc. are available around the same time as the tallies from lesser populated areas in the same time zone.

      • by darkonc (47285)
        In the Vancouver, Canada civic election (next week?) we've got to choose people for about 30 positions (mayor, city councilors, School Board and parks board) from a total of over 100 candidates... that and a number of referenda. It's all done on an OCR sheet which is read in much the way that the GP describes.
        ... and if something goes horribly wrong, there's always the paper ballots to go back to.
    • by evanbd (210358)

      That sounds like how I voted. In North Carolina, we use paper ballots, a pen, and an optical scanner (for speed; the paper trail is what's used for a recount). Remember that in the US, most of the details of how the election is run are decided at the state level (and sometimes at the local level). Why some states feel a need to change, I don't know, but NC at least seems to get this right. Many other states do it similarly.

      Here [state.nc.us] is the (sample) ballot I voted on (pdf).

      • by bcrowell (177657)

        That sounds like how I voted. In North Carolina, we use paper ballots, a pen, and an optical scanner (for speed; the paper trail is what's used for a recount).

        Where I live, in California, they use electronic voting (rotary wheel and buttons, no touch screen) with a backup in the form of a paper strip that the voter can see being printed behind a plastic window. So it's pretty similar to yours in NC, except that there's no optical scanning required. And let me tell you as a teacher who's run scantrons, opt

        • by evanbd (210358)

          They provide pens; you're not supposed to erase things. If you make a mistake, you go get a new ballot and they destroy the incorrectly marked one. You feed the ballot into the scanner (no one else touches it between marking and scanning), so you know that it didn't jam or cause an error. There's a poll worker watching you do it, of course. This doesn't help with marks not registering or registering for the wrong candidate, of course, but errors due to damaged ballots or (I assume) double marking are no

          • Sounds like almost exactly what we do, excepting that a poll worker feeds it into the machine in front of you, and our ballots go in cardboard "privacy sleeves" (which are inserted into the machine, and the machine sucks the ballot out of it) so that the poll worker cannot see how you voted during the process
    • by ShakaUVM (157947)

      >>On this ballot are printed in no particular order the name and party affiliation of the candidates. Next to each name is a circle. You place an x in the circle for the candidate of your choice. Then you go back to the poll clerk who places your ballot in the ballot box.

      Here too.

      Crap.

      I should have realized there was something fishy this year when I voted for "Alan Keyes, Democrat Party".

  • Electronic voting has bigger problems [theonion.com] than TFA mentions... (FYI, the preceding link contains flash/video.)
  • "Voting works only if you believe your vote gets counted accurately."

    God, not this fallacy again! Why do so many otherwise intelligent people think that as long as their own personal ballot got counted then all is well? Don't they realize that 1000 fake voters in swing state X can mean that their own vote, whether counted or not, is moot?

  • I voted for DRE-700 [gizmodo.com]
  • One way to tell if someone's opinion is overly influenced by political bias is if their conclusions change when the party/political label changes. I'd suggest some people try those glasses on around here occasionally.
  • "Voting works only if you believe your vote gets counted accurately."

    How stupid can the summary possibly be? Your belief has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not something is true.

    • by nomadic (141991)
      How stupid can the summary possibly be? Your belief has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not something is true.

      Obviously you've never heard of truthiness.
  • by Rooked_One (591287) on Friday November 07, 2008 @10:17PM (#25684481) Journal
    I live in a red state... probably the most red of them all. In fact, it was the third state called - you got it - oklahokma. Every district... red.

    That being said, we have lots of republicans mainly because that's what their parents are, or church has told them to be.

    My polling place was a church

    On the side outside it says "Make sure you pray before your cast your vote." You can take that however you like. I walk in, on my lunch break, to cast a vote towards the popular vote as I know where I live it counts for nothing, and fill out the form. It is one of those "connect the line" charts.

    Let me set a mood first... There is a woman around 90 years old who is reading the paper to validate people are who they say they are. This woman cannot see my face on my drivers license - she didn't even look, even though, for some reason it said "Check identification" on the line where I signed.

    I over looked that

    I take my form over to my cardboard booth and connect the dots

    I take my form over to the machine to put it in... it looks like it is from the 60's and could probably survive a nuclear blast.

    There is a red light on the machine. There are two statements on the machine.

    "If the light is red, the machine is busy, please wait for it to turn green."

    "If the light is green, please insert your ballot.

    After waiting about 2 minutes with an impatient look on my face, a woman in her 70's comes over and in a very decrepit and very "talked down to" tone of voice she says... For the sake of my fingers, she will be Decrepit Old Lady - or DOL

    DOL - "go ahead and put your ballot in, they looked at it this morning and said the light is just stuck on and will work just fine"

    Me - "Ok, but is there some sort of way that I can tell who I voted for - I see some receipt looking things there coming out of the machine, will that give me my results?"

    DOL - "If the machine makes a beep your vote has been counted." Me - "For some reason I highly doubt that, but given the record of this state, my vote doesn't count for much anyways. I can assure you my cantor would be very aburpt if I had to wait one second to vote"

    DOL - "If the machine makes the noise, your vote is counted"

    Me - "Again, I doubt that"

    And I put my ballot in. Nothing got printed, the machine just made a noise. I think the moral here is:

    If you leave the ignorant in charge, then whoever "fixes" the polling machine has complete control over your vote.

    Ok, i'm done... Sorry for making it that long.
    • by retchdog (1319261)

      "Make sure you pray before your cast your vote."

      That just can't be legal... Not that it matters. Still, that's even more disturbing than the rest of your story.

    • by Vegeta99 (219501)

      At the very least, they had a paper copy for you. My precinct uses HART electronic voting machines - Once you're authenticated, you're given your ballot stub with a PIN number. Go to the machine, make your selections, and press CAST BALLOT.

      The machine says "Thank you. Your ballot has been cast."

      That's it. Nothing else. Either way, my state went where I voted, so I guess "I picked the winner!"

      • no no... sorry if I was misunderstood... After my ballot was filled out, it goes into the machine and you never see it. So I guess "THEY" have a paper copy... In that you are correct. I wouldn't put it past either one of those three ladies to throw away a random ballot cast by a democrat. In fact, some of the measures they threw in there on the back of the ballot were just... ludicrious... One was to make local wineries in oklahoma be forced to not discriminate against any one who wants to buy their w
  • Despite what you are made to believe, America is not a true democracy. You are given few choices by media, by powerful conglomerates and whatever you can think of and you vote for the lesser of evil. Which one of the candidates your hear fell 100% in-line I'd like to ask you. I voted McCain but hate his "Call it a banana" speech on illegal immigration. But the alternate candidate, i.e., NObama, was much worse in my opinion. Yes I know I could write my vote in but how many of us really do this ? There is no
  • like she says: there "can" still be malicious code... but it is so much less damned likely in open source than in closed source, AND when it does show up, it tends to get found and corrected right away.

    So, open source is not perfect, but it comes a hell of a lot closer to perfect than closed source will ever be.
  • Scantegrity (Score:4, Informative)

    by Arathon (1002016) on Friday November 07, 2008 @11:56PM (#25685093) Journal
    I think everyone who is interested in electronic voting should take a look at this website. This group was originally just a bunch of computer scientists trying to apply theory to practice. In my opinion, they succeeded quite well, and I wish more people had heard of them.

    Scantegrity.org [scantegrity.org]
  • It is worth noting, for those interested in electronic voting and vote security that Barb Simons is credited in the effort to get the ACM to set their policy [acm.org] on electronic voting. Just as importantly the helped to move the League of Women Voters from their pro-DRE stance on electronic voting to the new SARA stance which calls for auditability and recountability.

    I found her comments on Open Source in the article quite insightful too. Not that I am against it but t isn't a security panacea.

An Ada exception is when a routine gets in trouble and says 'Beam me up, Scotty'.

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