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Ask Slashdot: How Would You Use Computers To Make Elections Better? 498

shanen writes: Regarding politics, is there anything that Americans agree on? If so, it's probably something negative like "The system is broken," or "The leading candidates are terrible," or even "Your state is a shithole." With all our fancy technology, what's going wrong? Our computers are creating problems, not solutions. For example, gerrymandering relies on fancy computers to rig the maps. Negative campaigning increasingly relies on computers to target the attacks on specific voters. Even international attacks exploit the internet to intrude into elections around the world. Here are three of my suggested solutions, though I can't imagine any of today's politicians would ever support anything along these lines:

(1) Guest voting: If you hate your district, you could vote in a neighboring district. The more they gerrymander, the less predictable the election results.
(2) Results-based weighting: The winning candidates get more voting power in the legislature, reflecting how many people actually voted for them. If you win a boring and uncontested election where few people vote, then part of your vote in the legislature would be transferred to the winners who also had more real votes.
(3) Negative voting: A voter could use an electronic ballot to make it explicit that the vote is negative, not positive. The candidate with the most positive or fewest negative votes still wins, but if the election has too many negative votes, then that "winner" would be penalized, perhaps with a half term rather than a full term.

What wild and crazy ideas do you have for using computers to make elections better, not worse?
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Ask Slashdot: How Would You Use Computers To Make Elections Better?

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  • Simple (Score:5, Insightful)

    by oldgraybeard ( 2939809 ) on Friday January 12, 2018 @08:13PM (#55918849)
    I would not use computers! Paper ballot feed in to (Yes computer based) non connected totaling systems. Just my 2 cents ;)
    • by Motard ( 1553251 )

      Right. Computers are good at counting shit. Let's just let them do that.

      Elections are about people. Until skynet fixes this, this is going to have to do.

    • Re:Simple (Score:4, Interesting)

      by 0100010001010011 ( 652467 ) on Friday January 12, 2018 @08:45PM (#55919111)

      Paper ballot with scanners.

      Rather than a mono-culture require that no 2 bordering counties may use the same brand scanner.

      After the early election results are in share ballots with 2 neighboring counties to use on their machines.

      If the machines report different numbers you hand count them.

      Bonus companies for how accurate they are. Those that are more than 1% off get no payment for the machines and the company is not allowed to make machines for the next election cycle.

      • Re:Simple (Score:5, Insightful)

        by ShakaUVM ( 157947 ) on Friday January 12, 2018 @11:11PM (#55919795) Homepage Journal

        Agreed. All digital voting is the biggest threat to democracy ever seen.

        • Agreed. All digital voting is the biggest threat to democracy ever seen.


          It's not the people who vote that count, it's the people who count the votes.

          Apocryphal, and attributed to many sources (including Joseph Stalin) but in an anti-democracy dystopia, ain't it true?

          IMHO, don't let computers have full control over votes. Always, always have a hard-copy ballot. Let computers tally them, but leave it open for humans to examine what happened.

    • I would say computers are not incompatible with paper ballots. I gather that for some disabled people a touch screen is easier to use than a paper ballot. The trick is to have a human readable paper ballot in the middle of the process that the voter can review. So the touch screen machines should only be hooked to printers and not to ballot counting.

    • Blockchain the vote.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Chas ( 5144 )

      I simply don't have enough mod points for this post.

      Sorry, but computers simply are NOT a trustworthy medium for something like this.

      I LIKE computers. And I trust them to work as they're told.

      I simply don't trust the assholes who're doing the telling. Nor that someone couldn't subvert them and become the assholes who're doing the telling...

    • I remember this event in my country (we have paper ballots and manual counting).

      Votes are coming in, this is the second round of Presidential election (meaning there are only two candidates left). Candidate A has around 60% votes, until there is some "computer trouble", no results updates for a while. When the "computer problem" is fixed, it turns out that candidate B is now winning the election with 55% or so votes.

  • by jader3rd ( 2222716 ) on Friday January 12, 2018 @08:14PM (#55918865)

    Instead of voting for a candidate, have the electorate vote on a number of issues (combination of recent past issues and issues on the docket). Then take the average, and the candidate of the political party that is closest to the average, wins. Parties can do whatever they want to determine candidates.

    Down side is that for those who already feel like voting is like busy homework, this will add to the load.

    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      Down side is that for those who already feel like voting is like busy homework, this will add to the load.

      If they think picking red or blue every few years is too much effort, maybe they're better off staying home. And honestly that could actually bring people out to vote primarily on a particular issue they care about rather than vote for Hillary vs Trump. Because I can see how neither would be particularly appealing....

    • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

      Better, have the electorate vote to choose which issues matter most to them. Then, let them vote on each issue, and allow the political parties to apportion representatives proportional to the number of people who voted a particular way on those issues. For example, let's say there were three issues (way too small a number, but we'll use it for demonstration purposes): gun control, free speech, and abortion. 75% come out in favor of gun control, 50/50 on abortion, and 90% in favor of free speech. If yo

    • Instead of voting for a candidate, have the electorate vote on a number of issues (combination of recent past issues and issues on the docket). Then take the average, and the candidate of the political party that is closest to the average, wins. Parties can do whatever they want to determine candidates.

      Trouble is this doesn't account for some things. Eg-
      - I don't believe candidate/party X will do what they claim
      - candidate/party Y has the moral fiber of a cup of jello

      • I don't believe candidate/party X will do what they claim

        I guess that does leave a hole where a party is regularly reserving the opposite vote of what they want, but I would think doing so would confuse the members of the party, and would be a self correcting situation.

    • by shanen ( 462549 )

      Interesting idea, but I don't see how the accountability would work. The winners of the elections might fail to live up to the promises they had made.

      Also still subject to abuse from the appeal to single-issue voters. That's actually how the GOP is getting a lot of votes these days. Just tell them you agree with THE issue.

  • Ranked voting (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 12, 2018 @08:18PM (#55918899)

    Computers would make this easier but are not required.

    • Re:Ranked voting (Score:5, Interesting)

      by swillden ( 191260 ) <> on Saturday January 13, 2018 @04:17AM (#55920633) Homepage Journal

      Computers would make this easier but are not required. []

      I used to be big fan of ranked voting, especially with Condorcet evaluation with Schwarz Sequential Dropping. Then I tried to explain it to a few people and changed my mind. Instant-runoff is a little simpler, but still pretty complicated -- and actually a bit tricky to execute correctly since it's inherently multi-pass (Condorcet is simpler to execute). Simplicity matters because what's just as important as having a fair election, is having a fair election that voters can understand and trust.

      I think the best scheme overall is approval voting. The mathematical properties of approval voting are almost as good as the best ranked voting schemes. It's a little more vulnerable to strategic voting (which is when voters might have reason to vote other than their true preferences, as is the norm in plurality-rules schemes), but really not very much. In theory it also doesn't capture quite as much nuance of voter intent since it doesn't allow one to express a preference between two acceptable candidates. But it does allow voters to express another important element of intent which ranked ballots don't allow: acceptability. And it's brain-dead simple to understand.

      If you don't know how it works, here you go: An approval voting ballot has all of the candidates listed. You mark all of those that are acceptable to you. The candidate with the most marks wins.

      Such a system eliminates the strong two-party bias that plurality-rules systems have (Duverger's Law, that bias is called). In very few cases does it ever make sense to vote other than your true preferences. And it encourages parties to field broadly-acceptable candidates.

      Tallying is a single-pass process and counts can be provided by sub-regions for totalling (unlike IRV, where the runoff phases require reinterpretation of the ballots at each runoff). If it's desired, you can even specify a minimum win threshold -- if no candidate gets, say, 50% approval then no one wins and you re-run the election with a new slate of candidates. There's an obvious risk of never getting a winner here, so such a system should probably progressively lower the required approval level to be sure that someone eventually wins, but the flip side is that such a system would mean that the 2016 US presidential election would never have put either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump on the ballot; both (all) parties would be looking for someone with broader appeal.

      However, approval voting can be done with or without computers, so it's not really relevant here. IRV can also be done without computers, though it's kind of tedious without them.

      • Approval voting gets my vote.

        I have considered systems where you could vote for and against people. My local elections usually some up with about 8 candidates, where the best are faceless, and the worst are the nasty sort of nationalist. I can't pick one Iike, but there are certainly ones I hate. People with strong opinions for one person would vote for them and blackball everyone else. So, being able to vote for and against any candidate almost reduces to approval voting.

        Approval voting also is easy t

  • Watson For President

  • by FeelGood314 ( 2516288 ) on Friday January 12, 2018 @08:40PM (#55919061)
    The electorate are always going to be emotional, easily fooled and right stupid. Look at the average person and then realize half the people are dumber than him. The best you can hope for is to have a way to remove an incompetent government after 4 or 5 years. The best democracies are ones where people successfully remove a bad party and don't have it return unless it seriously changes it's way. These are countries where new parties can be created and eventually form the government. Poor democracies are ones where the government doesn't change, switches back and forth between two parties with no hope of a third party forming, or countries with endless coalitions where the same people stay in government forever.
  • by Carter Meyers ( 5086437 ) on Friday January 12, 2018 @08:42PM (#55919081)
    Go back to a republic - where only land owners get to vote. Then use computers to adjust the weight of each vote based on how much land you own.
  • by klingens ( 147173 ) on Friday January 12, 2018 @08:44PM (#55919095)

    Use an algorithm to create congressional districts with census data so each district has approx. the same amount of possible voters and the smallest circumference. No more rigging to create safe districts for either party with ridiculous borders.

    • The problem is that while you can use mapping data to break districts in somewhat logical ways, we also tend to want to divide voting by 'neighborhoods' when possible. This is both a problem and a solution, since neighborhoods are pretty much by definition clusters of similar people who probably vote similarly.

      Nobody wants to see their vote ignored because they're a small neighborhood adjoining a larger but politically different one, and nobody wants to see someone else's vote given more effective weight b

      • Are there any objective definition of 'neighborhoods'? If yes, then we can group houses/buildings/estates in census data so they can stay in the same district even with computer district genearation. If there is no objective definition, then your desire to "divide voting by 'neighborhoods'" is just a desire to gerrymandering.
    • by jonwil ( 467024 ) on Friday January 12, 2018 @09:53PM (#55919431)

      Do it like they do in Australia.
      Changing the electoral boundaries is done by an independent body (the Australian Electoral Commission).
      It is done on a regular basis and is designed to ensure that each state has a suitable number of representatives based on its population and that each electoral district has a similar number of electors.

      Generally the AEC will try and keep related areas in the same district (e.g. a specific suburb will all be in one district for the most part) and they also take submissions from people into account when drawing up the boundaries.

      Since its done independently and people get to have a proper say, no-one can argue its unfair to them (e.g. they cant say "hey we dont think its fair that our poor black neighborhood is in a district of mostly rich white people" because they had the opportunity to complain/object to that decision and because no-one can argue that the decision was in any way political.

      • Not Australian, forgive my ignorance, but as far as I can see from Wikipedia, the AEC is answerable to parliament and run by a minister of the government. I don't get how it's reasonable to call it an 'independent body', when presumably the government (with support of parliament) can have it do whatever they please.

        It might be run non-partisanly as a matter of tradition, I suppose.

    • Yours has so far been the most intelligent posting to what is otherwise an absurdly ridiculous article. Technology did not create the problem. It merely provided an efficient tool for enhancing analytical abilities. It is the users that determine how to use that ability. The writer of this tripe is promoting the idea that since hammers have been used to hurt people, we should stop making and using hammers.

      Any tool that can be used for bad can also be used for good (and vice-versa).

  • We have been letting things slide in the USA to the point some electronic voting systems have no paper trail at all. Some paper records are deleted or destroyed, even illegally. There is talk of needing fancy ID and who the hell knows how/if your vote counted afterward.

    Many think what we need is a permenant voting record for all citizens to view on everyone for all elections using something like pseudo-ids that are re-anonymized for each election. We need a tamper proof way to see that our votes were c
    • by dryeo ( 100693 )

      A voting system should be easily understandable by the voters and should not allow extra votes to be injected into the system. Blockchain fails the first and may fail the second as even knowing your vote was correctly counted, you probably don't know if other votes were actually cast by real flesh and blood legal voters.

  • Add a short set of very simple, objective questions to the start of the ballot and use it to weight results.

    The objective would be to test whether a voter is minimally informed, not to test intelligence.

    Questions could range from "who is the current President?" (which would be missed by many even today) to "which year had higher violent crime per capita in the US, 1991 or 2014?" (1991 was over double 2014 so though the magnitude might be arguable the fact of a higher crime rate in 1991 is not).

    The results c

  • Program them such that only those measures and candidates that received 100% of the vote could be elected. []

  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Friday January 12, 2018 @08:51PM (#55919143) Homepage Journal

    To look up all the excellent work done by mathematicians, economists, political scientists and cryptographers on (a) how to conduct votes and (b) how to use votes to select candidates, before I bang together my own half-baked proportional representation scheme.

    The maybe I'd write an R routine to detect gerrymandered states (actually quite easy if you've taken the first step above) and then hack into politicians' social media accounts so I could blackmail them into outlawing partisan gerrymandering.

  • Register all the citizens who can vote legally using photo ID. No illegal migrants, non citizens get to vote.
    Use the computers to ensure the citizens can vote once with their registered voter photo ID.
    Use paper votes and count them with all party, independent candidate observers looking over the paper court in real time for each vote counted.
    Collect each count of the vote by citizens in a town, city, part of the USA.
    More party, independent observers to see the final count is correct given their own c
  • Easy, have a secure, trusted, i.e. people can identify and authenticate themselves, system for messaging and polling so that voters can ask questions and put forward their views on issues and policies that they care about. It should also keep track of which politician has claimed to support which issues and how well s/he has followed through when elected, i.e. How well did s/he do what s/he said s/he was going to do? It's up to the politicians to listen and respond, or not, and then come election day, the v

  • I would do exactly what Putin is doing to western nations, only I would push a somewhat different agenda...

  • BBC ATM DP (Score:2, Funny)

    by PopeRatzo ( 965947 )

    We need to vote for whichever candidate cheated on his wife with the hottest porn star. I have to say, I'm a little bit disappointed that Benedict Donald decided to choose Stormy Daniels, who has done interracial scenes. I didn't think Trump would like following a black guy.

    And at $130,000.00, I think he may have overpaid. I thought he was a better negotiator than that.

  • ... as paperweights for the paper ballots.

  • So you want to reform democracy?


  • Computers are great for predicting where the tight races will be.
    Send extra eyes and ears to the tight race locations to help ensure valid procedures are taking place.
    Some valid procedures (think gerrymandering) are inherently unfair, but that is not to be dealt with here.
    Under no circumstances should a hackable computer (really any computer) be used to register a vote.

  • by crunchygranola ( 1954152 ) on Friday January 12, 2018 @09:15PM (#55919271)

    There are is a very active field of "voting theory" [] research about how voting systems can be improved, but little of it has to do with computers per se, though they can make implementation of the post-vote processing more convenient. That is to say, it is not the "computer" that is improving anything. Various forms of preferential voting have a lot to recommend them, along with variations like "instant run-off".

    In general it is a good idea to identify actual problems (e.g. widely unpopular candidates winning due multiple candidates splitting the vote; spoilers being run to siphon of votes from specific candidates, etc.) and propose actual fixes that are subjected to formal analyses, large scale simulations and such to validate that they are improvements.

    The suggestions of the OP mostly sound like "let's just try something different" rather than carefully considered improvement proposals.

    • You should look into Scantegrity II []. It applies computers before and after the balloting to actually increase the integrity of the vote -- irrespective of what voting system is used.
  • The only thing that makes computer based ballots exceedingly difficult to implement is politics, not the technology. It's actually quite simple.

    A user is assigned a random physical token on registration at the voting place, which "START TRANSACTION"s the process. They take this to the machine, which "unlocks" the voting capability. They make their selections, which the computer stores AND prints out a human AND computer readable receipt ( so no bar codes ), which the user then takes back up to the registration desk for secure storage in case of a recount. They also turn the token back in at this time too, and the agent runs it over the "out" scanner, which effectively issues a "COMMIT" to the vote.

    What's the token for? A few different purposes.

    1) If the paper ballot is lost before being returned to desk, the user's vote can be eliminated ( ROLLBACK ) and they can vote again. Paper ballots are important.
    2) Ensure that only those who should be voting are voting, as verified by the registration desk. Voting machines are not randomly open to anyone who walks up to it. In fact, you can take this a step further and make the secured tokens the only way to unlock the database on disk, cryptographically.

    See? Easy. The real question should by; why haven't we done this yet?

  • What about this one? If more than 50% of voters abstain,nobody is elected, and we start over the election with new candidates.
    • No, no. Add a "None of the Above Candidates Is Acceptable" option. If "None of the Above" wins, then all the listed candidates are prohibited from every running for office again.

      In fact, ANY candidate who gets fewer votes than "None of the Above" would be banned from running for any office ever again.

      • by Mal-2 ( 675116 )

        That's a good way to keep newcomers and single-issue candidates out. Only the popular would dare to run, and we'd be left with even more of a celebrity shitshow than we have now.

  • Computer voting is a time that will never come. Too insecure, too subject to tampering, and impossible to recount or validate. I want strictly paper ballots.

    Want to computerize things? Scan the paper ballots and use OMR software to read them. The paper ballots remain the actual vote, and can be hand-counted or re-counted if required.

    AND fingers dipped in ink to reduce double-voting and voter fraud.

    • by kenh ( 9056 )

      If you have computer voting with a paper audit trail, how will you handle when the two have different results? Will paper be considered the official tally? The computer results? If the two never diverge, why have both?

  • Look into 'fluid democracy' whereby all issues are voted on, but you can delegate your vote to someone for any or all issues. You might give your vote to someone because you trust them to think things through, or because they pay you, or perhaps you pay them to act as a representative for you. For issues where you feel strongly, you can make the vote yourself. It looks like an interesting mix between representative and direct democracy.

  • What problem with elections can computers address?

      - Better candidates?

      - Increased voter involvement?

      - Voter education?

    Right now the effect of computers on elections in America is to attack your opponent, and to a lesser extent communicate your position on policy questions.

  • Our computers are creating problems, not solutions. For example, gerrymandering relies on fancy computers to rig the maps.

    That's just computers doing what people tell them to do. Blame the people, not the computers.

  • Keep them as far away from the election process as possible.

    Captain Obvious was glad to help.

  • As a doorstop (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Friday January 12, 2018 @10:13PM (#55919509)

    Or maybe a paperweight.

    You MUST NOT use computers for voting purposes. Even if every bit used is open source, even if you open source hardware, software and everything can be audited and everyone can verify that the hash of the binary is the same that a binary you compiled from the source is the same, even if you do EVERYTHING to make sure that anyone is able to audit it, it's a VERY VERY BAD idea.

    Not because it can be manipulated. But because you cannot silence the ones claiming it's still fraud and that all the computer savvy people cooperate to overthrow democracy and humanity altogether. Because they can't audit it, because you need to know how computers work and how to audit computers to actually perform one.

    Paper and pencil have one key advantage: EVERYONE can audit it. It takes the ability to see and the ability to count. Even reading is entirely optional because all the ballot slips are identical and you can simply go and count the ones with the cross at the same position. Every party can send whoever they want to supervise the election, no special education or skill needed.

    It's less about actual election fraud. It's more that nobody can sensibly claim there had been one. We live in a time of fake news and creative reporting. Is it that far fetched that any party who loses an election would start rumors about rigged voting machines that could of course be audited, but only be a select few (aka "the elite")?

    With paper and ballot, it's trivial to debunk anything like this. They could have sent literally ANYONE to supervise the election process. They could send ANYONE to recount the ballots. Any claim to fraud would instantly fizzle.

    • I would object to complete exclusion of computers: computer tallying of paper-and-pencil ballots greatly speeds up the initial counts. So long as the paper ballots exist and can be counted should a problem be expected, leaving out the computers is simply an exercise in delay and increasing the average cost of human involvement in the process.

      • Ok, that we can agree on. Have computers count the paper slips. Fine. But every single vote has to be able to be counted manually. And I mean that literally to mean "by hand".

  • Just make voting mandatory so you can't get away with voter surpression, eliminate gerrymandering and have a paper trail. Bang, problem solved. I suppose we could use computers to eliminate the electoral college. That'd be nice.
  • by rnturn ( 11092 ) on Friday January 12, 2018 @10:33PM (#55919621)

    Stack computers on top of one another until you have a surface tall enough to fill out a paper ballot.

  • If we have voting directly on individual issues, as in direct democracy, I would allow people be able to give themselves a weight (from 1 to 10 say) that their vote carries in that voting tally.

    People would be encouraged to reflect and only give themselves a high weight when they really care about the issue and also really know about it.

    To make voluntary down-weighting more likely, People could save up a bit of unused vote weight to be dispensed within say the next 5 issue votes (or it's lost). So you could

    • I am all for a federal referendum process to create legislation and Amendments directly, similar to what California and other states have (150,000 signatures to get on the ballot, and then vote directly on the measure every 2 years). However, for day to day operations of the government, most people are too ill informed to vote with any competence.

      That has nothing to do with computers though, paper ballots still work fine for the referendum process.

  • Keep computers out of elections. They are far too easy to tamper with in ways most elections officials are incapable of detecting.

    Paper ballots and any other form are also imperfect, but at least they physically exist and if properly guarded and supervised by election observers, they are reasonably difficult to rig, assuming you get rid of absentee ballots for everyone who is able bodied and require a signed doctors excuse on a prescription pad for the disabled.

  • We can create a system which varies smoothly between direct democracy (issue voting by everyone) and representative democracy.

    The general idea is that for a certain time period, you can lend your vote anonymously to another person, who then has a weight of n+1 votes to vote on the issues/legislation that are put up for decision.

    Variations of this method are the flexibility of the lending time period, and also whether or not you are allowed to "recall" your representative (withdraw your lent vote) earlier th

  • The most obvious change needed in the US is that voting needs to not be optional: Bump individual tax rates by 1-2% and make voting get you it back.

    We should also look to make the campaign durations shorter so that they don't have the time to get into mud-slinging and filth and focus on issues.

  • by nyet ( 19118 ) on Friday January 12, 2018 @11:07PM (#55919771) Homepage

    My top two:

    Condorcet voting, perimeter/area ratio limits for districting.

  • by drafalski ( 232178 ) on Friday January 12, 2018 @11:27PM (#55919869) Homepage

    Has anyone asked Bennett Haselton? I'll wager he has an idea or three...

  • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Saturday January 13, 2018 @02:30AM (#55920425)
    Before asking what is the best voting system, someone was smart enough to ask if it's even possible to determine what the best voting system is.

    The answer is no []. If you start by requiring some common sense criteria for what an election should accomplish, it turns out no voting system can meet those requirements. If you rank those criteria in a specific order, it's possible to mathematically calculate which voting system generates "unfair" results more often for that particular ranking of criteria (which is to say, a "worse" system can still sometimes produce a "fairer" result by your predefined standards). But if you change the ranking of the criteria, a different voting system ends up being best and producing a different winner. A clever documentary back in the 1990s even came up with an example where a dozen candidates participated in a mock election whose votes were tallied using a dozen different voting systems, and each voting system produced a different winner (i.e. each candidate won under one voting system).
  • The USA did OK without a secret ballot for 100 years: []

    Sure, there may be voter intimidation and vote buying and so on without a secret ballot. But will the consequences really be worse than widespread electronic election fraud?

    And the fact is, you can find out who many people probably voted for by looking at campaign donation records anyway. []

    We expect elected representatives to generally vote in a recorded way and to defend their votes. Why do we think that can work but doing the same for individuals won't?

    Otherwise, use paper ballots -- ideally counted by a group of humans from different political affiliations like is done in many other countries.

    Some bigger issues than technology for the USA:

    We could return to the original constitutional number of Representatives so that each vote for one counts 10X more -- which might reduce the role of money in such elections.
    https://economix.blogs.nytimes... []

    And maybe go back to having Senators appointed by State Legislatures. []

    And also consider a Parliamentary system where Congress selects a Prime Minister instead of a direct election of the President (given what a money-driven circus such elections have become): []

Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing. -- Wernher von Braun