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Security flaws, e-voting, and reform

Let us get a couple things clear to start. First, the older paper-based voting process is insecure, and always has been. The security of the process relied on trustworthy people in the polling place, and upstream where the votes were collected and counted. Most of the time this works, but abuses do occur.

Second, adding paper-based records to e-voting machines - by itself - proves nothing. Paper-based records can be faked, either at the polling place (by subverting the voting machines), or upstream where votes are counted. Reverting to a paper-based process is not a solution ... except perhaps to those parties who are comfortable with subverting the paper-based process.

So called "e-voting" is much worse - if done poorly. The point I want to make is that with "e-voting" done right, it is possible to make the entire voting process both more reliable and more secure than at any time in the past!

Cato-at-liberty » More E-voting Security Flaws It’s far from a perfect bill. My preference would be to outlaw touch-screen voting entirely, with or without a paper trail. One of the biggest flaws in the legislation is that it will allow states to use touch-screen voting machines with cheap cash-register-style thermal printers in the 2008 and 2010. In my view, using cheap printers would be a serious mistake; thermal printers frequently jam, and the paper tapes they produce are brittle and hard to deal with. Using such cheap printers dramatically increases the danger that election officials won’t take the paper trail requirement seriously.

Crucially, the Holt-Davis bill doesn’t require states to use touch-screen voting machines at all. States may, and in my opinion should, return to using old-fashioned optical-scan paper ballots. States have been using optical-scan technology for decades, and it has far fewer security flaws than computerized voting machines.

First, the above quote makes the mistake of focusing on the technology. Focus instead on the end result. You do not care what technology is used. You only care that whatever used is reliable. Second, reverting to paper (optical-scan or not) does nothing to make the voting process secure.

TheHill.com - The urgency of e-voting reform[^1] The 2008 primary season won’t kick off until next January, but we’re ready to offer one surefire prediction for Election Day 2008. If our elected officials don’t move quickly, millions of Americans will make their choice for the next president on unreliable electronic voting machines without any paper record of their vote. Regardless of your political leanings, that’s a troubling thought.

Frankly, there is probably not enough time to fix things before the 2008 election. The government is not exactly known for fast and efficient action - especially when there are very few in government who understand the issues.

If similar problems crop up in next year’s presidential election, it will throw the country into the same kind of turmoil it experienced in Florida in 2000. Fortunately, Congress is currently considering a bipartisan bill, introduced by Reps. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) and Tom Davis (R-Va.) and co-sponsored by a bipartisan majority of the House, that would require all touch-screen voting machines in the 2008 general elections to produce a paper record of each vote.

Voters would have the opportunity to review and approve the paper record before he or she leaves the voting booth. To ensure that the paper records are not just an afterthought, the legislation mandates automatic audits of at least three percent of all votes cast. If there’s a glitch in a voting machine’s software, the audit will uncover discrepancies, and alert election officials to conduct a manual recount of the voter-verified paper ballots.

The desire to make things better is encouraging, but a paper trail - by itself - proves nothing.

From an engineering point of view, this is a simple problem (though with aspects that require careful thought). What we lack is understanding in government that this is an exercise in engineering, and a focus on pulling together the right people.

[^1]: Dead link.