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New Bill Could Finally Get Rid of Paperless Voting Machines (arstechnica.com) 391

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A bipartisan group of six senators has introduced legislation that would take a huge step toward securing elections in the United States. Called the Secure Elections Act, the bill aims to eliminate insecure paperless voting machines from American elections while promoting routine audits that would dramatically reduce the danger of interference from foreign governments. "With the 2018 elections just around the corner, Russia will be back to interfere again," said co-sponsor Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.). So a group of senators led by James Lankford (R-Okla.) wants to shore up the security of American voting systems ahead of the 2018 and 2020 elections. And the senators have focused on two major changes that have broad support from voting security experts.

The first objective is to get rid of paperless electronic voting machines. Computer scientists have been warning for more than a decade that these machines are vulnerable to hacking and can't be meaningfully audited. States have begun moving away from paperless systems, but budget constraints have forced some to continue relying on insecure paperless equipment. The Secure Elections Act would give states grants specifically earmarked for replacing these systems with more secure systems that use voter-verified paper ballots. The legislation's second big idea is to encourage states to perform routine post-election audits based on modern statistical techniques. Many states today only conduct recounts in the event of very close election outcomes. And these recounts involve counting a fixed percentage of ballots. That often leads to either counting way too many ballots (wasting taxpayer money) or too few (failing to fully verify the election outcome). The Lankford bill would encourage states to adopt more statistically sophisticated procedures to count as many ballots as needed to verify an election result was correct -- and no more.

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New Bill Could Finally Get Rid of Paperless Voting Machines

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  • ballot images (Score:5, Interesting)

    by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Tuesday January 02, 2018 @04:24PM (#55851143) Journal
    Ballot images should exist, too [blackboxvoting.org].
    • Re:ballot images (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ctilsie242 ( 4841247 ) on Tuesday January 02, 2018 @04:35PM (#55851235)

      David Chaum has some excellent work on auditable voting systems, with excellent trails of proof. However, it doesn't seem that municipalities really care, as opposed to buying what the lowest bidder has to offer.

    • Re:ballot images (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 02, 2018 @05:15PM (#55851553)

      Ballot images should exist, too

      Hhhm. I've been on black box voting's mailing list for over a decade. But I'm not so sure I like the idea of ballot images. For a couple of reasons:

      1) If they have serial numbers, it threatens ballot secrecy because you can sell (or be extorted) your vote and then prove it by providing the serial number.
      2) If they don't have serial numbers, you can still write something on the ballot to make it identifiable as your vote.
      3) If the serial numbers are consecutive its likely that someone could de-anonymize votes given access to other data (like smartphone location data showing who was at the polls at certain times).

      Every choice in system design is a trade-off, but BBV seems to be a little naive to the risks here since ballot images are theoretically public documents and they are explicitly advocating crowd-sourcing their verification.

      • Ballot images are good, but they can't be used as the *only* form of verification. If you don't have the paper ballots to back them up, they aren't as good. The advantage is that any citizen who is interested can look at them for anomalies. Then you can go back to the actual paper ballots to make sure the anomaly is actually real.

        It lowers the barrier for citizens to participate. There are actually examples of this happening, I believe in Inyo county (in California) about a decade ago, citizens were looki
  • Voter ID (Score:3, Insightful)

    by JackieBrown ( 987087 ) <dbroome@gmail.com> on Tuesday January 02, 2018 @04:25PM (#55851149)

    As long as they are talking about making voting more secure, they should add into the bill voter ID requirements

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jellomizer ( 103300 )

      Just as long as the ID requirement is fare to all people of different races and economic standings, and doesn't lead to improper tracking on who voted for whom. Not like many of the GOP ID Laws, which in general try to isolate the poor and groups who wouldn't vote for the GOP. By making getting the ID difficult, expensive, or inconvenient to those votes who may not have the resources to get such ID's

      • Just as long as the ID requirement is fare to all people

        Bus fare? Train fare?

        What we're having for lunch?

        Or did you mean "fair"? Never mind....

      • I am baffled by the fact that there is no general ID in the US which is compulsory. In countries like Germany you have a general ID and you have to specify your permanent residence (your state contact address). Through this you are automatically registered to vote and get all voting materials necessary to that address. You also pay your taxes there. The information is used for all elections town hall to national parliament and of course EU parliament. And you can forbid the state to give away your data to t

    • No they shouldn't (Score:4, Insightful)

      by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Tuesday January 02, 2018 @04:51PM (#55851347)
      It's a defacto poll tax combined with voter suppression. Anywhere it's been implemented it's instantly become expensive and difficult to obtain the necessary Id. It's a trick by your friendly neighborhood aristocracy to give you the illusion of Democracy without all the nastiness of the 'wrong' people voting.
      • Re:No they shouldn't (Score:5, Interesting)

        by ghoul ( 157158 ) on Tuesday January 02, 2018 @05:04PM (#55851453)

        I feel the electronic voting machines should have a few questions on the constitution and civics and only after you answer them correctly should you be shown the screen which allows you to vote. Too many people who have no idea of what democracy means vote hence making the whole exercise a farce where the one with the most TV time (and by extension the most corporate lobbies) wins because most people dont know what they are voting for.
        The questions can be pulled from a rotating questionbank so no 2 people get the same 5 questions and if some party is willing to educate their voters on the right answers to all 5000 questions well now you have an informed voter.

        • Re:No they shouldn't (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Ichijo ( 607641 ) on Tuesday January 02, 2018 @05:18PM (#55851579) Homepage Journal

          Also remove every "(R)" and "(D)" from the ballot. Let's not make it quite so easy for people to vote along party lines.

          • Also remove every "(R)" and "(D)" from the ballot

            That is truly brilliant, as outside Presidential elections, most people probably don't actually know the candidates names.

          • I agree strongly with this one. If you haven't learned enough about the candidates to be able to pick out their name, then you aren't informed enough to be casting a vote.

            I also suspect this will lead to vote totals of about a dozen for minor offices. I don't really see a problem with that.

      • I am in principle in favor of more stringent voter ID laws, if we could disentangle them from the silly issues that they're being used (I agree) for voter suppression. I lay blame on people using it as an aggression on voters, but also those voters who can't manage to get it done. Knowing who voted, with certainty, is something you would think is part of the system.

        I just really don't understand how you can be a functioning member of society and not have managed to get an identification card once in yo
        • >"I just really don't understand how you can be a functioning member of society and not have managed to get an identification card once in your life that is sufficient proof of identity. Is it really that much of a burden, once every 10 years to get your drivers license / ID card?"

          That is my position too. I am sorry if it is "difficult" to get a government ID, but without it you can't drive, buy a home, get credit, get a legitimate (tax-paying) job, get any type of clearance, purchase any restricted pro

      • So you're saying that it's just fine to require an ID to apply for a job or unemployment benefits, purchase alcohol or cigarettes, cash a check, open a bank account, apply for welfare or food stamps, rent a house, rent a hotel room, drive a car, get on an airplane, or even adopt a pet... But asking someone for an ID *to verify that they're a legitimate voter* is going too far?

        Uh huh...

      • If that's what you believe, then you'd better start condemning Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, the UK [wikipedia.org] and ironically Mexico [wikipedia.org] for succumbing to this insipid takeover by the aristocracy via voter ID cards.

        If we applied to other programs the same standard opponents of voter ID cards use (it was abused in the past, so it must never be implemented), we'd have to eliminate pretty much every government program in existence including social security, medicare, food stamps, public housing, u
        • by shilly ( 142940 )

          1. The UK has a pretty torrid relationship with voter ID requirements, and it's absolutely no fucking surprise whatsoever that the current bunch of right wing Tory cunts are busy doing a pound-shop imitation of the Republicans in relation to gerrymandering, introduction of voter ID requirements, changes to registration requirements for students, moves from household to individual registration etc etc. They know that discouraging the young and poor from voting is central to their success.
          2. There's only one

      • It would be better to have compulsory ID which anyone must have which includes specifying a contact address. If you are poor you obviously do not need to pay anything for the ID. However, I have heard in the USA such IDs are not compulsory and you do not get registered automatically which in turn complicates things for people who do not use an ID in their daily live which are poor people.

    • Re:Voter ID (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Ol Olsoc ( 1175323 ) on Tuesday January 02, 2018 @05:23PM (#55851619)

      As long as they are talking about making voting more secure, they should add into the bill voter ID requirements

      Absolutely, but a particular group always tries to bring that up right before elections. This ends up becoming a dogwhistle to make certain that the faithful get out to vote.

      The fix for this is very simple. When you register to vote, you get a photo ID taken, and a card issued. If you are already registered you get one the next time you vote. And in addition to the photo id, it goes into a database that you have the id. If you cannot find your ID, your drivers license wil be cross referenced with aanother form, such as Driver's license, oyu ar eissued a new ID, and you can vote.

      Then it is phased in over a couple election cycles.

      Then along with the ID, you cannot be denied the ability to vote - indeed keeping a person from voting should be a third degree felony for the polling place manager(s) Give them an incentive for promotion of enfranchisement. Lines with a wait time longer than an hour will be a misdemeanor, and must be addressed by a new group of poll workers and a solution. As well, the Voter should get a confirmation that their vote has been counted.

      Any problems with that? Disenfranchisement as a felony will probably be the one most people doen't like. But some groups like issuing felonies, so maybe that's a win win?

      Now the interesting thing is that I am holding in my fat little hand, a voting ID card. Seems they already exist. Standing by to hear why my proposal won't work.

    • Why on earth would an ID be required? It's a needless extra complication for no good reason. You send out the voting cards to all registered voters, they show up at the polls, you score them off the list as they receive their ballot. Done. Everyone is identified, no one needs to get expensive, or complex to get ID cards.

      IDs don't make voting any more secure, they only make it harder to vote.

      • Why on earth would an ID be required? It's a needless extra complication for no good reason. You send out the voting cards to all registered voters, they show up at the polls, you score them off the list as they receive their ballot. Done. Everyone is identified, no one needs to get expensive, or complex to get ID cards.

        Hi, I'm your next-door neighbor, and I vehemently disagree with you politically! So when I saw the mailman dropping off ballots today, I made sure to take yours out of your mailbox and give it to my 17-year-old son. Since there's no requirement to show ID when dropping off the ballot, it should be easy for him to impersonate you.

        • I guess you don't know about having to sign in to vote, and that the vote registrar has your registration, with signature, on file. This method, using signatures to verify identity has worked reliably for hundreds of years.

          I am sure you can point to evidence of this scenario happening at some detectable level somewhere?

          Odd how some people are so keen on fixing a problem that can't be show to even exist in reality (as opposed to the fantasy you posted).

  • People should realize that the vote tabulators for paper ballots are still ancient computers with very little oversight too.
    • But doesn't that require them to be onsite as opposed to "hacking" an election from tens, hundreds or thousands of miles away?

      I'm a fan of the scantron sheets myself. They're easy to use, and I get to make sure my ballot is cast when I insert it to the reader. It also provides for easy recounting as well. It's not perfect, but it will do.

      • by raymorris ( 2726007 ) on Tuesday January 02, 2018 @04:51PM (#55851349) Journal

        At my last job exam scores were calculated with Scantron machines. Though the Scantron was faster than grading by hand, it is unreliable, so every sheet had to be double-checked by a human. The people had to correct the Scantron results rather often.

        One Scantron machine was noticeably less reliable than another; perhaps some maintenance, aligning and cleaning it, makes a big difference.

        • by habig ( 12787 )

          At my last job exam scores were calculated with Scantron machines. Though the Scantron was faster than grading by hand, it is unreliable, so every sheet had to be double-checked by a human. The people had to correct the Scantron results rather often.

          Really? When teaching large intro courses, I have to resort to scantron grading or go mad. Not an ideal way to do tests, but sufficient for freshman survey courses.

          Anyway - I have never had a student come to me and say "this question right here - the scantron got it wrong." And believe you me, if it had ever happened, I'd hear about it several femtoseconds after the student got their grades back. So, after untold tens of thousands of bubbles filled in by my students over the years, not one error that

    • Yes, that's still a point of potential failure. But at least paper ballots reduce the number of points of potential failure.

    • Which is why it's important to keep the paper. Then you can have people verify the count under supervision.
      • So, what happens if a box or three of paper ballots are lost?

        Pretend they never existed?

        Hold the election again?

        Either way, it allows someone to game the system....

    • The machines at the bank that count cash are based on 100-year-old technology, but the financial industry still relies on them heavily, because they just fucking work.

  • by oldgraybeard ( 2939809 ) on Tuesday January 02, 2018 @04:42PM (#55851277)
    We have paper ballots and unconnected standalone tabulators. The more tech, the more chance for issues, problems, etc.

    Tighter voter ID would also be on my list for Voter Roll integrity. I am amazed when people just laugh about the number of dead individuals still voting ;)
    • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Tuesday January 02, 2018 @05:08PM (#55851499) Homepage Journal

      I'm convinced that of the great advantages of voting machines is that you can manipulate an election without rigging the count. You just rig the wait times.

      I've been voting for almost 40 years now on optically scanned paper ballots, and I have never had to wait more than five minutes, even in the most hotly contested elections they just throw up another row of cheap, pop-up voting booths. And there's never any machine glitches to deal with either.

      When I read about places where people wait for hours to vote, I wonder how it is possible to spend so much money on computerizing a process, only to make it much, much slower and more cumbersome -- unless it was somehow intentional.

      • I live in a western vote-by-mail state, with some centralized polling places for people who were not registered in time to have the ballot mailed to them, or who prefer to vote in person. Waiting time is, for all practical purposes, zero.

        Opinion polls done after the system had been used a couple of times asked the question, "Should the state retain its vote-by-mail system?" The answer was yes across the political spectrum: >75% of Republicans and >80% of Democrats and independents. Over 30 years,
    • by ghoul ( 157158 ) on Tuesday January 02, 2018 @05:11PM (#55851517)

      There is a very simple way to do this. Have an electronic voting machine with a paper printout. Voter votes, prints out his ballot and puts it into the ballot box. When counting the electronic count is used but with 10% of the paper votes counted by hand to verify the counts are good. If the counts dont match up statistically or the election is close the backup paper ballots get counted by hand. You get speed and you get accuracy. You have a national level organization standardize the machine format to be used by all local authorities. Heck in India there is a National Election Commission whose only job is to conduct elections. They are pretty multipartisan as their terms overlap across elections and every party which comes to power gets to put its appointees on the commission but that would never work in US as the US distrusts federal solutions.

      • by Tailhook ( 98486 )

        Michigan has approximately this system in place. It worked well in 2016.

        What didn't work well was Wayne County. The county where one finds Detroit is fabulously corrupt and incompetent. Poll workers messed up their job so badly [detroitnews.com] that had Jill Stein's recount been completed in Michigan about half of Detroit votes would have been excluded from the result; state law governing recounts excludes ballots from precincts that fail to balance votes tallied by the machine with paper ballots found in the lock box

    • I am amazed when people just laugh about the number of dead individuals still voting ;)

      That's because the number is so small, it's not even a rounding error. We're talking fewer than 1 per million votes cast. And, even there, there are non-nefarious explanations. For instance, of the recent "dead people voting" in NC, 1 dead person did vote (early voting). The rest were things like clerical errors in the list of dead people, clerical errors in the list of voters, and, the largest by far, people with the

  • Electronic voting systems guarantee that it's impossible to actually trust the results of elections.

    • Electronic voting systems guarantee that it's impossible to actually trust the results of elections.

      Actually.. It's the FUD being spread by those who are interested in bashing public confidence in how our republic works that makes it impossible to trust the results of an election.

      Some do it to sell new voting machines...

      Some do it to discredit their political rivals...

      Some do it to foment discontent with the current rule of law..

      There is nothing really wrong with electronic voting systems that wasn't wrong with the old mechanical ones, punch cards or even the old paper ballots.

      • There is nothing really wrong with electronic voting systems that wasn't wrong with the old mechanical ones, punch cards or even the old paper ballots.

        Well, the punch cards were always a terrible idea and remain so. And you're right that there is no perfectly secure method. That said, there are two things that make the electronic systems worse: they're easier to subvert (more points of potential failure), and if subverted, it's easier to make it unnoticeable and/or impossible to prove tampering.

        • There is nothing really wrong with electronic voting systems that wasn't wrong with the old mechanical ones, punch cards or even the old paper ballots.

          Well, the punch cards were always a terrible idea and remain so. And you're right that there is no perfectly secure method. That said, there are two things that make the electronic systems worse: they're easier to subvert (more points of potential failure), and if subverted, it's easier to make it unnoticeable and/or impossible to prove tampering.

          Like I said. that's just FUD.

          It may be more difficult to EXPLAIN to those who don't understand the technology, but properly engineered electronic voting systems can be MUCH more secure, reliable, auditable and accurate than mechanical or paper options.

          Even paper ballots are highly subject to tampering... How? If you know what one looks like, it's easy to create a bunch of them that are indistinguishable from real ones. You can "Stuff the ballot box" with any number of votes you like.

          ALL systems suffer

  • Good start (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Tuesday January 02, 2018 @04:52PM (#55851357)
    now end Gerrymandering and repeal Citizen's United with a few well targeted laws and maybe we can talk about America being a Democracy.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by bobbied ( 2522392 )

      now end Gerrymandering and repeal Citizen's United with a few well targeted laws and maybe we can talk about America being a Democracy.

      LOL... First how do you propose we end Gerrymandering? Usually the district maps are drawn by bi-partisan groups and are routinely tested in the courts to make sure they are fair. What kind of rules do you think we need here that we don't already have?

      Citizen's United seems like a good decision that upheld the 1st amendment to me. I don't think you can restrict companies and non-profits from making political donations or doing political activities w/o restricting free speech in the process. Maybe we can j

      • Usually the district maps are drawn by bi-partisan groups and are routinely tested in the courts to make sure they are fair. What kind of rules do you think we need here that we don't already have?

        That is definitely not the case in most states. In Pennsylvania, there is an ongoing court case that was recently taken up by the state Supreme Court that challenges the gerrymandered maps drawn by state Republicans using partisan voter data. Currently the state legislature simply approves the map, so the dominant party effectively gets to choose the map, and can of course make sure it is a favorable one.

        Independent redistricting groups are a step in the right direction, but your word of "bi-partisan" shows

  • by CaptainDork ( 3678879 ) on Tuesday January 02, 2018 @04:52PM (#55851361)

    ... and USPS, and landlines, and fax, and credit card imprinters.

  • by supernova87a ( 532540 ) <kepler1@@@hotmail...com> on Tuesday January 02, 2018 @05:07PM (#55851483)
    I recall a few years ago (maybe 10 years?) during the GWB election, that there was an elegant proposal by voting researchers on how giving each voter someone else's anonymized receipt / code to check online via a website later was a very simple method that could audit the results with just a few % of people doing the checking. And people checking get the satisfaction of being part of the system, and/or maybe being rewarded if they find a mistake.

    Does anyone else recall this method?

    It sounds kind of like the method in China where, to help ensure that people ask for sales receipts and make everyone pay tax -- by looking afterwards for their receipt being a winning lottery ticket on the national website.
    • Does anyone else recall this method?

      10 years ago it was probably Punchscan. It's been improved significantly since than, simplified and streamlined, but with even better auditing, and renamed. The current version is Scantegrity II [wikipedia.org].

      I post a link to it on pretty much every slashdot article about voting. Mostly it's ignored amid heated discussions of peripheral issues and lots of curmudgeons who say all you need is black X on a piece of paper and a horde of volunteers to count 'em up. (I'll note that the curmudgeons aren't wrong, exactly, but

  • by DodgeRules ( 854165 ) on Tuesday January 02, 2018 @05:09PM (#55851505)

    I love paper ballots. Now let's make better readers. Suggestions for different designs:

    1. Standalone reader that can be placed such that the exit of reader #1 can be placed next to the entrance of reader #2 (etc...) for immediate recount during elections.

    2. Standalone reader that has 3 scanner heads. All 3 heads must read each ballot the same to exit to the verified bin. Any differences and the ballot is kicked back out the entrance to be attempted again. Voter is confident that if the ballot is accepted, the votes have been properly counted.

    Any suggestions for secure ways to transfer vote totals from polling locations to state election headquarters?

    • There is a better solution to the auditability you seek: Scantegrity II [wikipedia.org]. End-to-end verifiability, including the ability for any person or organization to verify the final tally, and for any voter to verify that their vote was correctly included in the tally, but without enabling the voter to prove how they voted to any third party (to avoid enabling vote buying and coercion).

  • That Twitler will just veto it.

    Mandatory voting, e.g. like Greece and Australia.

    Polls open multiple days, including over a weekend.

    Eliminate Gerrymandering

    Those are the things we really need. It's the 21st Century. Really, it's time.

  • Cost (Score:4, Informative)

    by michael_cain ( 66650 ) on Tuesday January 02, 2018 @05:31PM (#55851669) Journal
    The big question is, "Congress might mandate it, but are they willing to pay for it?" In most states the cost of the voting equipment falls on the counties. Any that bought voting equipment in the last decade are going to fight tooth and nail against having to replace it. I have a friend who works in the electronic voting machine business; she tells me that they're still doing repair work on 20-year-old machines because of counties who don't have the money to replace them.
  • promoting routine audits that would dramatically reduce the danger of interference from foreign governments

    Typical of the /. narrative we see these days. I haven't seen any evidence that this "danger" exists. The real danger is absentee voter fraud.

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