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The problems with paper ballots

The problems with paper ballots

Posted May 18, 2006 14:50 UTC (Thu) by pflugstad (subscriber, #224)
In reply to: Diebold election insecurity systems by kleptog
Parent article: Diebold election insecurity systems

First there's the problem of just printing up all the ballots ahead of time and getting them right. Then there's the issue of each district will have different ballots. And so on and so forth. And this is apparently a fairly large problem.

Then there's the problem of what if the person is blind or impared (my 80 year old father has problems holding a pencil...)? Or what if the person can't read?

Then there are validity problems - what if the person accidentially checks two boxes on the same race without noticing it (the butterfly ballot in Florida in 2000 is a poster child for this). What if they don't check any box - that may or may not be intentional? And so on and so forth.

I totally agree that a paper ballot is the best way. And computers can be used to trivially fix all the above problems. And they should ONLY be used to address the above problems. The final output should be a paper ballot - as you say, it's a lot harder to hack. And as others on this thread have stated, if you require the user to take the ballot, fold it and put it in a box, then they may actually check that the thing says what they mean it to say.

Some nice side effect:
- the computer generating the ballot can tally the vote as it goes along, making for a nice quick count
- you can make the generated ballot easy to read by computer, so (re-)counting the ballots is also easy.

I get the impression that the election officials are sick and tired of it, and that's driving a lot of this. I can understand not wanting to deal with paper ballots anymore. Also, all these election officials have already purchased these crappy systems and they don't want to have the egg on their face and admit that this was a bad purchase - so it's a face saving thing. They also literally don't have the money to buy different sytems.

But at some point everyone has to admit that the systems are broken (and clearly now with Diebold). Whoever approved them in the first place was an idiot. But I also see somethings that make me believe that these people want to make it easy to hack, which is really *really* disturbing. They don't want any kind of audit trail or anything that makes verifying this easy. It's like they want to cheat at this thing.

Anyway, enough of a rant now...


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The problems with paper ballots

Posted May 18, 2006 18:07 UTC (Thu) by AJWM (guest, #15888) [Link]

Or what if the person can't read? Then there are validity problems - what if the person accidentially checks two boxes on the same race without noticing it

In the first instance, that person probably shouldn't be voting -- they're hardly making informed choices. In the second, if they're not taking the voting process seriously enough to pay attention to detail, then their vote shouldn't be paid attention to either.

Horribly politically incorrect attitudes, sure, but personally I'd rather live in a country whose government is elected by thoughtful voters than one whose government is the result of a popularity contest.

The problems with paper ballots

Posted May 19, 2006 2:50 UTC (Fri) by pflugstad (subscriber, #224) [Link]

In the first instance, that person probably shouldn't be voting -- they're hardly making informed choices.

I was implying they were blind or visually impared. The computer could read the ballot to them audibly (via headphones), with large buttons on the screen, maybe with the persons picture on it (apparently Brazil uses something like that). Or with a braile reader connected to the computer.

But even if they truly cannot read, this is no barrier to watching or listening the news, etc and understanding, probably better than you do, the issues and making an informed decions. Wise people who can't read aren't just characters in books. My father-in-law probably reads at a 3rd grade level, but he definately pays attention and can argue the issues with me 7 days a week and twice on Sunday.

And as far as an uninformed choice goes, I expect that label applies to probably the majority of the people voting, especially in down-ticket races. Quick in the last election, name who was running for state representative in your district from the major parts - what was their history and stance on various issues. What about county commisioner (or city council or whatever). I'd wager 95% of America goes into the voting completley clueless about this stuff.

In the second, if they're not taking the voting process seriously enough to pay attention to detail, then their vote shouldn't be paid attention to either.

Did you see the butterfly ballots in Florida? They are a case study in confusing/poor design. It's entirely possible that Bush won Florida in 2000 because people mistakenly voted for Buchannon or various other combinations of stupid design.

I (with a college education and clearly paying attention and motivated) am sometimes confused with the idiotic and plain stupid ballot designs our local election officials come up with. Often it's 3 or 4 different pieces of paper, with different formats - some double sided or some not.

Computers have a place in this system and can make things better. But the current implementations are not doing any of these things. They are all a joke and lead one to the conclusion that either our election officials are all crooked, or all idiots, or quite possibly both.

Yes this will probably allow a less informed voter to vote - but they're doing that now anyway. And with the way the voting machines are setup, I'd rather have an uninformed voter than a rigged election.

The problems with paper ballots

Posted May 19, 2006 22:33 UTC (Fri) by giraffedata (subscriber, #1954) [Link]

It's entirely possible that Bush won Florida in 2000 because people mistakenly voted for Buchannon or various other combinations of stupid design.

You can state it even more strongly. It is a near certainty that that happened. It may not be obvious to people who don't have a good command of statistics, but it's inescapable to those who do.

We've reached a level of polling technology where the exit polls (and even telephone polls) are more accurate at measuring who voters want to win than the ballots are (and hundreds of times cheaper!). You may remember that in 2000, several news organizations reported with certainty that Gore had won, and had to retract that when the official counts came in in Palm Beach County Florida. That's because the exit polls asked voters who they thought they voted for, while the ballots showed who they actually voted for, and those were different.

To those who didn't follow or don't remember the statistics in question: Arch-conservative independent presidential candidate Buchanan got way more votes on that ballot than independents usually get and than Buchanan got in similar counties. The same voters who voted for Buchanan also voted for the liberal Democrat senate candidate. And the ballot was designed so that a mark next to Democrat Gore's name was also a mark next to Buchanan's name.

The same inconsistencies could be seen in several other races on that ballot.

There were easily enough miscast votes to make the difference in who won Florida, and the vote was close enough among the rest of the states that that made the difference in who won the whole election.


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