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Voting Machine Problem Reports Already Rolling In 386

Several readers have submitted news of the inevitable problems involved with trying to securely collect information from tens of millions of people on the same day. A video is making the rounds of a touchscreen voting machine registering a vote for Mitt Romney when Barack Obama was selected. A North Carolina newspaper is reporting that votes for Romney are being switched to Obama. Voters are being encouraged to check and double-check that their votes are recorded accurately. In Ohio, some recently-installed election software got a pass from a District Court Judge. In Galveston County, Texas, poll workers didn't start their computer systems early enough to be ready for the opening of the polls, which led to a court order requiring the stations to be open for an extra two hours at night. Yesterday we discussed how people in New Jersey who were displaced by the storm would be allowed to vote via email; not only are some of the emails bouncing, but voters are being directed to request ballots from a county clerk's personal Hotmail account. If only vote machines were as secure as slot machines. Of course, there's still the good, old fashioned analog problems; workers tampering with ballots, voters being told they can vote tomorrow, and people leaving after excessively long wait times.
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Voting Machine Problem Reports Already Rolling In

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  • by Liam Pomfret ( 1737150 ) on Tuesday November 06, 2012 @07:40PM (#41901291)
    I recall that several countries wanted to send election monitors to oversee the vote, and that at least one Republican AG was trying to prevent that happening. What happened with that?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 06, 2012 @07:47PM (#41901379)

    they said it was stupid that we didnt require ids to vote then media ignored them

  • Re:Stupid. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Velex ( 120469 ) on Tuesday November 06, 2012 @08:09PM (#41901609) Journal

    I just cast a paper ballot an hour ago. There are bubbles I fill in next to my choices, and then a scanner reads the ballot for instant reporting. Then, if there are any problems, the paper ballot, minus any way to identify who cast it, remains to be recounted by hand if necessary.

    Paper ballots aren't perfect with regards to fraud. They still beat the pants off any electronic system, though. At best, electronic systems that print a paper trail that the voter can visually inspect are still vulnerable every way paper is to fraud. Any electronic voting machine that doesn't produce a paper trail should be presumed to be aiding in fraud.

    Any perfect solution to fraud would be to eliminate anonymity.

    I'm not sure why mechanical voting machines ever were used.

  • by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Tuesday November 06, 2012 @08:11PM (#41901629) Journal

    Compulsory voting tends to favor the incumbent. Besides, if you're too fucking lazy to make sure you're registered and come down to a poll, who the fuck cares what you think anyways.

  • by slew ( 2918 ) on Tuesday November 06, 2012 @08:13PM (#41901657)

    FYI: In House District 2 in South Carolina, apparantly no democrat registered to oppose incumbant Joe Wilson [] (yes he was the same person that shouted out "you lie").

    The democratic party isn't doing so great in SC. According to the wikipedia []...

    The South Carolina Democratic Party controls none of the statewide offices and holds the minority in both the South Carolina Senate and the South Carolina House of Representatives. Democrats hold one of the state's six U.S. House seats.

  • Re:Stupid. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Goaway ( 82658 ) on Tuesday November 06, 2012 @08:16PM (#41901691) Homepage

    How about the high cost of counting ballots by hand?

    What high costs? You volunteer to do it.

    And one more time: they are not a safeguard against fraud.

    Having multiple volunteer workers from all sides of the political spectrum is.

  • Re:Stupid. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Goaway ( 82658 ) on Tuesday November 06, 2012 @08:18PM (#41901713) Homepage

    Vote count delays?

    If done right, it doesn't take more than evening by hand.

    Issues with recounts?

    What issues?

    The ease in which paper votes can be "lost" in transit to the counting facility?

    They are to be counted on location, not transported anywhere.

  • Re:Stupid. (Score:5, Informative)

    by mark-t ( 151149 ) <markt@nerdflat.cCHICAGOom minus city> on Tuesday November 06, 2012 @08:19PM (#41901715) Journal
    Speaking as a Canadian here, who has actually worked for Elections Canada in the past three times now, let me clarify just how paper ballots work just fine up here:

    Until your scanning machine gets out of alignment

    Won't happen. Ballots are counted by hand.

    ...the people you hired to do hand counts get bribed

    As the ballot counts are done in pairs, and even then are subject to being witnessed by the candidates or their representatives, you'd have to bribe one heck of a lot of people... up to and possibly even including the candidates themselves. Ballots with any writing or other identifying marks on them other than the voter's selection, which must be marked as described by the illustrated posters near each voting station, which might distinguish them from other ballots are considered "spoiled" and are not counted.

    ... or someone loses the ballots on the way to be counted

    This is also can't happen, since the ballots are counted right there, almost immediately after the polls close.

    The only real danger is if there is some sort of natural disaster which threatens one of the polling stations. I'm not sure what the recourse of EC would be in such a case... possibly a revote for people in that area.

  • Re:Stupid. (Score:4, Informative)

    by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Tuesday November 06, 2012 @08:27PM (#41901821)
    5000 extra votes get slipped in. And in the US, they are more worried about making sure your votes are cast than eliminating bad ones, as "officially" there are no bad votes, so that they don't throw out ballot boxes when there are 1000 eligible voters and 10,000 votes cast. But, fi they ever start, just make sure you drop the 5000 favorable ballots into a box in a district usually won by "the other guy" so that if they count them, you win, and if they throw them, you still win. And, with the vote system used now, there's no way to validate any single vote in a spoiled box.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 06, 2012 @08:31PM (#41901873)

    I voted with one of those machines today. It's not a touchscreen, you use a trackball to select the candidate. The guy is obviously trying to make it look like the machine doesn't work by touching the screen and not showing the trackball being moved.

    I'm a PA (Pgh) resident and I used the exact same machine today. It did _not_ have a trackball.

  • Re:Stupid. (Score:5, Informative)

    by realityimpaired ( 1668397 ) on Tuesday November 06, 2012 @08:33PM (#41901905)

    We use paper ballots in Canada... counters get paid a small stipend (something like $30) to count the ballots, there's scrutineers to make sure they're counting properly, and any party can send a representative to watch the counting. When a ballot is counted, the person reads out loud who the vote is for, and shows it to another person to confirm. Any party can request a recount on the spot, and there's an automatic recount when the two leading candidates are close enough together in votes. Because there's paper ballots, we can keep a physical record of the voting, and in the event that there's a discrepancy or challenge, we can always go back and tally the votes again.

    Since each polling station isn't more than 200-300 voters (most voting locations will have 6 or 7 polling stations each), we're still able to have results by the end of the night.

    Considering that your current election is costing an estimated $1billion, I think you can afford to use paper ballots.

  • ES&S IVotronic (Score:5, Informative)

    by JumboMessiah ( 316083 ) on Tuesday November 06, 2012 @08:47PM (#41902005)

    The machine in the video [] is an ES&S IVotronic terminal. It's the same terminal I voted on this morning. It directly appears the digitizer is incorrectly calibrated. What the video author doesn't show is the paper tabulator in the lower left corner. It would of clearly showed his vote being tallied incorrectly. Perhaps he was voting Romney and didn't want his cast vote shown, but the paper trail recorder clearly shows your selection in the window. It even shows when you got back and correct a selection. Now, they key is that each candidate field on the screen is independently calibrated and can be re-calibrated [] in under a minute by any third party.

    At minimum, this terminal should of been isolated and inspected for tampering. Hopefully that was the ultimate outcome. I know I would of not left the area until a proper election official arrived.

  • Re:Stupid. (Score:5, Informative)

    by compro01 ( 777531 ) on Tuesday November 06, 2012 @08:50PM (#41902021)

    For legally blind, there's a very large print version of the ballot in the booth. My legally blind grandmother never had any difficulty voting.

    For completely blind, there's a braille template.

  • Re:Stupid. (Score:5, Informative)

    by vux984 ( 928602 ) on Tuesday November 06, 2012 @08:56PM (#41902069)

    A problem that doesn't exist? How about the high cost of counting ballots by hand?

    Canada does it. Its pretty efficient.

    Oh noes you will cry out, America has 10x the population, and it will cost 10x as much, and require 10x as many people.

    This is all true. But that 10x cost is divided by 10x the population, making it cost the same per capita.

    Another way of looking at it would be to consider that the 50 states each essentially run their own elections, and even the most populous states aren't more populous than Canada.

    The point is that Canada manages it just fine, and there is no valid argument that it can't be scaled in the USA.

    Paper ballots are counted by elections canada temporary staff, with oversight by full time employees, and members of the party. I've participated in a couple myself.

    My observations:

    Disputes over spoiled ballots are pretty much a non-issue.

    Their are several protocols in place to safegaurd against fraud. Stuffing the ballot box would not be simple at all. Each station has a ballot box linked to a list of voters, and a record of who voted. The votes are counted against the number of voters on the list who voted.

    Per the procedures:

    At the polling station specified on the voter information card, the poll clerk crosses the voter's name off the voters list. The deputy returning officer hands the voter a folded ballot with the initials of the deputy returning officer on the outside.

    (At this point the voter goes behind the voter screen to make their mark.)

    The voter then re-folds the ballot so that the deputy returning officer's initials are visible and hands it to the deputy returning officer. The deputy returning officer checks the initials and the number shown on the counterfoil, removes the counterfoil and discards it, and returns the ballot to the voter. The voter, or the deputy returning officer at the voter's request, places the folded ballot in the ballot box. The poll clerk then places a mark in the "Voted" column beside the elector's name on the voters list.

    The ballots themselves have counterfeit protections, and are carefully accounted for. As each vote is cast serial numbers are checked. (But not recorded alongside the voter who placed the vote.)

    Really you'd have to corrupt a pretty large chunk of the polling staff, then they could simply ignore the votes and write down whatever totals they wanted as long as it added up to the number of people who voted, and certify and transmit the results them. You'd still have to get it past the other parties observers, but they usually don't send enough people to watch everything all the time.*
    And then as long as no one called for a recount, no one would ever know.

    * Of course they *could* and if fraud were a significant problem, they probably would. In my experience we usually have a couple party affiliated observers in a polling site with 6 or 7 polling stations. The closer the anticipated race the more scrutiny.


  • Re:Stupid. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Jedi Alec ( 258881 ) on Tuesday November 06, 2012 @09:01PM (#41902125)

    Where innovating is a nice way of saying "funneling public money to private buddies and corrupting the electoral process while you're at it".

    The most staggering part, however, is that US elections aren't followed by a spree of arrests. Then again, the DA who would have to prosecute is an elected official as well. Round and round she goes, where she is, nobody knows.

  • Re:Stupid. (Score:4, Informative)

    by compro01 ( 777531 ) on Tuesday November 06, 2012 @09:03PM (#41902135)

    1. Delays? What delays? In Canada, barring extremely close races (where it's going to take you days regardless), we know the results before bed.

    2. What issues with recounts?

    3. Lost? Counting facility? The ballots are counted in the same building, often the same room, as where they're put in the box.

    4. Tamper with? In what manner? During the counting? That's what the observers from each party are there for, in addition to the elections officials.

    5. Chads? You put an X in the box. No stupid "punch a hole in the sheet with a herring" or "draw a line across the page" nonsense.

  • Re:Online Voting (Score:5, Informative)

    by Goaway ( 82658 ) on Tuesday November 06, 2012 @09:09PM (#41902179) Homepage

    "GO vote for Mitt Romney, or we'll break your fucking knee caps," seems to work regardless of the voting method used.

    That is why voting is private. You can threaten someone to go vote some way all you want, but you have no way of knowing if they did or not.

    That is not the case for remote voting, where you can stand next to them and make sure they vote the way you want.

  • Re:Stupid. (Score:5, Informative)

    by hawguy ( 1600213 ) on Tuesday November 06, 2012 @09:23PM (#41902285)

    Actually, most equipment, such as Scantron, etc, does. While it's possible to do it optically, it can be done much faster by using electrical conductivity. That said, when, instead of correctly spotting 100 marks on a multiple choice answer sheet, you only need to do a few points, optical sensors probably make more sense.

    All of the Scanners on Scantron's page say they do Optical Mark Recognition and/or Imaging. And they can detect ink or pencil marks. []

    Do you have an actual reference for equipment that uses electrical conductivity to count marks? As I said, I can certainly believe that early machines did, but not anything built recently. I really don't see how electrical counting could be faster than optical counters -- keeping a good electrical contact with fast moving paper seems a lot harder than bouncing light off the paper.

    I found an article confirming that early Scantron machines did use electrical conductivity to count marks: []

    The earliest scantron-like machines used electrical conductivity, rather than light, to read forms. Graphite is quite conductive, so the machines simply had a mechanism at each markable area location to make contact with the form and detect if an electrical current is detected across the area. These systems were used as early as the 1930s.

    But it didn't say when optical scanning came into use.

    That site also has the obligatory XKCD comic: []

  • Re:Stupid. (Score:5, Informative)

    by BitterOak ( 537666 ) on Tuesday November 06, 2012 @09:50PM (#41902467)

    How does a blind person cast a private and secret ballot?

    For blind people, there is a sleeve the ballot can be inserted into which has Braille markings with the candidate's names and openings through which the voter can mark the "X". Also an election official can, if the voter wishes, read the names of the candidates while guiding the voters hand down the openings in the sleeve to acquaint the voter with the options. Then the official leaves the area behind the voting screen so the voter can vote in secret. At his/her option, a voter can designate an assistant to help them with voting, who is required to sign a declaration that they will assist the voter in voting the way they intended, and not disclose the candidate whom the voter selected to anyone. A voter, if he/she wishes can have an election official assist with the voting in a similar way, and of course, such officials are sworn to assist correctly.

  • Re:Stupid. (Score:4, Informative)

    by JDG1980 ( 2438906 ) on Tuesday November 06, 2012 @10:09PM (#41902573)

    That would work fine if I only had one comment to post every two years.

  • Re:Stupid. (Score:5, Informative)

    by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Tuesday November 06, 2012 @11:12PM (#41902925) Homepage
    Actually, votes are counted so fast in Canada, that we had to create a law that says results from the east coast couldn't be broadcast until the polls in the west coast were closed.
  • Re:Stupid. (Score:0, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 06, 2012 @11:15PM (#41902943)

    stop making up shit on stuff you don't know.

  • Re:Stupid. (Score:3, Informative)

    by hughk ( 248126 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2012 @07:23AM (#41905819) Journal
    The UK uses paper and pencil. Candidates may personally supervise counting or their agents can. Funnily enough, the Federal Republic of Germany (pop about 80m) does fine with paper and pencil and usually, there is a single, transferable vote type system so more complicated as you have take into account people's secondary choices.

They are called computers simply because computation is the only significant job that has so far been given to them.