But …. but …. but ….

… who cares if Venezuela owns a piece of Sequoia Voting Systems. It’s not as if there’s any way to cheat, is there?

… we all know that electronic voting machines are basically hack-proof, and there’s no way the political leanings of those who make the machines and the software (e.g., the fervent Republicanism of the CEO of Diebold) could possibly matter. Anyone who thinks otherwise is a conspiracy theorist who’s probably shy a tinfoil hat. Right?

So why is it a problem if the Venezualan government own a piece of the parent company of Sequoia Voting Systems?

Actually, I’m pleased. Maybe this will finally get the black box issue the attention it deserves.

It turns out there’s a simple solution, by the way: a touch-screen machine that prints out a paper ballot for the voter to drop into the ballot box. The ballots are machine-readable, but there’s something physical to recount if a recount is needed.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

12 thoughts on “But …. but …. but ….”

  1. The fact that the solution si so simple yet there is such force agaisnt adopting it is what makes me think the conspiracy claims have merit. Not that there has been a conspiracy as such, but more to the fact that Diebold is so shody that any sort of check on their work would cause them to crash.

  2. I've been pushing this idea since the 2002 elections every time this topic comes up on a blog. It would be a machine that fills in the bubbles for you on an optical scan ballot. The other advantage is that if you have long lines or malfunctions you can immediately generate alterate voting instruments, for those who are able to use them (ie, non-disabled under HAVA), with a box of #2 pencils and a sharpener.
    There's still the issue of hacking the counters, but at least you can randomly audit them vs. the physical ballots.
    I've even thought it would be a good business to start because all you need is 1) simple software and a laser printer that you could sell at 200% markup, and 2) seed money for campaign contributions to get politicians to adopt your machines; however, my career is in a completely unrelated industry.

  3. My only objection to the conspiracy theorizing is the notion that voting machine fraud would be a purely Republican matter, just 'cause Diebold's CEO is a Republican.
    Who is best placed to commit all kinds of ballot fraud? Election officials. Who happen to be partisans, and both parties have places where they so dominate the political landscape that there's no real oversight by the other party.
    Ballot fraud will, as usual, be committed in areas that are dominated by one party, by that party, and both parties will engage in it to protect their own incumbants, who have captured the party machinery. In politics there's only one partisan divide that matters much anymore: The incumbant party vs the challenger party.
    Oh, and forget having the damned machine fill out the ballot. Just use optical scan, fill them out by hand, and provide each booth with a quality control scanner. The moment it's not the voter filling out the ballot, but a machine, you've introduced the oportunity to hack the ballot.

  4. How about ditching the whole romance with electronic voting machines and using only paper ballots? Sure, make them machine readable, but I still maintain that the lower tech you go, the less you need to worry about manipulation.

  5. Brett: "My only objection to the conspiracy theorizing is the notion that voting machine fraud would be a purely Republican matter, just 'cause Diebold's CEO is a Republican. "
    Who promised to do everything in his power to help the GOP.
    And who insists on keeping the software a secret, so that no third party can verify it.

  6. If you buy a stick of gum, you receive a record of the product name, time, place and amount.
    If you vote, you should receive a uniquely numbered receipt of your voting choices, in plain text or suitable encripted to protect your privacy. You should be able to verify your vote by comparing your receipt to a listing on a website. You, along with others, should be able to transfer your receipt information to a third party organization to perform a broader audit.
    This will eliminate most fears of voter fraud.

  7. deejaays,
    The problem a voter taking a receipt out of a voting area is that it leaves opportunity for coersion (prove that you voted for X or fill-in-the-blank); problems with coersion is what necessitated the private/secret balloting areas.
    To the topic at hand –
    I agree with Brett: Optical Scan is the way to go. Imminently human readable and recountable by manchine or by hand if need be.
    Or, as an option, Mark's solution: human readable output(printouts) from the electronic machines captured for recount verification. And I know several Republicans that would support just such a thing, except that the only group around here that wants to make it a state-wide law has such virulent anti-Republican verbiage in all their literature that it drives even independants like me away.
    If someone wants to do us all a favor, they could put together a truely non-partisan effort for this. Human-Readable Vote Initiative… call it "Harvey" and use the 'net like Porkbusters.

  8. Deejaays, people instituted the secret ballot to avoid bribery or coercion, as Nony says, so we shouldn't abandon it lightly. Of course, with the spread of voting by mail, we seem to be abandoning it anyway. I'm expecting a big vote-by-mail scandal within the next few years.

  9. > How about ditching the whole
    > romance with electronic voting
    > machines and using only paper ballots?
    Failure engineering is a tough subject because it is always tricky and often counterintuitive. 2-engine airplanes are generally more reliable than 4-engine airplanes, for example, but convincing yourself of that if you have not studied engineering probability is very difficult.
    Which is a long way around to saying that paper ballot systems have their own failure modes, some obvious and some not. Can you get a good count of 100,000,000 objects by human eyeballs? If there is a dispute, can you get a valid recount? What is the error percentage in counting? What is the smudge factor on the Xs the 3rd time the ballots are handled? The 7th?
    Personally I would like to see electronic voting machines from more than one _non-profit_ supplier with the software open source. The machines would store the vote electronically, and also print a recipt for inspection and verification that would be deposited in the ballot box for random audits.

  10. Cranky,
    Certain papers and inks are less likely to smudge than others, but if the whole schebang is flooded or burned you'd have to have a re-vote. I still like the idea of optical ballots better than hanging chads or voting machines that appear to be poorly programmed.
    Why do you think a machine from a non-profit supplier would be any better than a machine from a for-profit supplier? I can think of counter arguements both directions. Open source software is fine, but the big problem is securing said software against hackers (see YouTube video of software switch). Furthermore, what happens if someone goes in at the start of voting hours, changes the software to vote-switch, then sends a cohort near the end of voting hours to switch the software back, without changing the current vote tally on the machine? It looks fine, it tests fine before and after, but it yielded a fraudulent result during the election.
    I wish Atari was still around. They could probably make the machines like a pac-man machine: difficult to harm, difficult to get into to reprogram, operable and understandable to even a small child, and capable of keeping score.

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