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Voting machine integrity through transparency

Voting machine integrity through transparency

Posted Mar 27, 2008 11:02 UTC (Thu) by ortalo (subscriber, #4654)
Parent article: Voting machine integrity through transparency

What's the (security) problem to be solved by automatic/electronic voting machines?
It's probably not the security of voting (unless one defends that our democracies have been
built for 2 centuries on bad manual voting procedures, something I would certainly not adhere
to). In fact, (computer) security is the problem such machines are going probably going to
create, not solve.
Then what? The counting speed? The cost of the election?
Well, I am really skeptic that such issues are so bad currently that they would be enough to
motivate the potentially huge investment needed for highly secure voting machines.
First of all, I think we need a real multi-party qualification of why we need to build a
voting *machine* at all.

PS: "Because it's fun" may be the best answer know to me up to now... :-)

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Voting machine integrity through transparency

Posted Mar 27, 2008 18:08 UTC (Thu) by iabervon (subscriber, #722) [Link]

The main need for a machine is to have a way that spoiled ballots (i.e., ballots that cannot
be unambiguously read) can be rejected (and recast) without any human other than the voter
seeing them (or the result on them) before they can no longer be connected to a particular
voter. The second need for a machine is to allow people with disabilities to vote, again
without revealing the vote to another human.

There's plenty of history of votes which have been miscast or discarded on account of voters
accidentally submitting ballots which the election officials could not interpret successfully.

Of course, the right device is a machine which optically scans hand-marked ballots and
collects them (if they're unambiguous) in a box for later recount (if necessary). This could
be coupled with a device that uses an audio interface and a button to decide what to print on
a ballot for blind people as well as the ability to read the ballot through the headphones
(optically scanning it) so the voter can confirm their vote independently of what they did
with the interface, before casting it. Of course, this needs very little source, open or
otherwise, and it can all be verified experimentally to behave correctly.

Voting machine integrity through transparency

Posted Mar 27, 2008 20:51 UTC (Thu) by ortalo (subscriber, #4654) [Link]

Maybe a machine can help a human to cast a correct ballot, but I doubt this would have a
significant influence on the overall vote validity. (If a majority of voters spoil their
ballots, I guess the democratic problem is not only a technical one!)

Concerning people with disabilities, I really have similar doubts. I witnessed such situations
myself as my grand father was blind. As a child I had several opportunities to see him
participate in an election and, well, his pragmatic solution was obvious: he was the one who
chosed who was going to help him cast his ballot. Furthermore, being technically curious
himself, I am pretty sure he would not have trusted the machine more than the person he
All in all, IMHO, such an example probably reduces to a conventional delegation issue, not
specifically related to disabilities.

Voting machine integrity through transparency

Posted Mar 28, 2008 16:18 UTC (Fri) by copsewood (subscriber, #199) [Link]

The only election issue that I can see machinery helping with is the cost of the election. But
it seems very surprising then that richer countries rather than poorer ones are obsessed with
using machinery for this purpose. In the UK we have not yet (in my view fortunately) succumbed
to the temptation to use machinery to count votes. As a software engineer and frequent
participant (candidate and agent) in my local elections there is no way I could trust anything
as complex as a computer to do this job. My city may have plenty of software engineers capable
of verifying the machinery as well as is possible, but why should everyone else trust a small
group of specialists to do this job, when we can and do use a much simpler system that
everyone can see work in front of them ? 

Spoiled paper ballots really are not an issue. We might get one or 2 votes in several thousand
that are genuinely ambiguous - where the common sense of the returning officer takes on the
slightest possibility of being in any way arbitrary. I have seen several hundred deliberately
and some marginally spoiled ballots, without once seeing a case where I have felt the
returning officer made the wrong call. In the very rare occasions where the majority is less
than 2 or 3 (in local elections majorities of hundreds or thousands are more common and in
parliamentary elections majorities are usually 10,000 or more) the recount would subject
spoiled ballots to much closer scrutiny.

The only way I can see computers assisting with the process would be for the computer to print
a paper ballot which is checked by the voter (and which has a "none of these" deliberate spoil
option) and put into an ordinary ballot box, which can be sampled in the event of a large
machine counted majority to verify it, and with all the paper ballots counted manually and
treated as canonical in the event of a very small majority or statistically large enough
sampling discrepancies.

If our American friends can't afford to have a few hundred people in a city of a million stay
up for a few hours once a year to count a few thousand paper ballots each, this doesn't speak
as highly of your commitment to a democratic process as many of your other actions do.

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