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E-Voting Undermines Public Confidence In Elections 155

Jeremiah Cornelius writes "Techdirt columnist, Timothy Lee, hit the metaphoric nail on the head, claiming that e-Voting undermines the public perception of election fairness - even when there is no evidence of wrongdoing. 'In a well-designed voting system, voters shouldn't have to take anyone's actions on faith. The entire process should be simple and transparent, so that anyone can observe it and verify that it was carried out correctly. The complexity and opacity of e-voting machines makes effective public scrutiny impossible, and so it's a bad idea even in the absence of specific evidence of wrongdoing.' Add to this the possibility technical faults, conflicts of interest and evidence of tampering, how long before the US vote is viewed as an electronic pantomime?"
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E-Voting Undermines Public Confidence In Elections

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  • That's the plan (Score:4, Insightful)

    by spun ( 1352 ) <loverevolutionar ... m ['oo.' in gap]> on Wednesday January 30, 2008 @06:49PM (#22240062) Journal
    If they take away people's confidence in our elections, people won't care as much when they do away with elections altogether.
    • Re:That's the plan (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Wednesday January 30, 2008 @07:00PM (#22240196) Journal
      Meh, they don't need to get rid of the elections, rigging the process by which candidates are chosen is good enough. Let the people make their choice, either way it goes it's going to be acceptable to those who really have power.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by FudRucker ( 866063 )
      i believe it, what we are witnessing is the slow and methodical destruction of the USA...
      • Hardly slow in the frame of reference of national lifespans. We'll be damn lucky if we see our tricentennial, I think.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ShieldW0lf ( 601553 )
      Also, if they create a public perception that electronic voting is always uniformly opaque, complex and prone to fixing, they prevent direct democracy from ever taking hold and preserve the party system. Which is, of course, something all current and aspiring party politicians can unite behind.

      The answer is:

      1) To make peoples votes public information so everyone can see them immediately, know where everyone stands, and know if the votes were tampered with.

      2) To allow them to directly vote on each issue if
      • Oh, I hope you get modded up. Very insightful, and all good suggestions.

        You may be interested in Chile's early 70s project, Cyberyn [wikipedia.org]. It was a central nervous system for a planned economy. (I know you, not your favorite concept, but keep an open mind ;-) More info here [boingboing.net] and here [indiana.edu]. Unfortunately, I can't find the article on it I was specifically looking for, describing a pilot program to extend it to several small villages and use the system for day to day direct democracy. Or I may be confusing Cyberyn with an
      • Re:That's the plan (Score:5, Insightful)

        by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) on Wednesday January 30, 2008 @10:40PM (#22242142) Journal
        Regarding #1 on your list - How do you think Saddam consistently got 99% of the popular vote? Despots and dictators implement the public disclosure part by having the 1% who get it wrong dissapear.

        "The answer is:" - To fully understand why it's been practically impossible to rig an election in places such as the UK and Australia for well over a century now.

        E-voting seems to be a knee-jerk reaction to the 2000 election but before re-inventing democratic elections a second time in a single decade please take a look at the existing designs that have withstood the test of time and two world wars.

        Party politics at the simplest level is two or more people who agree with each other. Too many parties and you end up changing governments more often than underwear (re: Italy), not enough and you end up with no genuine choice (re: US).
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      "...Add to this the possibility technical faults, conflicts of interest and evidence of tampering, how long before the US vote is viewed as an electronic pantomime?"

      Ummm. Hmmmm. Gotta be 4 or 5 years ago by now.

  • Public Confidence? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Wednesday January 30, 2008 @06:49PM (#22240068) Homepage Journal
    When was there ever public confidence in politics?
    • by Hucko ( 998827 )
      I would guess that USA citizens would believe 1776...
      • by nurb432 ( 527695 )
        I doubt they had confidence in *politics* even back then.
        • by Hucko ( 998827 )
          So why incorporate a system that requires the some of the most politicking? Fact is they believed that politics was the only way for individuals to be free as they possibly can. As do I tentatively , but the system is seriously out of kilter.
          • In the 1700's, they didn't expect the astronomical costs associated with running for office as there is now. I'm suspecting that it would take about 1 mill in campaign contributions or personal wealth to run for local offices like state senator in most places. The cost can be phenomenal on a higher level considering the intent originally intended for people who where dissatisfied with the course of events to run in opposition. Now those people are minor annoyances and whack jobs.

            Politicking seems to have su
            • by jimicus ( 737525 )
              None of the people responsible for the US' current political system were exactly poor, y'know.
            • by Teancum ( 67324 )
              I will say there is a ring of truth to what you are saying. I ran for the position of a municipal counsel seat this past year, and I would have to say that the minimum for even being a viable candidate is about $2,000-$3000 that you have to spend. I had far less than that (actually, I spent about $50 total). I garnered about 20% of the vote for the office I was seeking, which IMHO was pretty dang good considering how much I spent.

              Becoming a state representative would be in the realm of about $10,000-$50,
            • by mpe ( 36238 )
              The term public servant really has nothing to do with serving the public but more to serving the job or state/federal/whatever office they hold.

              Assuming tthey actually serve the interests of the office. As opposed to the interests of some lobby group or even just their own interests.
              • Well, some lobby group' or even just their own interests can be in the interest of the office. I think the problems only arise when that is the sole direction of interests.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Mathinker ( 909784 )
          Hell, look at the Constitution. Even the *politicians* didn't have confidence in politics/government back then.
  • How long? (Score:3, Funny)

    by Stanislav_J ( 947290 ) on Wednesday January 30, 2008 @06:51PM (#22240090)

    ...how long before the US vote is viewed as an electronic pantomime?

    I thought that ship had already sailed...

    • by dbIII ( 701233 )
      There was even an episode of "Heroes" that made fun of it.

      This is actually quite serious stuff. If the population loses faith in the process used to collect the votes you have the situation brewing in Kenya now or the situation that befel Algeria some years ago and tunred it into the current basket case.

  • "...voters shouldn't have to take anyone's actions on faith." Well, that's always going to be the problem, isn't it?
  • by Dachannien ( 617929 ) on Wednesday January 30, 2008 @06:52PM (#22240102)

    In a well-designed voting system, voters shouldn't have to take anyone's actions on faith. The entire process should be simple and transparent, so that anyone can observe it and verify that it was carried out correctly.
    Moreover, a well-designed voting system should be 100% accurate in the counting of votes because of, not despite, the removal of humans from the counting process. The problem is that so far, no commercially available electronic voting system exists yet that has been well designed.

    • by l2718 ( 514756 ) on Wednesday January 30, 2008 @07:15PM (#22240370)

      Moreover, a well-designed voting system should be 100% accurate in the counting of votes because of, not despite, the removal of humans from the counting process. The problem is that so far, no commercially available electronic voting system exists yet that has been well designed.
      I think you are going a bit over the top. There is a trade-off between accuracy, flexibility, and openness here. There's no way to reach 100% accuracy in the counting of tens of millions of ballots, each containing selections for tens of races. If you allow yourself to also take into account the discrepancy between the voter's intent and the voter's markings on the ballot (I'm against it but many aren't) then "100% accuracy" is not even meaningful. What you should strive for is 1. maximum accuracy 2. known error rates. If you knew the error rate of the ballot-generating-and-counting system then you'd know at which point a thorough recount is warranted (assuming it had a lower error rate), and when you simply need to rerun the election (or draw cards [cnn.com]). By the way, it's true that ATMs are more reliable than voting machines, and that the banking system is more reliable than the election system -- and yet even there the system is not 100% reliable. A bank "lost" $20K belonging to a friend of mine through bad record-keeping on their part. It took weeks to get her money back. Once in a while banks will record a transaction wrong -- and each bank has a controlled system that they design and implement. Elections are run in parallel by many independent local authorities under many conflicting criteria and need to be more flexible (do we allos for write-in candidates? for people who are voting provisionally?). Yes, there is an accuracy price to pay for that, but since almost all races are not close, and when the race is close we shouldn't really care who wins in the end, it's not too much of a price to pay.
    • Moreover, a well-designed voting system should be 100% accurate in the counting of votes because of, not despite, the removal of humans from the counting process. The problem is that so far, no commercially available electronic voting system exists yet that has been well designed.

      I don't think a well designed voting should necessarily have to be 100% accurate. A hand-counting system isn't that accurate, but it can still be trusted as long as there aren't barriers from people being involved in the process

  • Transparency (Score:5, Insightful)

    by l2718 ( 514756 ) on Wednesday January 30, 2008 @06:53PM (#22240116)
    In principle, the ballots being counted in public in front of everyone in the village will inspire more confidence than an obscure computer calculation. However, as the 2000 Florida debacle has demonstrated, hand counting has its own problems (e.g. error rates) which the voting public does not understand either. It seems to me that if the system artificially produces a landslide (e.g. via a winner-take-all-state-electoral-votes system), the public is happy that things went well. If the elections are close there is a lot of consternation and misunderstanding. On the technical level, ballots that are both human- and machine-countable but generated automatically (so there is less room for voter marking errors], look best to me. If the voting machine prints the ballot out but keeps no record otherwise that would be best. But just wait for a close elections and the voters will express lack of confidence in the results. The problem is the following: if you are trying to measure a large effect, then you will get the right result no matter what method you use and everyone will be quite confident you got the right result. If you are trying to measure an effect which is just at the level of resolution for your detector (or worse, as in the Florida case, below the measurement error) then there is no way to be as confident that you got the right result.
    • Re:Transparency (Score:4, Informative)

      by jd ( 1658 ) <imipak@yaTOKYOhoo.com minus city> on Wednesday January 30, 2008 @08:57PM (#22241412) Homepage Journal
      Part of the problem is that people confuse the concept (e-voting) with the implementation (sending unsecured e-mails, using Diebold ATM machines, etc). The two are distinct. The concept can - in principle - be implemented as well as, or better than, alternatives. But only the implementation can be evaluated. The concept is nebulous and has no specific meaning or quality.

      Another part of the problem is that most existing implementations are - frankly - crap. They offer minimal security, have frequently been reported as having errors such as non-zero counts, have poor reliability, provide minimal accountability and often provide no means of verification. This is wholly unacceptable. Nobody would accept that from a cash register in a supermarket, never mind a system that is mission-critical in a democracy.

      Hand-counts can be reliable. For the longest time, the British system was entirely done by hand-counting, with very small error rates for a population of 60 million. The American system includes machine counts, statistical sampling, and other mechanisms for speeding up the returns, with different States using different methods. It is also worrying that the first returns are announced prior to the polls closing on the west coast, which will inevitably introduce bias and strategic voting. The British system isn't perfect, and has recently developed all kinds of flaws and fraudulant practices, but it can be used as a yardstick of what a democracy should minimally achieve.

      Of course, a democracy has other dependencies. It's only meaningful if enough of the population votes for the votes to truly represent the population. The electoral college has the potential for distorting the consensus of the people and probably has. There is no ballot option to reject all candidates and re-open nominations. Media saturation and candidate funding warp awareness. The educational system isn't up to the standards needed to ensure the population have the breadth or depth of knowledge to understand the complexities of a nation or avoid the wiles of a skilled talker. If these flaws remain, then even a perfect voting system can never represent what the public actually want or need, which is what a democracy is about. Being heard has no meaning if you never learned how to talk.

      To me, the question shouldn't merely be how we reliably count votes, but should also include how we reliably cast them. There may be no better solution than the one we have, I accept that, but I won't accept that this is known until it actually is.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        The concept can - in principle - be implemented as well as, or better than, alternatives.

        It can, and then the very small fraction of the population that is capable of understanding the security properties of cryptographic protocols will be convinced that the election was legit if they personally act as election observers (through the audit mechanism included in this well-designed e-voting system).

        There's a problem though: One of the properties that any voting system should have is that *all voters* should

        • by jd ( 1658 )
          I agree that any person should be capable of understanding and auditing any and all stages in an election. For paper ballots, I'd not go with pencils and scrap paper, though. You really want archive-grade ink or a medieval iron-oxide ink, and archive-grade paper. They'll last easily for more than a century, which also means they will be resistant to tampering. The use of carbon paper to make a duplicate which must traverse an independent path under the watch of whoever is in opposition to those running the
          • But if that issue was fixed? Then, hell, yeah, I'd be willing to bet that the vast majority of Americans could audit an encrypted, authenticated and verified e-voting system.

            Absolutely. If math education were fixed to the point where most people could understand RSA and catch the flaw in an intentionally fraudulent 99% error margin calculation then we'd have a radically different situation on our hands.

            Unfortunately, for the moment, we're stuck with the voting population that we have - utter incompetence

    • by dbIII ( 701233 )
      Florida was a global laughing stock due to a wide range of ways to vote, a wide range of ways to count and a high level of incompetance in inplementation. There appeared to be a bit of complexity for the sake of it and a degree of job creation and other financial goals over function. Call me socialist if you like but I consider a professional public funded organisation or volunteers led by professionals is better for this situation than a conglomerate of the lowest bidders that are too worried about trade
    • by Teancum ( 67324 )
      Frankly I think that the U.S. Electoral College system protected America in 2000 from an even worse catastrophe had the presidential election been a direct vote. As it was, the hard review of the voting process was done in just a couple of counties in Florida, rather than trying to reopen (and recount) the votes in all 50 states simultaneously.

      That would have been a nightmare of having to deal with lawsuits based on different issues for all 50 states simultaneously... and to get all of them resolved and de
  • Sure, the polls might show that e-voting undermines the population's confidence in the system, but I'll bet that if we had a referendum on the issue we'd see that real voters actually support it overwhelmingly.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by bill_beeman ( 237459 )
      This is anecdotal and certainly represents a small sample, but I've worked the polls the last three elections. These are the three in which we used electronic voting machines, but the voters had the choice to use paper ballots if they did not want to use the electronic machines. We get about 300 voters at the location (average) in each of the three elections.

      Not one voter requested the paper ballot option.

      As a second observation, in all three elections the county ran a 100% audit, comparing the output of
  • by circletimessquare ( 444983 ) <circletimessquare&gmail,com> on Wednesday January 30, 2008 @06:55PM (#22240138) Homepage Journal
    the biggest threat to western democracy is not neocons, islamofascism, chinese technocrats, etc.

    it's electronic voting

    http://politics.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=413698&no_d2=1&cid=21986758 [slashdot.org]

    http://yro.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=409654&cid=21950000 [slashdot.org]

    democracy has plenty of problems, but one of democracy's greatest strengths is that by making the citizens it rules a part of the process, it inspires confidence in the government, it instills legitimacy

    if you make the voting process opaque, you destroy confidence, you destroy legitimacy, you weaken people's faith in their democratically elected government, out of bad perception that their part in the process has been messed with, hidden

    electronic voting must be universally rejected in all ways and all levels of government, asap
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Sciros ( 986030 )
      No the "biggest threat to western democracy" is people being so stupid that they believe rejecting electronic voting will remove the bigget threat to western democracy. What a joke.

      Like an earlier poster insightfully mentioned, people are also distrusted when the measurable effect in an election is close to or below the error margin. This is because the error margin when paper ballots are counted by people is not 0%. Making citizens a part of the process only "instills legitimacy" when those citizens are fu
      • please read the above comment slashdotters

        Making citizens a part of the process only "instills legitimacy" when those citizens are fully competent, and the majority simply aren't.

        i want you to look at and consider you fellow citizens, your fellow human beings. if, when you look at those people, you find something lacking, something untrustworthy, this is an antidemocratic instinct

        the full inference of the comment of the man above is that there is the unworthy, a magical cut off line (which no one can determine, but that's besides the point), and then a special higher class of worthy people

        this is a story as old as time. it's called aristocracy. it's called classism. it can be based on an arbitrary test for intelligence, a certain amount of money in your bank account, a certain genetic makeup

        but the end results of aristocracy and classism is all the same: the french revolution

        if you find yourself with antidemocratic instincts like the poster above, take a deep breath, step back, and fix yourself. you are broken in a dangerous, authoritarian, fascist way

        you fellow human beings are your fellow human beings. beginning and end of story. you are no better than them. if you think you are, and there is a special class of people who share this superiority with you, you are a danger to society. YOU and your thinking is the seed to the downfall of democracy. and it is the same fear based pap that you often howl about coming from the right

        • by bidule ( 173941 )

          you fellow human beings are your fellow human beings. beginning and end of story. you are no better than them. if you think you are, and there is a special class of people who share this superiority with you, you are a danger to society. YOU and your thinking is the seed to the downfall of democracy. and it is the same fear based pap that you often howl about coming from the right

          I strongly believe many citizen are unfit to vote. As I am sure many do. But everyone has his own standard to define who is unfit, and none are democratically correct.

          In the same way we prefer innocent until proven guilty, we prefer fit until proven unfit. Therefore everyone should be allowed to vote.

        • by jez9999 ( 618189 )
          the full inference of the comment of the man above is that there is the unworthy, a magical cut off line (which no one can determine, but that's besides the point), and then a special higher class of worthy people

          This is true. Democracy is overrated. Do you really think a nation is best steered by hoardes/mobs of couch potatoes? It is not.
    • Let's get the voter rolls clean and accurate first, though... Right now, it's too easy to illegally register AND vote. let's get the voter clean, then we can worry about how they vote...
    • E-Voting Undermines Public Confidence in Elections... who cares?

      E-Voting Undermines Elections.

      Now having said that... Electronic tabulation (by optical scan for example) of paper ballots, accompanied by statistically appropriate manual audits, would inspire happy confidence in this voter.
    • by Ichijo ( 607641 )

      the biggest threat to western democracy [is] electronic voting

      if you make the voting process opaque, you destroy confidence, you destroy legitimacy...

      I don't think electronic voting necessarily means opacity.

      • "I don't think electronic voting necessarily means opacity"

        oh but it does, by definition. inseparably

        anything on a computer is opaque. a disk drive has to be read, a processor has to cycle, a monitor has to project. something on paper meanwhile, requires nothing but a human being to understand what is written on it

        eletronic voting is most definitely opaque. all of interaction with computers is an opaque process as compared to paper based media. paper is obviously inferior in many more important ways than el
  • and that was with hanging chads. now Chad's hanging his flash card on the side of voting machines....
  • by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Wednesday January 30, 2008 @07:05PM (#22240262) Homepage Journal
    If they just put the same untrustworthy electronic voting machines into big, heavy metal cabinets, with metal pull-levers for voting and a big red handle that commits the votes while it opens the curtain (just like we've used in NY for generations), no one would complain. And those freaks who did complain because the actual votes are counted by an untrustworthy device buried inside it would be treated like freaks.

    Especially if the metal cabinets were aged in the factory with a little rust and scrapes...

    But the vendors are used to scoring sales by just keeping the purchase procedure as closed as the IP in their opaque devices. The user themself doesn't figure into their business model at all, whether they're casting a vote or reading about the purchase on their behalf in their newspaper.
    • by Teancum ( 67324 )
      I couldn't have said it better. Yes, I consider the Diebold machines to be nothing more than fancy and updated versions of those old tyme voting machines originally made in the 1930's. And subject to the same sorts of problems and voting irregularities that caused them to be removed in the first place.

      In fact, using the traditional red handle and candidate levers might actually be an improvement over some of the variations of voting machines I've seen... at least in terms of a reasonable user interface.
      • Well, at least the old "iron maidens" (that we still use in NYC) have inner mechanisms that can be examined for rigging. And can't be "upgraded" after voting is counted by a secret command that erases the old mechanism. Also, the iron maidens produce a count on the single machine that is unsealed, opened and read by reps of each party on the ballot together, instead of these unsupervised, digital, trailless central tabulators. At least the rigging of those counts requires some real sophisticated social engi
  • Scantron (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Psychofreak ( 17440 ) on Wednesday January 30, 2008 @07:07PM (#22240272) Journal
    I personally like the little bubble sheets that get filled in. They are commonly called Scantron. Use a disposable paper mask that is pre-punched to match the sheet you mark on, and the voter takes it to the one or more machines for reading them in. Trackable, human readable after a fashion, simple technology that can be easily deployed for very large number of voters. Best part is one machine can service about 100 voting stations as cafeteria tables with dividers are all the voting stations are!

    I prefer voting on those than the touch screen units. Especially when I have to wait 20-30 min to get my time to vote, and I am in a relatively small voting district now. When I was in a larger district it was a 1-5 min wait to get you ballot, and a 1-5 min wait to scan in at one of the two machines.

    I also find that older folk are afraid of touch screen technology because they feel that it will break, or they are not comfortable with computers to start with.

    Let me just sharpen my #2 pencil and vote!

    • Re:Scantron (Score:5, Insightful)

      by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Wednesday January 30, 2008 @09:14PM (#22241530) Homepage

      I'm a teacher, and I give scantron tests once in a while. They're extremely error-prone. If you don't fill in the space completely, or if you try to erase and change your answer, it will often grade it wrong, i.e., someone looking at it would say that the student probably intended B, but the machine scored it as D or something. I've been told that the error rates are lower on a carefully calibrated and maintained machine, but ... then we just have to sit around wondering whether Florida went the wrong way because a certain district didn't maintain their scantron machines properly.

      I'd be happy with any system that let me have a printout to take home. I could verify that it really recorded my vote the way I thought. I know there's the argument that this makes it possible to buy people's votes, because the buyer can verify that the seller really voted as he was paid to do. But in fact it's already trivial to buy votes: get the person you're bribing to vote absentee. Voter fraud is one of these silly Republican vote-getting issues (like flag burning) that is a total non-issue in reality. For that matter, let's just do all voting by mail. It's the 21st century, and I don't see any rational reason to make a busy person go to a particular place on a weekday in order to transmit 67 bits of information.

      • Why strain the postal system? Over my way (Australia) everyone (yes, everyone, it's compulsory) goes out to the polling place on a Saturday afternoon, and we know who will form the government that very night.
      • So you identify absentee voting as a problem because it allows someone to bully someone else into voting a certain way, and then you advise we switch all voting to become absentee?
  • I view it as an electronic pantomime, now.  So do most thinking people.

    See, these days, they don't even have to have the appearance of propriety.  Witness Dick Cheney giving his Halliburton shares to charity when he became VP...or did he?
  • by plnrtrvlr ( 557800 ) on Wednesday January 30, 2008 @07:11PM (#22240328)
    Americans may not be big into knowing their history, but history has shown again and again that if politicians can lie cheat or twist their way around they will... It's a reality that is so pervasive that even that majority of Americans who never cracked their history book open in high school know it to be true. They may say "even when there is no evidence of wrongdoing" but what everyone thinks is "so we just don't have the evidence, and even if it isn't, it's going to happen." And that isn't perception, it's good ol' pattern recognition: if there's a way to cheat, someone is going to do it eventually.
    • Quite right. The requirement for voting systems is not "absence of evidence of wrongdoing." What is actually required is "evidence of absence of wrongdoing." And, that evidence of absence must be fully convincing to the great majority of average people who have absolutely no technical understanding beyond basic arithmetic. If "evidence of absence of wrongdoing" is not obvious, we should reasonably infer that wrongdoing (as, election rigging) has taken place.

      The only way to produce the required evidenc

  • by Ghazgkull ( 83434 ) * on Wednesday January 30, 2008 @07:16PM (#22240384)
    I love this kind of quote (my emphasis added):

    Again, there's no evidence anything untoward has occurred in Maryland.
    Umm... exactly?
  • Open source the code, provide each registered voter with an encryption key sent through the mail (the real mail, so you have to send it to a real physical location), and maintain a database where each user can view his/her vote. Or, in the short term, just give everyone a receipt for their votes at the booth.
    • by Gyga ( 873992 )
      How do the homeless vote?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by grumbel ( 592662 )
      This wouldn't be a good idea, since it would allow people to sell their vote for money. The advantage of a simple paper based voting system is that only the voter himself knows what he voted, since there is no receipt and no way for a third party to find out how he voted. With the encryption key you also have the problem that votes become easily trackable unless somebody makes sure that nobody keeps record of encryption-keys -> names.
  • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Wednesday January 30, 2008 @10:32PM (#22242086) Journal
    Nice to see somebody noticing and describing one of the important pieces of the puzzle.

    The purpose of elections in a republic is NOT because there's something "right" or "nice" about selecting the government officials and rules that are preferred by a majority of the voting population. (In fact, sometimes that's actually a bad idea. "Democracy" is often three wolves and a sheep voting on what's for dinner.)

    The purpose of elections is to increase the stability of the country and pacify it internally. They do this by attempting to figure out which way the war would come out, if it were actually fought over the issue.

    To do this, elections must convince the losing side that they can't reverse the result by resorting to force.

    That means they don't have to be perfect - but they have to be convincingly good enough.

      - A wide race will be convincing. If the exact numbers are off it doesn't really matter.

      - A really close race may come out wrong. But if it's close it also means a war won't reverse the result: Too many additional people will get annoyed and oppose those who try the violent option. So the losers might exhaust the peaceable remedies: Recounts, courts, etc. Then they gripe about it non-stop until the next election. And EVERYBODY tries to fix the system to be more accurate and avoid this hassle next time. Repeat until the elections are believable and/or the margin is broad enough that there's no serious dispute.

    But the easiest way for an election to be believably fair and honest is for it to be VISIBLY fair and honest. Count the votes behind locked doors or inside a software-driven black box and you substitute trust for visible honesty.

    Once the people stop trusting the elections their stabilizing effect is gone. Then losers may think they are strong enough to reverse the result and (when the winners start doing things that hurt their interests) morally justified in making the attempt. Then you are just asking for civil "unrest", comities of vigilance, death squads, coups, and civil or revolutionary war.

    So it's far more important that the election procedures be VISIBLY honest and their approximate accuracy known than that they be dead-on accurate.

    Which is what we're seeing now. Computerized black-box voting killed the audit trail and enabled the possibility that a small number of people could introduce large and undetectable changes to the result. Then came a close election with important issues at stake. Regardless of whether the black boxes gave an accurate count or were corrupted, there was no way to SHOW they were right - or close enough not to matter. So the losers were unconvinced.

    Repeat after four years, and again after eight, adding in a foreign war, massive government spending, "security" intrusions on civil rights, and attempts by media conglomerates to swing the election exposed by comparison to uncontrolled Internet communication. Now you're starting to approach a scenario where large groups of losers start thinking "Maybe the elections were stolen. Maybe we've been conquered. Maybe there are enough of us to reverse this. Maybe violence will work. Maybe the system is corrupted to the point that violence is the only answer. Maybe violence is PROPER."

    This is WHY it is more important that the elections be VISIBLY, CONVINCINGLY accurate than that they just be accurate.
    • by Teancum ( 67324 )
      What you are saying here is so true that I wish I could frame your post here. The +3 moderation was very well deserved in this case.

      If you think back to the 2000 U.S. Presidential election, one of the huge problems was that Al Gore originally conceded the election, then tried to "take back" his concession. Ignoring all of the minor squabbling in Florida and the embarrassing U.S. Supreme Court case that set an unconstitutional precedent, the real problem in that election was an issue of very close results
  • At this point in time, everything to do with voting undermines public confidence in it. Since 2000 we entered a collective mindset which allows us to say that any election result not in our favor is due to some problem with voting. (Like lack of photo ID, or hacked e-voting machines, or chain of custody issues, etc.)

    Some of that is funny to me, because the framework for vote allocation (winner takes all) and gerrymandering are pretty big hacks on the wishes of the people.

    Nevertheless, I think there will be
  • I've said this before, I'll say it again, and I don't think most people will get it except perhaps among those here on Slashdot and other geek forums:

    Electronic vote counting simply doesn't belong at the voting booth.

    Instead, what should happen at the voting booth should be ballot preparation, not vote counting. I have absolutely no problem with a fancy machine that has cool graphics and touch screen voting options in a thousand different languages. If you want to go through the effort of putting that together for a somewhat reasonable price, knock your socks off. I don't even mind this end of it being completely closed and propritary.

    But the vote counting part needs to be separated from the ballot preparation. The only thing all of this fancy hardware is really doing is to assist a voter in understanding the rules of the election. In other words, not vote for multiple people if multiple votes invalidate your ballot, remind you of races that you didn't vote in, allow you to clearly note who you are voting for (no missing chads or fuzzy and inconclusive ballots), and provide a very clean ballot that election judges can use later for the vote counting process. Ballots cast should be on some sort of physical medium that has irreversible marks (so an election judge can't modify the results afterward) and human readable so the voter can have clear confidence in how their vote was cast. Any computer scientist worthy of that title ought to be able to figure out how to make something simultaneously human and machine readable... we aren't talking rocket science here and this is a decades old solved problem in the field.

    One of my largest problems with the Diebold machines is that they have the vote counting take place in the voting booth itself. This opens up not only the traditional forms of voting fraud, but it also opens up new vectors of attacking the system and requires far too much in the way of securing the machines in order to ensure the integrity of the data. Besides, most of the security protocols aren't followed anyway, and those that are followed are a joke in many cases and have multiple methods of being circumvented. By its very nature at least in America, voting is done in private and away from the eyes of election judges. This is also done to ensure the integrity of the vote cast (by stopping coercion). But this act, by its nature, means that the machines can be compromised during the act of voting itself.

    Let's look at what problems these machines are trying to solve:
    • Mechanical Voting Machine - these are from the 1930's and a few from even earlier. You press a lever and the vote is counted through some mechanical process. These have been notorious for breaking down during the middle of an election, or have the results manipulated by voting judges through multiple means. All states got rid of these machines decades ago, and for a very good reasons... yet the current Diebold machines (and others like them) simply are identical to these sort of voting machines but remade in the era of modern electronics. Every problem associated with mechanical voting machines can be found on the Diebold machines... and more.
    • Punch-out Ballots - These received notoriety during the 2000 U.S. Presidential election when inconclusive ballots were cast, and rampant election judge tampering also took place. A common tactic in some areas where these were used was to punch through previously cast ballots to try and add some extra votes. Several methods of doing this were involved, and the "hanging chad" problem was actually a sign that such voting fraud occurred. This also suffered from mechanical break downs where a ballot could be cast, but a voter wouldn't necessarily know that their votes were invalid or inconclusive.
    • Pencil bubble fill ballots - If you have ever taken a college admission test of some sort, you are more than likely familiar with these sort of ballots. This is where you have a little bubble or circle that yo

I THINK MAN INVENTED THE CAR by instinct. -- Jack Handley, The New Mexican, 1988.