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Why Does a Voting Machine Need Calibration? 398

New submitter Shotgun writes "I heard on the radio that there were some issues with voting machines in Greensboro, NC (my hometown), and the story said the machines just needed "recalibration". Which made me ask, "WTF? Why does a machine for choosing between one of a few choices need 'calibration'?" This story seems to explain the issue."
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Why Does a Voting Machine Need Calibration?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 02, 2012 @07:14PM (#41860099)

    better then MSNBC !!

  • Touchscreens... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Ksevio ( 865461 ) on Friday November 02, 2012 @07:15PM (#41860115) Homepage
    Anyone that's ever worked with touchscreens before knows that those things need frequent recalibration
  • by RalphWigum ( 519738 ) on Friday November 02, 2012 @07:17PM (#41860143) Homepage
    For either/both sides to call shenanigans when the vote does not go their way. I wonder if someone has done a study on the amount of press voter fraud gets vs. party election outcome and if there is as stark of a difference as I perceive. And if people really think that one party only wins when they "cheat", does that just reinforce myopic visions of political views (i.e. Most people think the way I do and so the only explanation is fraud)?
  • by Chirs ( 87576 ) on Friday November 02, 2012 @07:18PM (#41860153)

    Put one at the left, the other at the right, and make them so far apart that they CANNOT POSSIBLY BE CONFUSED even if the system is out by some number of pixels (or even some fraction of an inch)!

    Why is this so complicated?

  • Re:Touchscreens... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by vux984 ( 928602 ) on Friday November 02, 2012 @07:20PM (#41860177)

    I dunno... I haven't calibrated the touchscreen on either of my smart phones yet... 5 years and counting now. (I still use the old one on wifi... and it still hasn't needed to be calibrated.)

    I do remember having to calibrate touchscreens years ago, but its about as common now as adjusting the choke to start a car.

  • by geekoid ( 135745 ) <`dadinportland' `at' `'> on Friday November 02, 2012 @07:24PM (#41860217) Homepage Journal

    no, it actually isn't. Don't fall into the false balance thinking. i.e. if The Blaze is bad then MSNBC is just as bad. Or that they 'counter' each other.

    The Blaze is horrible, and it's based on a person who is know to make things up so he can then rant about them as if they are true for weeks on end.
    The Blaze is not credible.

  • by JDG1980 ( 2438906 ) on Friday November 02, 2012 @07:27PM (#41860273)

    Even before reading the article, I knew what the answer was. This is because at my workplace (a public library), we deal with a very similar thing on a regular basis. We have several self-checkout units at each branch, which are basically all-in-one Windows PCs running special software. They have RFID pads for scanning the books, and they take input via a touchscreen. The capacitive touchscreens on tablets and smartphones are generally of good quality, but these are different. They are crappy resistive touchscreens, designed to keep costs down. Accuracy is poor, and a calibration utility must be run regularly or the screens will start to drift. Calibration entails running a program designed for that purpose, then touching targets displayed in each corner of the screen in sequence.

    If calibration on a low-quality resistive touchscreen is off, then the mouse click may register at a location as much as 1 full inch away from where the user pressed. I have personally seen this happen many times on our self-checkout units. So if you hear a story that someone on a voting machine pressed the box for the Democratic candidate and it checked the Republican, or vice versa, I'd be willing to bet money that this is what happened. If they were deliberately tampering with the votes, why would they show that to the user?

    There are indeed serious concerns with the lack of source availability for voting machines, and the ownership of voting machine companies by individuals with partisan ties. But calibration is not some kind of conspiracy – it's the inevitable result of using cheap touchscreen hardware.

  • by Kral_Blbec ( 1201285 ) on Friday November 02, 2012 @07:31PM (#41860323)
    Citation needed. So far many of his "preposterous" claims have come true. Arab Spring ring a bell?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 02, 2012 @07:33PM (#41860343)

    Ah yes, with articles entitled "Shove it Up Your Ass: Beck v. Bloomberg" and "Voting is Like 'Doing It': This is Quite Possibly Obama's Worst Campaign Ad to Date" it's obvious to me that "The Blaze" is a pillar of cutting-edge investigative journalism.

  • we should always use paper ballots

    you can cheat with paper ballots, but it's hard and you need a lot of effort and cooperation between many saboteurs

    with electronic voting, magnitudes of order more attack vectors are introduced, because it's more complicated, unnecessarily. and one well-placed hacker can untraceably and silently cheat in milliseconds over a broad swath of votes

    if people don't believe their government represents the popular will, then we have all sorts of problems

    so paper voting only. now and forever, no matter how rich or technophilic the society. the voting in finland should be the same as in bangladesh as in brazil as in the usa: paper ballots only. to preserve the integrity of the process, people trusting their vote matters

  • by stephanruby ( 542433 ) on Friday November 02, 2012 @07:50PM (#41860541)

    The touch screen issue I can believe. My resistive-touch screen for my old gps unit was having the same issue (even when the unit was brand new). Some of the software buttons were working just fine, and some were not. And it wasn't a matter of re-calibration (at least, not a matter of re-calibration that I could do anything about). It was just a matter of the manufacturer using the cheapest possible hardware for the touch screen. Also, an actual picture of the screen would have been nice. I'm surprised that the voter didn't take any. Personally, I would have taken one, or I would have raised hell at the polling place itself.

    In either case, whether you believe the story, or do not believe it. This story does bring up an underlying interesting issue. One of the main reasons Counties have switched from analog to digital is precisely to avoid these kinds of analog problems. But this will never be completely possible, to get rid of all the analog problems, whether it's a malfunctioning input device, or a badly designed input device, the process of converting an analog signal to a digital one will always be fraught with potential problems that won't be noticed until an election is really close and contested (just like it was with the hanging chad issue).

  • Re:Touchscreens? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Jeremi ( 14640 ) on Friday November 02, 2012 @07:52PM (#41860565) Homepage

    Maybe the law should prohibit the use of electronic voting machines with resistive touch screens then, or any device that needs recalibrating too frequently based on the rate of people who are expected to use it.

    Even if/when they fix the touch screen issue, there will inevitably be other issues, some of which may not be obvious to voters.

    The only reliable solution is to either not use electronic voting machines, or use them only as ballot printing devices (i.e. the voter enters his choices into the machine, the machine prints out a human-readable paper ballot with those choices, the voter reviews the paper ballot to make sure it is correct, and then either places it in to the ballot box or (if he sees an error) voids it and returns it to a poll worker in exchange for a new one).

    Anything more complicated than that opens the door to errors and/or shennanigans.

    In particular, electronic voting machines should NOT be relied on to hold the official voting record, as there is no layman-verifiable way to show that an electronic vote tally is correct.

  • by Tim Ward ( 514198 ) on Friday November 02, 2012 @08:03PM (#41860693) Homepage

    ... is, as we say every time this comes up on /., paper ballots marked by the voter with a pencil.

  • by theshowmecanuck ( 703852 ) on Friday November 02, 2012 @08:04PM (#41860713) Journal
    Well I gave it minus when it was still in the recent submission / firehose stage. Of course I actually looked up what "TheBlaze" was when I saw the site banner of the story and didn't recognize the source (can't bring myself to put the 'news' prefix on it). Right near the top on Google was the Wikipedia link. Yep Glenn Beck. A guy so vile even Fox fired him. People, you have to look at the source before believing shit is legit. This guy is just a slightly less fat Rush Limbaugh.
  • Re:Explanation (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Stormthirst ( 66538 ) on Friday November 02, 2012 @08:31PM (#41860945)

    Why are we using touch screens at all in something so important as an election?

    ATMs have been using buttons down the side of the screen for decades - why aren't voting machines built the same way?

  • by HiThere ( 15173 ) <charleshixsn@ea r t h l i n> on Friday November 02, 2012 @08:33PM (#41860967)

    Better use something indellible, like a Sharpie or a Bingo marker.

  • Re:Not so. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by camperdave ( 969942 ) on Friday November 02, 2012 @08:39PM (#41861007) Journal
    Whatever happened to all those video games that used to be in the arcades back in the 1980s? They had this amazing technology called a button. It never needed to be calibrated, and it lasted for years under incredible abuse. I swear, these election machine manufacturers seem like idiots.
  • by foniksonik ( 573572 ) on Friday November 02, 2012 @09:06PM (#41861193) Homepage Journal

    When the topic is a grown up topic we love to have a discussion.

    When the topic is about an over-blown registration error on one machine and the question is something other than how to fix the machine and prevent the problem, eg: whether or not there is a conspiracy, well you'll have to excuse us if we roll our eyes and walk away.

  • by Minwee ( 522556 ) <> on Friday November 02, 2012 @09:09PM (#41861207) Homepage

    When I voted last week (early voting), the ballot was 6 sheets of paper (front and back), with a total of 38 issues/races.

    You do understand that this is the problem, and that the rest of the civilized world manages to hold elections in which nobody has to vote on what the assistant to the first alternate runner-up for congress is going to have for breakfast next Thursday, right?

    The ridiculous number of issues voted on in the USA is a problem which needs to be solved by getting all of the crap off of the ballots, not by building bigger and faster machines to miscount them.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 02, 2012 @09:09PM (#41861209)

    You may not understand the purpose of the Electoral College. According to the Constitution, the States select the president. The fact that we hold a general election to do it doesn't change the fact that the Founders did not view selection of a president to be a popularity contest as it is today. In fact, with their aversion to king-like political figures, they'd be quite appalled at how fixated we've become on the office of president and how much authority it now comes with. I believe our fascination with personality and celebrity will be our eventual undoing. The uninformed masses are not hard to fool.

  • by dfenstrate ( 202098 ) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <etartsnefd>> on Friday November 02, 2012 @09:16PM (#41861245)

    You could have just walked away. Yet you're here, and demanding silence on the part of folks you politically oppose.

    My point stands.

  • by ad1217 ( 2418196 ) on Friday November 02, 2012 @09:34PM (#41861393) Homepage

    The ridiculous number of issues voted on in the USA is a problem which needs to be solved by getting all of the crap off of the ballots

    Wait, what? You are saying we should have less of a say in how the country runs?

  • by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Saturday November 03, 2012 @12:31AM (#41862373)

    How different can it be? Can an election be complicated enough that voting cannot be done via on screen prompts and some text next to 8 buttons?

    Change the text on the screen next to the button, but don't pretend that something as simple as a "Select which candidate you want to vote for" can't be done with a few buttons. Surely something which for the last couple of hundred years has been as difficult as tick this box can only be done with a touchscreen right?

  • Re:Not so. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 03, 2012 @01:53AM (#41862647)

    I swear, the people who chose to buy these election machines seem like idiots.

    FTFY. It's just another government contract - standard rules apply (lowest bidder and all that).

  • by lostguru ( 987112 ) on Saturday November 03, 2012 @02:01AM (#41862675) Homepage
    Theres a difference between voting for a bunch of crap and actually having a say in how our government is run.
  • by GumphMaster ( 772693 ) on Saturday November 03, 2012 @02:04AM (#41862691)

    No, Minwee is saying that you elect your government to run the city/state/country... and you should let them. Running the country includes trivialities such as employing qualified judicial officers, policing, education department staff, health department staff and all the other adminstrivia that makes it onto US ballot papers in varying amounts. It works in most of the world but seems, like social welfare and medical services, to be anathema in the US.

  • by Mal-2 ( 675116 ) on Saturday November 03, 2012 @03:00AM (#41862833) Homepage Journal

    Better use something indellible, like a Sharpie or a Bingo marker.

    Los Angeles County uses Inkavote []. Basically it's just a little rubber stamp you press into the circle on the ballot. The machines themselves have guides to keep you from putting the stamp anywhere but an oval. You insert the ballot, ink in the correct circles, then remove the ballot and turn it in. There are no moving parts except for the small spring-loading in the stamper and the hinges holding the pages in the machine -- which are themselves identical to the ones in your sample ballot as mailed to you. This means you can mark your sample ballot at home, hold it up alongside the corresponding page in the machine, and simply copy your bubbles from your sample ballot onto the real one.

    This has all the advantages I can think of -- it's almost non-mechanical and CAN be done by hand if there are insufficient machines available, it generates human-readable paper ballots, it's faster than a touchscreen system while also being far less complex, and it's easy to understand. There are many things I can gripe about, living in the Los Angeles area. The voting machines are definitely NOT one of them.

  • by Rockoon ( 1252108 ) on Saturday November 03, 2012 @11:30AM (#41864627)

    Instances of individuals voting multiple times or assuming another voter’s identity are vanishingly negligible

    The veracity of this claim is in question because the system is set up specifically to forbid the testing of the claim. See the fight against Voter ID laws as evidence that some people really really really dont want the veracity of this claim tested.

  • Re:Three (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sumdumass ( 711423 ) on Saturday November 03, 2012 @02:35PM (#41866233) Journal

    No, he said empathy lead to T4 (mercy killings- killing people because you think it's the right thing to do) which lead to genocide everywhere.

    I know you want to make Glenn Beck out to be some evil genuis that you can love to hate but it is very clear, there was a step that led to a step that led to what you want to rant about. But ignoring the step before the step is like saying owning a computer will expose you to online porn and illegal downloading without ever getting internet access. There is a step- going online- that leads to the porn and free movies first. similarly, empathy lead to euthanasia. Euthanasia lead to widespread genocide. It's in black and white and if you have trouble reading, you can click the media matters link and watch the clip.

The person who can smile when something goes wrong has thought of someone to blame it on.