My Voting Machine Neanderthal Article

by on June 5, 2006 · 14 comments

In a new Brainwash column, I make the case against computerized voting machines:

Did George Bush steal the 2004 election?

Some left-wing activists are convinced he did. They point out that initial exit poll results in swing states predicted a Kerry victory. And they note that Walden O’Dell, the head of voting machine manufacturer Diebold, wrote in a 2003 fundraising letter that he was “committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year.”

Personally, I don’t find their evidence very compelling. Exit polls can be wrong for a variety of reasons, and the O’Dell quote only proves that he was a partisan Republican, not that he did anything illegal.

What’s disturbing, however, is that our nation’s headlong rush to adopt computerized voting machines has given such conspiracy theories a certain air of plausibility. There’s little evidence of foul play in this case, but there are good reasons to be concerned. Last month, a consumer group released a report warning of serious security problems with Diebold voting machines. The report shows that it’s possible to install malicious software in minutes that could surreptitiously miscount votes.

I point to source code disclosure and paper voting records as stopgap measures to minimize these dangers, but conclude that ultimately, computerized voting may just be a bad idea. At the very least, we should hold off on installing additional computerized voting machines until we’ve had more time to study the existing ones and better understand their flaws.

  • Steve R.

    I am in favor of electronic voting. The “problem” as I see it is the whole system of voting, not just the device used. All technologies are susceptible to circumvention. Paper ballots for example do not stop dead people from voting :). When I go to vote, the staff registering me, do not know who I am. Furthermore, they have no way to verify that I am actually me. Exposing flaws in how a system operates is good intellectual exercise. However, simply saying that one system should not be used because of “flaws” is an incomplete analysis.

    In following this story, I find the following unintentionally statement humorous “Presumably, Diebold will fix the flaws uncovered by this study.” My opinion is that Diebold will not be able to fix its voting system, it is simply too flawed. Put another way, ala the Dilbert cartoon strip, the sales force sold vaporware, the engineers were clueless, and management was absent enjoying their performance awards.

    Basically, this is a case of an unprincipled corporation selling junk to the gullible, even though it may appear to be an introduction of a flawed technological system.

  • http://www2.blogger.com/profile/14380731108416527657 Steve R.

    I am in favor of electronic voting. The “problem” as I see it is the whole system of voting, not just the device used. All technologies are susceptible to circumvention. Paper ballots for example do not stop dead people from voting :). When I go to vote, the staff registering me, do not know who I am. Furthermore, they have no way to verify that I am actually me. Exposing flaws in how a system operates is good intellectual exercise. However, simply saying that one system should not be used because of “flaws” is an incomplete analysis.

    In following this story, I find the following unintentionally statement humorous “Presumably, Diebold will fix the flaws uncovered by this study.” My opinion is that Diebold will not be able to fix its voting system, it is simply too flawed. Put another way, ala the Dilbert cartoon strip, the sales force sold vaporware, the engineers were clueless, and management was absent enjoying their performance awards.

    Basically, this is a case of an unprincipled corporation selling junk to the gullible, even though it may appear to be an introduction of a flawed technological system.

  • http://www.blindmindseye.com MikeT

    The question is, do you trust a government that calls you a racist for saying that people must show IDs and register to vote a month or two before the election in order to vote, to be the body in charge of ensuring that someone ain’t rigging the election? I sure as hell don’t. Granted, the United States has no more electoral freedom than most authoritarian states thanks to the web of rules and regulations put in place to make life a living hell for any non-established player. That and the amount of votes that a party has to get to get even a presence in Congress at all are enough to make a mockery out of our “democracy.”

  • enigma_foundry

    Steve is very wrong when he states: “All technologies are susceptible to circumvention.”

    He is very wrong because:

    1. some technologies are much more susceptable than others.

    2. Electronic Voting inherently losses transparency.


    First, Ed Felten at Freedom to tinker has published a paper which demonstrates how an electronic voting machine could be tampered with even years ahead of the vote, and the tampered would be undetectable. A ballot box, however can be opened the morning of the vote and verified to be empty.
    That is why there are established procedures for certifing elections as fair, because they can be monitored.

    Second, the loss of the ability of all but a few computer experts to conduct a recount means that the lection has lost its ability to be verified and its transparency. This loss cannot be overcome with technical means, other than a paper audit trail which is given the legal standing as the actual vote. Once you have done that, the whole purpose of electronic voting has largely been defeated..

    For example, the Diebold

  • http://www.blindmindseye.com MikeT

    The question is, do you trust a government that calls you a racist for saying that people must show IDs and register to vote a month or two before the election in order to vote, to be the body in charge of ensuring that someone ain’t rigging the election? I sure as hell don’t. Granted, the United States has no more electoral freedom than most authoritarian states thanks to the web of rules and regulations put in place to make life a living hell for any non-established player. That and the amount of votes that a party has to get to get even a presence in Congress at all are enough to make a mockery out of our “democracy.”

  • Steve R.

    Check your logic enigma-foundary. Of course some technologies are more susceptable to fraud than others which is still within the scope of my statement “All technologies are susceptible to circumvention”.

    With electronic voting you could, as you point out, loose transparency, but that is not the point. My point is that you cannot selectively find fault with one technology and justifiably conclude that it should not be adopted. You need to examine the whole process of how one vote’s and then decide on which technological approach gives you the greatest security.

    PS: There is nothing sacred with a paper ballot. Ror example, someone could bribe election officials to get the completed ballots and then run them through a specialized scanner/printer that spits our revised ballots! There is ALWAYS a scenerio that can be developed which supports or disaproves of your position.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    Steve is very wrong when he states: “All technologies are susceptible to circumvention.”

    He is very wrong because:

    1. some technologies are much more susceptable than others.

    2. Electronic Voting inherently losses transparency.


    First, Ed Felten at Freedom to tinker has published a paper which demonstrates how an electronic voting machine could be tampered with even years ahead of the vote, and the tampered would be undetectable. A ballot box, however can be opened the morning of the vote and verified to be empty.
    That is why there are established procedures for certifing elections as fair, because they can be monitored.

    Second, the loss of the ability of all but a few computer experts to conduct a recount means that the lection has lost its ability to be verified and its transparency. This loss cannot be overcome with technical means, other than a paper audit trail which is given the legal standing as the actual vote. Once you have done that, the whole purpose of electronic voting has largely been defeated..

    For example, the Diebold

  • http://www2.blogger.com/profile/14380731108416527657 Steve R.

    Check your logic enigma-foundary. Of course some technologies are more susceptable to fraud than others which is still within the scope of my statement “All technologies are susceptible to circumvention”.

    With electronic voting you could, as you point out, loose transparency, but that is not the point. My point is that you cannot selectively find fault with one technology and justifiably conclude that it should not be adopted. You need to examine the whole process of how one vote’s and then decide on which technological approach gives you the greatest security.

    PS: There is nothing sacred with a paper ballot. Ror example, someone could bribe election officials to get the completed ballots and then run them through a specialized scanner/printer that spits our revised ballots! There is ALWAYS a scenerio that can be developed which supports or disaproves of your position.

  • enigma_foundry

    Steve:

    I am comfortable with my logic.

    The issue of transparency won’t go away with any technological fix. It is inherent in electronic voting systems, and it alone is a very good reason not to implement them…

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    Steve:

    I am comfortable with my logic.

    The issue of transparency won’t go away with any technological fix. It is inherent in electronic voting systems, and it alone is a very good reason not to implement them…

  • enigma_foundry

    The point I am making is that is is wrong to just simply say “All technologies are susceptible to circumvention” when it omits the extremely important fact that that some are more susceptible than others.

    Perhaps you can tell me how you can stuff a ballot box a year before an election, in a way that could not be detected (i.e., by opening the ballot box),

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    The point I am making is that is is wrong to just simply say “All technologies are susceptible to circumvention” when it omits the extremely important fact that that some are more susceptible than others.

    Perhaps you can tell me how you can stuff a ballot box a year before an election, in a way that could not be detected (i.e., by opening the ballot box),

  • Steve R.

    We can endlessly circle this issue. The ballot boxes are opened after the voting and some votes are “replaced”. Breaking and replacing a ballot box seal shouldn’t be a problem. I can also say that electronic voting would be even more secure if properly designed. Also both paper and electronic voting can be easily falsified through “fake” voters (people who show up with fake ID). As we both know, the weak link is the “human element”. Someone, given the right price, motivation, and the proper resources, can falsify election results, be it paper or electronic.

    My hope is that we can design a workable electronic system. We don’t solve problems by tossing out a potential solution simply because of known flaws. We need to figure out how to correct these shortcomings.

  • http://www2.blogger.com/profile/14380731108416527657 Steve R.

    We can endlessly circle this issue. The ballot boxes are opened after the voting and some votes are “replaced”. Breaking and replacing a ballot box seal shouldn’t be a problem. I can also say that electronic voting would be even more secure if properly designed. Also both paper and electronic voting can be easily falsified through “fake” voters (people who show up with fake ID). As we both know, the weak link is the “human element”. Someone, given the right price, motivation, and the proper resources, can falsify election results, be it paper or electronic.

    My hope is that we can design a workable electronic system. We don’t solve problems by tossing out a potential solution simply because of known flaws. We need to figure out how to correct these shortcomings.

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