pageok
pageok
pageok
We Might Know Who You Voted For:

Via ACSBlog comes this disturbing story suggesting Ohio's e-voting machines may generate paper time-stamped paper trails that could enable election workers to determine who voted for which candidate.

deweber (mail):
This finally, I hope, will bring up the undiscussed tension between providing a paper trail and the concept of a secret ballot. Even if this particular problem is solved, if I get a piece of paper indicating how I voted, I can sell my vote and prove how I voted or I can be coerced into a particular vote and the coercer can get confirmation of that vote. Moreover, to make a paper trail meaningful, there must be some method to track a paper vote record to a electronically recorded vote. Unless carefully managed, this requirement leads to the problem discussed in this article. I have heard no discussion of this conflict in the media or by the opponents of electronic voting. It is a non-trivial issue and may, in fact, have no solution that preserves privacy, security, and tracability.
8.25.2007 2:41pm
gattsuru (mail) (www):
Are they pulling this a bit far, or do they just not have normal jobs?

Try hitting the voting booths at noon or after normal 9-5 jobs end, and I assure you it's far from a first-come first-served result.
Add in the multiple machines that even the smaller communities and voting stations have and the whole thing is moot.

That's not to ignore the issues with paper trails -- I personally find it hard to believe that someone capable of manipulating a voting machine's software in a way that leaves no trace of unusual activity (quite an accomplishment) is going to be stymied by a printer driver and a length of paper -- but I think this sorta hack is the least of our problems.
8.25.2007 3:13pm
Archit (www):
deweber: My guess is that cryptographers can come up with something to save us from this problem. Here is one attempted solution. At the very least, we can make selling votes require a conspiracy among a significant number of users of a single voting machine.
8.25.2007 3:17pm
deweber (mail):
gattsuru: Unfortunately I do not see out to get this article on line. But I do not that it is attempting to prove a paperless receiptness. I would not be suprised that good cryptography would move in a good direction. But note that all the discussion on electronic voting machines talk about REQUIRING a piece of paper as confirmation of the vote. Moveover, any scheme without a piece of paper showing his vote will cause many people to reject it. They will not trust the ability of a computer safely and privately keep the data. In addition, I would expect that any scheme to save the data and provide a mechanism where a user could still verify his vote would be too complicated for anyone except an expert to understand. There is little trust in the modern world of experts who do not say what one wants them to say.
8.25.2007 3:32pm
Paul Allen:
I've been involved in some of these electronic voting projects. I attended the Caltech-MIT voting conferences. I completely agree that privacy is a more severe and likely problem that vote alteration.

Even without paper trail voting, it is usually possible to determine who voted for whom simply because of correlations in how the machines keep their records.

In my state of birth, voting machines were large mechanical contraptions: you pulled the lever, they counted your vote. Individual ballots were never preserved. In my opinion, this is the only acceptable way.

Punchcards and scancards are scandalous creations: both retain finger prints for one thing.
8.25.2007 3:37pm
BruceM (mail) (www):
For what it's worth, as cynical as I am, I can never foresee a situation where the American government would assist people who merely voted for the current administration and/or harm people who voted against it. That takes way too much energy, for one thing (easier to just go after those who speak out against the government), and most importantly the party platform indicates who the government will help, not who voted for it. I can certainly understand why, in some countries, people are horrified of the government knowing who they voted for (Iraq under Saddam, Cuba), but not here. Not even under Bush.

I know this is not the primary concern here, but it's one I don't consider very serious. Employers telling their (poor) employees that they'll get a bonus if they vote for a candidate and bring in a paper voting receipt to prove it is by far the most serious problem I can fathom.
8.25.2007 4:36pm
Libertarian1 (mail):
I was born and raised in Chicago. I personally was involved in "aiding" people to vote for the Democratic candidate. When you hand a voter a slip showing exactly for whom he voted my experience leads me to believe that there will be a precinct captain waiting outside the voting booth to accept that proof and pay the voter. We did it before, why should we not repeat our successes. What bothers me is many will decry this illegality (wink-wink) but say it doesn't really exist.

Same basic topic, voting, when will begin to use the technology already available hand print, finger print, purple finger etc to make certain no one votes more than once and dead men don't vote?
8.25.2007 5:17pm
ChrisIowa (mail):

Punchcards and scancards are scandalous creations: both retain finger prints for one thing.


But either can be recounted and will work when the power is out. A feature that no electronic method offers.
8.25.2007 5:36pm
llamasex (mail) (www):
deweber, You should not keep your paper record trail. This shit isn't that hard people.

You vote if you want electric counting fine, you get your data card and you get a piece of paper. The card has you vote on file electronically, your piece of paper says who you voted for. You put you paper in a locked box, put your card with the cards.

You randomly check districts to make sure the paper count matches the machine count. If it does you certify the electric count state wide. If it doesn't you retest another sample, If it matches you write off the first as an anomaly if it doesn't you count all the paper ballets. Use that count and sue the electric voting machine company.
8.25.2007 5:46pm
nevins (mail):
Interestingly, nowhere in the constitution or its amendments does the matter of secret balloting appear.
How has secrecy become such dogma that we fail to question its origins or necessity?
8.25.2007 5:56pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
Nevins: check the penumbras.
8.25.2007 6:21pm
CheckEnclosed (mail):
The trouble with voting machines, recounts, etc. is that they are based on a paradigm of achieving a perfect count. Under that paradigm, if X and Y run against each other and the vote is really, really close, we just count the ballots again and again until the statutory limit if reached. If X wins the first 9 counts and Y wins the tenth, we give Y the office, because we finally got the count right ... right?

If we instead assume that the vote count is just an approximation of the actual votes cast, then the question is what the margin of error is. In a really, really close election, if the vote count (and any number of recounts) shows that the vote is within the margin of error, we should either hold the election again, or resolve it by some other means.
8.25.2007 6:40pm
David Schwartz (mail):
The basic idea for how you do this is as follows:

1) The voting machine shows you an ID number. You are welcome to write it down or not if you want.

2) You select a candidate you wish to vote for.

3) If you wish, you may take a receipt with the ID number and the candidate on it. The receipt uses a digital signature to be tamper-proof.

4) If you wish, you may also take many other receipts with other people's ID numbers and votes on them.

5) When the final results are released, they include every single ID number that voted for each candidate. If anyone can present a signed receipt that wasn't listed, they know their vote wasn't counted.

6) Monitoring organizations can, if they want, gather outside polling stations and ask voters if they can scan their cards. Votes will also be made available electronically at each local polling area roughly as they come in.

I've left out a lot of details, but this should give you the idea of how you can convince yourself that your vote was counted, and with your cooperation, another organization can make sure your vote was properly counted, even though nobody can force you to vote a particular way or reveal how you voted.
8.25.2007 6:51pm
byomtov (mail):
If we instead assume that the vote count is just an approximation of the actual votes cast, then the question is what the margin of error is. In a really, really close election, if the vote count (and any number of recounts) shows that the vote is within the margin of error, we should either hold the election again, or resolve it by some other means.

I think that just shifts the problem instead of solving it. Say we decide the acceptable margin in a particular election is 1000 votes. Any smaller difference and we "resolve it by some other means." OK. Suppose the results give Claghorn a 995 vote margin over Phoghorn. Then Claghorn starts the recount dance, just as Phoghorn does if the reported margin is 1005. In fact, the chance of a dispute goes up, because there are now two ranges of results that lead to an argument instead of one.
8.25.2007 8:05pm
tarheel:
I wonder if any court would accept a voting scheme that admittedly seeks to ascertain the winner "within the margin of error." I know the constitutional text is different, but haven't courts rejected the use of statistical sampling (as opposed to an actual count) in the Census?
8.25.2007 8:27pm
ChrisIowa (mail):

Interestingly, nowhere in the constitution or its amendments does the matter of secret balloting appear.
How has secrecy become such dogma that we fail to question its origins or necessity?


The secret ballot was a 20th century development. In the mid to late 19th Century (at least in Iowa) the political parties printed the ballots with their slate of candidates listed, or a voter could get a ballot by cutting it out of the newspaper. The voter would put a ballot with his preferred slate in the box (generally the opposing candidates were not even listed). The party observers could see how an individual voted by the color or shape of the ballot the voter put in the box.
8.25.2007 8:37pm
V:
The secret ballot was a 20th century development. In the mid to late 19th Century (at least in Iowa) the political parties printed the ballots with their slate of candidates listed, or a voter could get a ballot by cutting it out of the newspaper. The voter would put a ballot with his preferred slate in the box (generally the opposing candidates were not even listed). The party observers could see how an individual voted by the color or shape of the ballot the voter put in the box.

GREAT! The 20th century worked out so well, politics-wise...
8.25.2007 9:05pm
Daryl Herbert (www):
David Schwartz, what you are describing is the first half of an enforcement mechanism for vote buying schemes.
8.25.2007 9:34pm
stormy (mail):
I believe it's absolutely essential that we all have proof of who we voted for. In a secret ballot how would we collectively know the if vote was manipulated? Should we trust the government? I think David Schwartz hit it on the mark. We're already dealing with a vote buying scheme, its called entitlements.
8.25.2007 10:58pm
ChrisIowa (mail):

I believe it's absolutely essential that we all have proof of who we voted for.


But if you have a piece of paper showing how you voted, how does that show how your vote was registered?
8.25.2007 11:35pm
Glen Campbell (mail) (www):
Actually, the concept behind a paper trail is NOT that you take it with you (as you mention, that leads to selling votes) but a paper trail that you can verify (behind glass) after you've voted, and which can be used, if necessary, for a manual recount. A timestamp (or even the sequence of ballots) would THEORETICALLY allow someone to determine who cast which vote, but it's actually far more secure than mail-in ballots, which are sadly already in wide use.
8.25.2007 11:44pm
Guest12345:
What Glen said. Except drop the time stamp and have the ballot box tumble the votes around so that they're all mixed up. There's zero need for fancy cryptography. No need for DNA or semen samples. It's just adding electronics to the current system, not reinventing everything from scratch. Anyone who thinks there is a need to reinvent should be kicked off the island forever.
8.25.2007 11:57pm
RSwan (mail):
The method the article describes is not as accurate as the article suggests. They assume the first person to sign the register is the first person to start and finish voting. That is not always true. Two voting machings may open at the same time and the person who signed in second may actually start and finish voting before the person who signed in first. The article and this problem in their methodology was discussed in Slashdot.org a couple of weeks ago.
8.26.2007 12:03am
Gaius Marius:
When George Washington and the other Founding Fathers ran for public office (prior to the U.S. Constitution), they would simply by barrels of rum and sit outside the local church (where the voting was conducted) with the other candidates and offer a drink to each and every voter. Afterward, the voter would publicly state who he was casting his vote for in the presence of the candidates and all the other voters. Therefore, the secret ballot was something the Founding Fathers did not practice or envision under the U.S. Constitution.

Personally, I could care less about the privacy of my vote. I think the secret ballot is an overrated 20th century invention. The secret ballot may have its uses such as in Labor Relations but certainly not in federal or even state elections.
8.26.2007 10:33am
Gaius Marius:
and insert buy before "barrels of rum."
8.26.2007 10:34am
Crackmonkeyjr (www):
This has been a "problem" in my town for as long as I was aware how voting here works. You sign in, they write your name on a list of people who have voted and then they send you to a mechanical voting machine that punches your vote on onto a piece of tape. Take the list, compare it to the tape and you can figure out who voted for whom.

I personally support a system with unique, but not private IDs mentioned above with a later listing of which IDs were registered and which IDs voted for which candidate.
8.26.2007 1:52pm
markm (mail):
We could come pretty close to a secret and assuredly honest ballot for a single office by going even more low-tech than paper: Give each voter one marble. Inside the voting booth, there are several cans with a funnel-top that you drop the marble into, each can marked with the name and picture of a candidate. The cans of course are sealed for the election, with the top designed so it is not possible to remove a marble other than by breaking the seals and opening it.

And one other thing: you've got to vote naked so they can verify you aren't smuggling in extra marbles...
8.26.2007 5:50pm
Smokey:
Re vote selling:

Vote selling is happening, and it is increasing. All it takes is an absentee ballot; the ballot recipient has a valid, votable ballot, all ready to be mailed in -- but unvoted, and therefore worth money to a vote buyer. In the 2004 election there was a story about such a ballot for sale on ebay. Vote selling will only get worse.

Considering the huge amounts spent by candidates per vote received, then valid, unvoted ballots have real monetary value. Particularly in a close precinct that will sway the district election to one candidate or the other. How much would an additional 1,000 votes be worth to that Congressional candidate and his Party? The temptation to cheat will be enormous. It will happen. [Keep in mind Machiavelli's dictum: ''Men are evil, unless compelled to be good.'']

What this country urgently needs is a citizen's ''right to vote'' card, with a PIN number to verify the holder's identity prior to registering and voting, and to protect against loss. Verification of valid U.S. citizenship must be required prior to registering to vote, prior to voting, and prior to the issuing of an absentee ballot.


He who casts a vote counts for nothing; he who counts the vote counts for everything.

~ Josef Stalin
8.26.2007 6:23pm
markm (mail):
I think it was Bruce Schneier that wrote some time ago about the incompatibility between secrecy and verifiability. If you can give up secrecy, you can have quite simple systems where the accuracy of the count can be 100% verified. If you must have perfect secrecy, it's doubtful that there's any foolproof scheme that could be implemented ensures honesty in the count. (If you haven't figured it out yet, my previous "vote naked" post was a joke - besides being politically impossible to bring it about, it doesn't solve the problem of ballots being substituted after the election.)

So, when is the secret ballot actually necessary? It does frustrate vote-buying and voter-intimidation schemes by making it impossible to verify compliance, but under what conditions could such schemes be as big a problem as the forms of election fraud that open balloting would prevent?

Look at the other side: It seems like many American, perhaps even a majority, do believe that at least one Presidential election hung on voting fraud or errors within my lifetime, and that attempts to fraudulently affect elections are on-going: Republicans believe that the 1960 election was stolen in Chicago and that Democrats scheme to allow felons and aliens to vote illegally while excluding military absentee ballots, while Democrats believe that Gore lost in 2000 by uncounted punch card ballots in Miami Beach, and Kerry was sabotaged in Ohio by Diebold voting machines. Close to half or Oregon believes that their governor won by massive fraud. And pretty much everyone who's at all familiar with Chicago politics believes that elections there are rigged.

Almost all of these issues could be alleviated by open balloting, where the voters walk out with a receipt showing their votes. If there's a dispute about counting votes, pick a random sample, go find the voters and compare the records in the voting system with their receipts or how they say they voted. If you think dead people voted, follow up on those votes - and if you can confirm the voter wasn't qualified, there's a record that can be used to exclude these ballots from the count. The one thing that would be difficult to fix is Chicago, because the local authorities wouldn't allow a real investigation if it were in their power to stop it, but the FBI should be able to investigate if they messed with a federal investigation.
8.26.2007 7:59pm
mr. meade (mail):
I thought the story was worse than you say. I read it as saying that anyone, not just election officials, can find out who voted for whom and what. Freedom of information and whatnot.

To end fraud and doubt and conspiracy-minded nonsense, I say we just gather everyone together and show hands. No mail-in ballots. No intimidation allowed. No doubts about winners and losers. Let everyone see everyone's votes and get on with it. Voting is far too important to let doubt enter the picture. (And the handless can nod for their candidates and issues.)
8.27.2007 10:22am