random memes }

Getting the issues with "e-voting" completely wrong

There are problems with "voting machines" as used now, but the problems can be solved. This article from CATO paints entirely the wrong picture.

The Case Against E-Voting Ars Technica has an article about problems created by e-voting machines in the French elections on Sunday. Apparently, technical problems caused long lines, causing some voters to be turned away from the polls.

France’s problems are not an isolated incident. In November’s U.S. election, one county in Florida (ironically, the one Katherine Harris was vacating) seems to have lost about 10,000 votes, which happens to be smaller than the margin of victory between the candidates. And there were numerous smaller examples of e-voting problems all over the United States in the 2006 elections.

Those incidents by themselves would be a good argument for scrapping computerized voting. But the most important argument is more fundamental: e-voting is not, and never can be, transparent. The most important goal of any election system is that the voting process be reliable and resistant to manipulation. Transparency is a critical part of that. Transparency makes it more likely that any tampering with the election process will be detected before it can do any damage.

First, a few places having trouble does not prove anything. For the past several years I have volunteered to run the local polling place. The transition from paper ballots to using "e-voting" was anti-climatic. In fact, voters get through the voting process just a bit quicker (no long lines), and with less than half the number of errors (both voters and poll workers are human). Having worked several elections both before and after the conversion - in the same neighborhood - I can be fairly sure that things at the polling place are indeed better.

Are there problems with "e-voting" as currently practiced? Absolutely. Are the problems insoluble? Absolutely not.

Yes, the hardware and software design of voting machines should be open to public review. There is nothing sufficiently special about the hardware or software to merit a proprietary design. Yes, there is presently a risk of mass-stealing votes, if the folks upstream in the voting process cannot be trusted - though this problem existed with paper ballots.

There is a simple way to make "e-voting" more secure than anything we have used in the past. What we need is a simple end-to-end check. At one end we have the voter casting his votes. At the other end we have a sum of all votes cast. What if you could verify that your vote was counted? What if I (as a poll worker) could verify that the sum of votes from my polling place was in the final count? Between the two, we (the voters) would know that our votes were counted accurately, and that no voters were under or over counted.

The end to end check is simple. The voter gets a printed slip with a unique code, and a list of his or her votes. The code identifies the vote, but not the voter. At the end of the election, a list of all votes gets published on a government website. The voter can check the website, and verify that his/her votes are present and correct.

At end of the day, the polling place produces a sum of all votes collected at that location - the copies to poll workers, poll watchers (and potentially any interested voter). That same sum should also appear on the government website. Any voter can potentially verify that the number of votes collected at the local site on election day matches the published counts for the entire election.

There is a bit more to this. The software and hardware used must be open to public review. The voter's slip and polling place printout must include a list of encrypted signatures (so fake voter slips can be caught).

The end result is in fact dramatically more open and reliable than anything we could do in the past. Done right, "e-voting" can make subverting elections vastly more difficult than any time in the past.