Why voting machines suck and undermine democracy [Update]

If there are electronic voting machines where you live, and you've ever considered using one of those... well, you should probably reconsider.

In this CNN report (M4V video, 13 MB) Avi Rubin explains why voting machines are a really, really bad idea. To quote some issues raised in the video:

  • There's no way for voters to verify that their votes were recorded correctly.
  • There's no way to count votes in a publicly viewable fashion.
  • Meaningful recounts are impossible.
  • Machines must be trusted not to fail (and we all know that computers never fail, right? ... right?).
  • The Diebold machines contain gross design and programming errors (a detailed analysis is available).
  • The quality of voting machines cannot be determined, because their code is proprietary (closed systems can never be trusted, especially so in such important scenarios)

The CCC Berlin has a very detailed analysis of the topic (German), with many links to further articles.

I'd recommend everyone to not use voting machines at all, but rather perform traditional pen-and-paper voting, if you value your vote... Also, make sure to inform relatives and friends about the risks of voting machines, and complain to your local responsible authorities, and ask them to remove these unreliable, insecure machines.

Update 2006-09-18: Just in case you thought that maybe you can trust the Diebold machines after all - their locks can be opened with a standard hotel minibar key.

(via The Lunatic Fringe)


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paper ballots

As I understand it, as a US-ian, in various places in the US, the paper ballots are not usually counted. So if there is a close vote, IIUC, they are counted, otherwise, not. Regardless, if and when my state is forced to comply with HAVA (this bill is not being used to help voters, as the name would imply), I will use paper anyway.


What kind of pseudo-democracy is this? They simply don't count the paper ballots??? How do those people get away with that (whoever is responsible for such gross stupidity and ballot-rigging)?

I'm shocked. Really. The situation in the US seems worse than I thought...


Well, you cannot verify if *your* vote was recorded correcty also when using paper. First, you don't know which vote is which, second, comission is making a report. There might be mistake during counting votes, during making record...
And computers. All votes are processed by computer. Even local commisions send results by computers (in Poland at least) - report is typed into propietarty software and then send to central comission. Paper version goes there too, but later.
The only thing you have, while using paper is recount possibility. OTOH when using machines, you can easy and cheap make another voting. You can also provide easy way for voting from home or from other town (in future - voting via signed email) which may be very good for disabled or hard working people.
PS I've been a member of comission a few times, so I know procedures pretty well. And I would vote via computer, if I could (if software was open source and procedures well made for computers).

Paper voting

Sure, pen-and-paper voting is not 100% secure either, there are ways to fuck up and/or cheat. But in general it's still way more secure than electronic voting (which can be manipulated or tampered with waaay too easy; either maliciously or because of stupid human/computer errors)...

As for paper votes, I know that in Germany you have the right to stay in the voting offices until after the vote, looking at and checking the voting process, overseeing the people who count the votes, etc. You'd notice if they simply throw away 2000 ballots. You'd notice if they manipulate the contents of some ballots, you'd notice if they get some thousand additional papers from their bags and smuggle them in etc. etc.

You would not notice anything if a bit inside the voting machine is switched (maliciously by someone, or because of computer bugs), and suddenly party A gets 10000 more votes, party B get 10000 votes less...

In this case Open Source voting software alone wouldn't help, unfortunately (and honestly, I don't think there is a single voting machine out there which runs on 100% Free Software). The problem is that the source code you might have access to is probably fine, but nobody can guarantee you that the binary code on the voting machine was compiled from exactly the code you inspected. Even if that's the case, someone could have tampered with the machine after the firmware was put on it.

Even if you had the right to check all of that (by compiling your own firmware and flushing it right before you cast the vote or something ;) that would only help for one specific voting machine. You'd have to do it for all of them, all over your country...

So yes, paper-voting has problems, but electronic voting is much, much worse in my opinion...

Cheers, Uwe..

Paper voting once more.

OK. I understand, why electronic voting is worse *now*. But that's because all the procedures were made for paper voting (and tested for years).
About right to stay in voting office - in Poland you don't have that right if you're ordinary citizen. But every participant beeing voted is allowed to appoint those persons. BTW it's impossible to watch counting if all voting people want to watch in Germany, right? ;-)
There seems to be very simple way to verify, if electronic voting was processed in proper way:
1. You get unique, but anonymous, ID number.
2. You send pair (ID, choice) to central machine (in some way).
3. You receive answer (ID, choice) after vote is recorded (digitaly signed).
4. You affirm, that your vote has been recorded correctly.
5. You get digitally signed checksum.
6. After voting, *all* the pairs (ID, choice) are published - *everyone* can count the results and *everyone* can check if his unique ID was recorded correctly.
7. If there are badly recorded votes, citizen can tell about it, providing his answer and checksum (both digitally signed) as a proof.
This is just a skeleton idea - there are more problems to solve (how to assign just one vote to one person and stay anonymous, how to verify that I take only my voting card, not my wife's - knowing her password...), but you get the idea...

Of course, one can tell, that is not anonymous voting, especially when some makes noise, that his vote was recorded wrong, *but* in paper voting you can't proof in any way, that your vote was for this option, not other. And you also must get rid of anonymity, when you say, that something was made wrong.