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United States Government Software Politics

NY Times Endorses Open-Source Election Software 297

Posted by timothy
from the nice-to-inspect-the-goods-you-buy dept.
jdauerbach writes "On its editorial page today, the New York Times called for election system reform, saying among other things that 'Congress should impose much more rigorous safeguards, including a requirement that all computer code be made public. It should require that all electronic machines produce a voter-verified paper trail.'"
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NY Times Endorses Open-Source Election Software

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 24, 2004 @03:53PM (#10615361)
    The New York Times wasn't hacked?
    • by johnnyb (4816) <jonathan@bartlettpublishing.com> on Sunday October 24, 2004 @04:31PM (#10615574) Homepage
      I'm a conservative, and I'm agreeing with the New York Times. The end of the world MUST be near.
      • Re:Are we sure... (Score:2, Insightful)

        by websaber (578887)
        I loathe to even discuss politics on this forum for fear of getting banned for life but I think there is a divergence for science oriented republican leaning members. They agree with republican principles except when it comes to open source. They see the beauty of the science of open source where as politically right people see it as anti business pseudo -communism (think bush not enthusiastically supporting the Microsoft lawsuit). I think that as they see it more as true democracy Republican will come arou
      • Re:Are we sure... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by TyrranzzX (617713) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @06:49PM (#10616330) Journal
        Come to the realization that "conservative", "radical", "democrat", "republican", "liberal", "anarchist", "nazi commie assclown extremist", ect, are all terms those in power have created to label us. Why? Well, you label someone, then give people mud, and slings. What's next? They fight, and organize behind opposing sides, instead of getting together and talking.

        It is then far easier to enslave people without them noticing when you've got people who won't even sit down to have a logical debate or admit they're wrong when prooven so. It's even more entertaining and saddening when those making the point feel the need to insult the other side; stupidity is limitless, and thus, the insulting of stupidity can be made on just about any basis, no matter what level of intellectual developement is required to make that accusation. If you've got a population of people who make accusations of this kind, heh, you've got sheeple.

        • Re:Are we sure... (Score:3, Interesting)

          by johnnyb (4816)
          I disagree with your notion of the connection of labels and lack of debate. I believe that labels are useful because traits usually fall in groups, not singularly. That doesn't mean you _can't_ openly and honestly debate. We just _aren't_.
        • Re:Are we sure... (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Rayonic (462789)
          > are all terms those in power have created to label us.

          Bullshiat. People label themselves when left to their own devices. They natually form an "in-group", so they can feel superior to the "out-groupers".
  • Some thoughts (Score:5, Interesting)

    by daveschroeder (516195) * on Sunday October 24, 2004 @03:54PM (#10615363)
    While I don't disagree in the least with the spirit of the concept of making the system(s) open source, it should be noted that, contrary to popular belief, Diebold asserts that its systems have been scrutinized, including at a source code level, by independent authorities, and that there is also a paper record:

    http://www.securityfocus.com/archive/1/375954 [securityfocus.com]

    I don't know if the paper record is "voter verified", or what mechanism it uses, but there is apparently a paper record nonetheless.

    Notwithstanding Diebold's CEO's extremely inappropriate campaign comments, I really do think they're trying to put out the best electronic voting systems they can, but are suffering from the same problems that any large, proprietary system suffers from when it languishes in the comfort of large government-guaranteed long-term contracts: namely, inattention to the details that need to be addressed, that sometimes get lost in not seeing the forest for the trees.

    Perhaps opening the source to these critical systems and having it overseen by an independent election agency would be an idea worth considering...
    • One more thing... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by daveschroeder (516195) *
      Perhaps opening the source to these critical systems and having it overseen by an independent election agency would be an idea worth considering...

      And even then, there's nothing stopping Diebold, which has a lot of experience with hardened public computer terminals, from making the interface and infrastructure equipment that runs the code. Yes, they then lose the "lock in" that the proprietary software buys them, but if their other systems and hardware are that good, it won't be a problem. Heck, that kind
      • by dnoyeb (547705) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @04:13PM (#10615482) Homepage Journal
        There should be no lock in /wrt vote processing.

        The only thing I could imagine being ok to sell with respect to voting, is facilitation. But the act of vote counting MUST be transparent. As a result the US government MUST OWN the code that counts the votes. This can never be proprietary.

        They can buy communication and data storage and data security products from diebold to protect the voting data and its transmission. But the vote processing portion must always be open for complete public scrutiny.
        • Re:One more thing... (Score:5, Interesting)

          by jxs2151 (554138) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @05:04PM (#10615756) Homepage
          ... the US government MUST OWN the code that counts the votes.

          While I certainly understand your concerns I would disagree with your assertion that the government MUST OWN the code. The government has the highest vested interest in controlling the results of voting, even more so than the simple and predictable profit motive of Diebold. I do not trust "the government" to be a good custodian of the source code contolling voting. I trust the people of the United States and noone else. Open Source comes the closest to granting all rights to "the people" and is thus the best method of ensuring a valid vote.

          All of our rights as Americans flow from the ability to control who leads us. The importance of a clean vote that everyone believes in cannot be overstated. This is far too important to be entrusted to Diebold or the government- don't trust either.

        • Re:One more thing... (Score:5, Informative)

          by cduffy (652) <charles+slashdot@dyfis.net> on Sunday October 24, 2004 @07:49PM (#10616665)
          As a result the US government MUST OWN the code that counts the votes. This can never be proprietary.

          The US government isn't allowed to own copyrights to anything -- anything they develop directly or that's done as a work-for-hire for them is automatically public domain. (For this reason, there's a lot of code that's written by government contractors and remains under their ownership, even though the reason behind its production was government use).

          Effectively, then, any government-developed voting system code would be public domain -- which would be, IMHO, entirely ideal.
    • Re:Some thoughts (Score:5, Insightful)

      by eln (21727) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @03:58PM (#10615392) Homepage
      The fact of the matter is that, in large part because of the CEO's comments, Diebold systems will always be suspect, and any election that a Republican wins using Diebold systems will be looked upon with suspicion.

      Since the controversial company seems to favor the side that controls the entire government at this point, they have no real motivation to change things. Meaningful election reform won't happen until we have a split government. That is, when one party controls the presidency and the other party controls at least one of the houses of Congress.

      Hopefully, in 2004 we can either bring in a Democratic president, and/or give the Democrats control of the Senate. The overall impact of getting away from the one-party-controls-all system we have at the moment will be a move back toward the center, where all the good compromising gets done. As it is now, we have one party pushing the country clear over to their side, with no meaningful compromise going on. No matter what party is in control, that sort of thing is bad for the country.
      • Hopefully, in 2004 we can either bring in a Democratic president, and/or give the Democrats control of the Senate. The overall impact of getting away from the one-party-controls-all system we have at the moment will be a move back toward the center, where all the good compromising gets done. As it is now, we have one party pushing the country clear over to their side, with no meaningful compromise going on. No matter what party is in control, that sort of thing is bad for the country.

        Then I think what you
        • Re:Some thoughts (Score:3, Informative)

          by eln (21727)
          Well, if they controlled both, but the Republicans would still control the House, you would still have a split system. I was just accounting for all possibilities that would lead to a split system.
          • Ah yes, indeed. When you said "Senate", I had "Congress" on the brain. But I do agree: split leadership forces compromise, and that's generally what leads to the best solutions to problems.
            • Re:Some thoughts (Score:3, Insightful)

              by TykeClone (668449)
              But I do agree: split leadership forces compromise, and that's generally what leads to the best solutions to problems.

              Or, in the case of the federal government, gridlock - which is good for the people.

        • Re:Some thoughts (Score:3, Informative)

          by TykeClone (668449)
          Not to quibble too much, but on party controlling the Presidency and one of the houses of congress doesn't give it complete control over the executive and legislative branches of the government.

          And with the Senate, anytime a party has more than 40 seats, it can be a major impedimate to getting legislation done (not that that's a bad thing!). A 51-49 majority in the Senate doesn't guarantee that you can do what you'd like either, although it's easier.

    • Re:Some thoughts (Score:5, Informative)

      by antifoidulus (807088) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @04:14PM (#10615485) Homepage Journal
      IIRC, The paper record is per machine, not per vote. After the polls close, each machine prints out a record of the votes recorded on it. So therefore there is a way to double check that the tabulations from all the machines is correct, but not that the tabulation on any given machine is correct. Now granted this does make it harder to modify the final tally, but it is far from impossible.
      It also doesn't address machines crashing, poor user interfaces etc.....
      • Re:Some thoughts (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Jason Earl (1894) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @04:28PM (#10615560) Homepage Journal

        The only safe paper trail is one that can be checked by the individual voters. If you are going to tamper with the electronic record so that every third vote for foo goes to bar then it is a trivial matter to make sure that the paper that you spit out at the end of the day matches the fiddled vote tallies.

        That's why the only sane way to do electronic voting is to use whatever fancy dan front end you want, I couldn't care less, but at the end of the voting session you spit out a human verifiable paper receipt that is the official vote. This vote gets put in the ballot box and if anyone questions the integrity of the vote then you open the ballot boxes and count the votes by hand. In most cases the electronic count of the vote will be the one used. However, in cases where fraud is suspected there is a verifiable paper trail that can be followed.

        This gives the voter a chance to read his ballot and make sure that his or her vote was cast correctly, and it makes it much more difficult to "hack" the vote.

        • Re:Some thoughts (Score:2, Insightful)

          by npross (564046)
          Exactly!

          Why is it that the US seems to want to dispose of the good ol ballot box? It works in almost every other democracy in the world.

          A system that uses technology for fast results but is verifiable using tried and true methods seems to be the best of both worlds.

        • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Sunday October 24, 2004 @08:03PM (#10616749)
          That's why the only sane way to do electronic voting is to use whatever fancy dan front end you want, I couldn't care less, but at the end of the voting session you spit out a human verifiable paper receipt that is the official vote.

          And the easiest way I can think of doing that is with a nice, old fashined punch card.

          The voter chooses at the computer, the computer records the vote electronically, punches the card, and prints the names of the candidate chosen on it.

          That way, the voter looks at the card, checks whether the person they've selected is printed on it and then drops it in the box.

          Each machine can be verified by matching:
          #1. The electronic count to
          #2. The punch cards to
          #3. A hand count

          It's quick and easy to tally punch cards if that's request and if a hand vote is necessary, it's just as easy (but not as quick).

          That way, any problems can quickly be tracked to the machine(s).
    • Diebold asserts that its systems have been scrutinized, including at a source code level, by independent authorities

      The companies that make the voting machines pay one of three companies to *test* and *certify* their machines. None of the companies are willing to say exactly what's involved, but one testing outfit indicated it includes drop-testing.

      I don't know if the paper record is "voter verified", or what mechanism it uses, but there is apparently a paper record nonetheless.

      There is no paper rec

    • One of the things revealed by the internal Diebold documents that were released some time ago is that Diebold employees repeatedly made changes to their software AFTER it had been "certified" and without notifying anyone outside of Diebold. So we know for a fact that the software actually used had NOT been subjected to independent scrutiny. In any case, both the documents and published studies of the system indicate that the system is not designed in a secure fashion and does not provide a reliable audit t

    • by gad_zuki! (70830) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @04:41PM (#10615618)
      > systems have been scrutinized, including at a source code level, by independent authorities

      These machines are tested in secret and because of IP law and NDAs you will never know the results. [msn.com] The Australians have open source voting machines. Its not that hard to pull off, that is if you CARE about elections. Seems many in power see fraud as par for the course in the US. [google.com]

      So, please excuse me for not trusting my one lousy vote to the CEO of some company which is more secretive with its machines than a 16 year old girl with her diary. Pardon me for taking his partisan comments ("I will deliver Ohio for Bush") as just that: an inapropriate partisan comment.

      No conspiracy theories needed. If you keep things secret, someone will find a way to abuse them.

      >and that there is also a paper record

      Err, people want paper tickets they can verify and put in a box for recounts. Attaching a printer to a voting machine at the end of the day is hardly a "paper trail."
    • Are these the same authorities "from MIT" that did the SCO scrutinizing of Linux?
    • by JimMarch(equalccw) (710249) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @05:51PM (#10615968)
      Diebold's "paper trail" is an end-of-day record on a long thin "cash register strip" showing how many votes each machine took in for each candidate and issue.

      Problem 1: it's glitchier than a Microsoft Windows early beta. I've talked to Alameda and San Diego County pollworkers who tried to collect these at the end of the day, only to find that in some cases nothing printed and in others the printout didn't agree with the on-screen end-of-day tallies! And that was different machines in a single polling location.

      Problem 2: this printout isn't done as the votes happen, but rather as a single end-of-day "run" under polling place supervisor control. If the machine crashes at any time during the day (which happens often enough), that'll cause the tallies between the memory card "electronic ballot box" (PCMCIA) and printout to vary.

      Problem 3: this printout isn't open to public scrutiny. I've seen Public Records Act/FOIA type queries for copies fought by county elections officials across the nation, probably because photocopying a 12ft strip of 3" paper is a bitch :).

      As to code scrutiny by independent labs:

      The Federal Election Commission approves testing labs for reviewing voting machine code and products. They're the only ones allowed to see the source code on this stuff. The two biggest are Wyle Lab's elections operation in Huntsville, AL and "Ciber Inc" (formerly Metamore) also in Huntsville.

      First, all of the voting machines in current use are certified by these labs to standards written by the FEC in 1990. You heard that right. There's also a 2000 standard by the FEC but since all of our electronic voting machines were built prior to 2000, they can be re-certified under the 1990 standards "forever", until the vendors announce significant enough upgrades/revamps to trigger the Y2000 review process. Which NONE have seen fit to do so far.

      It gets worse.

      We have 13,000 leaked Diebold memos floating around that document, among other things, Diebold lying to the testing labs. In one case, huge amounts of customized code used in WinCE was declared to be "Commercial Off The Shelf" ("COTS") and not subject to source code review.

      The exact phrasing of these internal memos and a security analysis of their implications can be found at:

      http://www.equalccw.com/sscomment.html [equalccw.com]

      ...and:

      http://www.equalccw.com/sscomments2.html [equalccw.com]

      Ain't puked quite yet?

      Diebold Corp. in Ohio bought Global Election Systems in 2002 (Canadian company) and renamed it Diebold Election Systems. Global's first voting products were written on Unix boxes, where they wrote their own "Accubasic" compiler for some core vote-tally processes. When porting to Windows, they went to great lengths to get Accubasic working on the new platform. OK, query me this: if I'm writing the compiler and I'm publishing source code for scrutiny that's run through that compiler, how in the hell is the source code reviewer supposed to know what's REALLY going on!?

      Ahh, but this presumes "bad intent" on Global's part, which normally isn't something you presume. Except that Global was founded in 1988 by three guys name of Norton Cooper, Charles Hong Lee and Michael K. Graye, all three of whom have prior felony convictions in the US and/or Canada for stock fraud, investment scams and the like. By 2000, Global hired a guy name of Jeffrey Dean as lead programmer on the central vote-tally product (GEMS, "Global Election Management Software", still part of the Diebold product line). Dean was a charming chap - convicted of 23 counts of computer-aided embezzlement from a Seattle law firm in what a court called a "sophisticated computer-aided accounting fraud". He was literally recruited while still in prison by another Global employee also doing time. See also this document for more details on these clowns:
    • While I don't disagree in the least with the spirit of the concept of making the system(s) open source, it should be noted that, contrary to popular belief, Diebold asserts that its systems have been scrutinized, including at a source code level, by independent authorities...

      Why would that be "contrary to popular belief"?

      I don't care whether Diebold has someone else looking at the code or not.

      I care what the code does and how secure the system is.

      Without public review, there is no way to determine EITH

  • Yes... but (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ShatteredDream (636520) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @03:56PM (#10615375) Homepage
    How do we know that the code that is actually on the machines we're voting with is the same as the public code? Even if the public code is compiled and built, then tested to see if it's the same binary instructions as what's going on the mass-produced machines, how do we know that each, individual machine that actually ends up at the voting booth won't be rigged? Who's to say that some dishonest, partisan fuck won't change it at the last minute?

    I think Badnarik's solution is the best. Get rid of the official ballots and let everyone bring their own ballot with them so that they can vote for whoever they want, not whoever the ruling government wants to let them choose from. And naysays... believe it or not, but that system is probably less prone to corruption than what we have today.
    • md5sum or gpg signatures on the binaries.

      • md5sum or gpg signatures on the binaries

        So, you go to your local polling place and run md5sum on all the voting machines, and md5sum prints out the checksums that you expected it to print out. Now what? How can you be sure that:

        1. md5sum hasn't been hacked to give the expected checksums, even for an altered binary?
        2. there isn't a bug or back door in the "golden source code" that nobody noticed? (such bugs can be very, very subtle)
        3. The compiler used to compile the "golden binaries" wasn't itself hacked [bell-labs.com] t
        • Well, you can never have 100% "maintenance-free" secure system.

          You can, however, mitigate the risk. In this case I'll take an acceptable risk and amount of potential error versus a catastrophic one like we're faced with here in the US this coming November.

    • Re:Yes... but (Score:4, Insightful)

      by xenocide2 (231786) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @04:17PM (#10615503) Homepage
      Badnarik's solution sounds like it rids us of the australian ballot. This bastion of privacy was established to prevent people from forcing votes one way or another, either through physical violence, buerocratic jobs, or the power of money. The ballots are public record once cast. They're supposed to be anonmymous, but anyone who wants to buy votes can find a strong path with Badnarik's solution.

      I'm personally not so concerned with malicious tampering, although its entirely possible and feasible. I'm more worried about bugs, which seem to be the only constant in today's software.

      Indeed the rules in place today do pander to the two party system, and there are some odd laws in various places. For example, no member of the Communist Party can be placed on the ballot in Kansas. This relic does little good; I'd be much more worried about candidates with secret ties to the Communists rather than a guy who's publicly Communist. Another ballot law in Kansas restricted parties with more than two words, like Natural Law Party, until the Natural Law Party. I can't recall the purpose of this law, but the good news is its gone.
    • Get rid of the official ballots and let everyone bring their own ballot with them so that they can vote for whoever they want, not whoever the ruling government wants to let them choose from.

      You can always take the paper ballot that exists at every polling place and do a write in. Hence how Mikey Mouse always gets a few votes every election.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I'm not convinced that Congress has the constitutional authority to make requirements on state elections like this. Perhaps if a state or county buys a voting system from another state it could come under the 'interstate commerce' clause, but that's a bit of a stretch, and prone to loopholes.

    On the other hand, maybe they could claim they are implicitly granted this power under the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment? Any other ideas?
    • by Anita Coney (648748) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @03:58PM (#10615394) Homepage
      Congress has sole authority over copyright. Thus, Congress could simply mandate that all e-voting software be in the public domain if used by any state government for elections.


      • Given that voting systems are bought with public money and that there really are not non-public markets for voting systems, it's pretty easy to argue that the software was directly paid for with public money and should be public domain. I'm pretty sure some government contracts already work this way...but I fear seeing what is actually in current voting systems' source code (if 'democrat' if rand() .25 stdout = /dev/null...).
    • Congress can always find clever ways to do what it wants. For example, it could offer to give the states money for election reform only if it's used for the approved systems. A state wouldn't *have* to use the preferred system, but if they didn't, they wouldn't get any money.
    • by mcc (14761)
      Congress lacks any authority over state-level elections.

      However, it would appear they have some sort of authority over federal elections-- senators, house reps, president. The 2002 Help America Vote Act [fec.gov] placed a range of rules and restrictions on how a state may conduct its federal elections. None of these took direct effect, and all of these took the form of requiring the states to each independently pass some sort of legislation implementing the rules HAVA dictates. In many states this local legislation
    • I suspect that both democrats and republicans prefer it this way. Why close all your loopholes to be able to change the vote outcome by either modifiying the vote, or by courts.
  • power to the people (Score:2, Interesting)

    by OffTheLip (636691)
    including open source software. If ever there was an arena crying out for inspection it's the voting process both in the US and worldwide. I for one welcome my open source voting software overlords.
  • by targo (409974) <targo_t&hotmail,com> on Sunday October 24, 2004 @03:58PM (#10615390) Homepage
    The coming election is probably one of the most important ones in the last few decades, and nothing can really be done to save it from abuses any more.
    And after the vote is over, the topic will probably disappear from public consciousness anyway.
  • by doormat (63648) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @03:59PM (#10615398) Homepage Journal
    Despite the fact we have groups tearing up voter registration forms [reviewjournal.com], the actual voting system [sequoiavote.com] is the best in the nation [reviewjournal.com]. It records your vote in three ways. First, electronically, second it prints who you vote for in plain english on a piece of paper viewed by the voter, and once the voter reviews this paper and accepts the choices, the votes are encoded into a 2D barcode printed after the list of votes, this barcode contains the list of votes for which offices.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 24, 2004 @04:11PM (#10615472)

      Is that a surprise? That state that houses the Nevada Gaming Commission would have the most stringent requirements for electronic voting machines?
    • Despite the fact we have groups tearing up voter registration forms...

      I wonder how easy it would be to make a case that destroying voter registrations is treason (the article says it is already a federal crime). Allow hangings for punishment. Televise the hangings.

      BTW, I had to deny a mess of cookies at the reviewjournal site. Why is it that local newspaper and television station websites are always examples of the worst websites? Perhaps it is just a side effect of the quality of local journalism.
    • by _KiTA_ (241027) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @06:13PM (#10616110) Homepage
      And who's to say the barcode has to line up with what it prints in plain english? If I were going to fix an election, I'd let the voter walk away thinking he picked whoever he wanted, then just credit it as a count for my guy. And I'd keep it EXTREMELY close, but just barely over the margin of error.

      Come to think of it, *IS* Linus running this year? ;)
  • by datastalker (775227) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @04:00PM (#10615405) Homepage
    ...is not the same thing as Open Source. If you doubt me, Microsoft has made their code "public" with shared source. This doesn't mean that Joe Hacker will get a chance to look at it, just that someone outside the voting machine company will.

    Granted, I'd prefer if it were truly open source, but I suspect that we're a bit of a ways away from GPL voting code.
    • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Sunday October 24, 2004 @04:20PM (#10615523) Homepage Journal

      That's not making it public either - making it public means open to public scrutiny, which is to say anyone can look at it. You can do this without making it Open Source, which is to say, you have no rights to actually USE the code for anything, only to look at it.

      Personally I think the solution is for the federal government to contract a GPL or BSD-licensed FOSS voting package which will run on ordinary PCs, under some FOSS operating system (it can be FreeDOS for all I care, as long as it's free, Free, and Open) and use that. It would be cheaper and ultimately more secure due to peer review than the diebold solution ever could be.

    • by Jason Earl (1894) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @04:37PM (#10615603) Homepage Journal

      I don't care if the code is public or not as long as the polling machine prints out a human verifiable ballot that counts as my official vote in case of suspected fraud. Heck, the actual software that does the polling can be top secret obfusticated C generated by an Intercal front end for all I care. As long as I can look down at my ballot when I am done voting and verify that the machine tallied my votes correctly I am perfectly happy.

      Public availability of the source code doesn't guarantee that the polling machine that I am using is working correctly, or that it hasn't been tampered with. Hard-copy ballots that can be hand verified in case of suspected fraud guarantee that folks wishing to fix an election at least have to work at it.

  • by reporter (666905) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @04:01PM (#10615411) Homepage
    It should require that all electronic machines produce a voter-verified paper trail.

    Despite the inherent liberal bias of the "New York Times", the "Times" correctly asserts that all voting machines should leave a paper trail. Without a paper trail, we would have no way to verify the validity of the votes cast for a candidate. We also would have no way to identify tampering.

    The issue with paper trails has been known in the academic community for a long time. Noted computer scientists from CMU, MIT, and other vanguards of American technology had signed a petition demanding that all voting machines leave a paper trial. The ACM finally officially committed to the cause recently (according to SlashDot). Now, the liberal print media has committed to the cause.

    Perhaps, someone can explain why the Department of Defense is still allowing overseas military personnel to cast their ballots by Internet on servers without any paper trail.

    • Perhaps, someone can explain why the Department of Defense is still allowing overseas military personnel to cast their ballots by Internet on servers without any paper trail. Unless more people start demanding that their rights be protected, the government isn't going to have enough care to do anything for them. And many people in the military probably don't even know that their rights are being violated, since people with technical knowledge are less likely to be in the military. Even though the sketchi
    • Perhaps, someone can explain why the Department of Defense is still allowing overseas military personnel to cast their ballots by Internet on servers without any paper trail.

      Logistics, perhaps. As everybody knows, they're very busy these days, and, from their point of view, setting personnel aside to handle physical ballots is just extraneous bullsh*t. But, being a government entity, incompetence could also be a factor.

    • It should require that all electronic machines produce a voter-verified paper trail.

      At what point would you trust the computer with out requiring a manual re-count of the paper ballots? The whole point of moving to an electronic system is to eliminate the entire hand count in the first place. With paper trails, people will sue to have them recounted at least once EVERY SINGLE TIME. And if you say that a machine can do the recount, then who is to say the machine that does the recount of the paper trail
    • by ClarkEvans (102211) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @04:49PM (#10615668) Homepage
      What is "Despite the inherent liberal bias" for? This issue has nothing to do with liberal or conservative viewpoints, although I might add that I've yet to see a conservative news source spend any serious time on election issues.

      Also, I'd hardly call the Times "liberal", it's been pro-Bush for most of the Bush's administration and during the Clinton adminstration it attacked the sitting president on a daily basis - on the front page. Perhaps you are referring to Dowd or Krugman? These arn't part of the NY Times Editoral board, they are OP-ED contributors, pushing one position or the other, in the same manner as William Safire (Nixon's Speech Writer) and David Brooks are there to push so-called conservative positions. The NY Times is far less "liberal" than you think -- perhaps if you stopped listening to Rush Limbaugh for a while you might realize that news papers should be free to explore all sorts of positions, popular or not. A "liberal" news source would be the American Prospect.
    • by dglaude (673571) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @06:11PM (#10616095) Homepage
      Richard Stallman told me: [wiki.ael.be]

      Feel free to send me an email if you ever want to say something on this topic that I could use while talking to a Free Software fanatic that believes having the source code is enough to guarantee democracy or to publish on our web site.

      After a talk with Richard Stallman about the use of Free Software for Electronic Election, I emailed him. RMS sent me the following:

      Free software is not enough to ensure that elections are carried out properly.

      The software used in and for government should always be free software; the government should always have the freedom to run it, study its source code, change it to suit government needs, and distribute copies to others either unchanged or modified. That way, software owners will not have power over the government's computers. But that is not enough to ensure that computerized elections are fair and honest.

      It is easy for a programmer to change a program so that it tells the user "You voted for Mr Smith" but actually record a vote for Mr Brown. Unfortunately, free software does not prevent this. There is no known way to prevent this.

      With free voting software, a government election committee can study the source code. If the program has been published, anyone can study the source code. But there is no way to be sure that the program actually running when you cast your vote is the same program that you and the election committee studied. Someone could have installed a fiddled version an hour before the election and replaced it with the authorized version an hour after it ended.

      To assure honest elections, we need physical ballots that can be used for a recount.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Actually, contrary to the subject line of the original posting, the NYT isn't calling for open source code, only publically available code -- the two are obviously very different, and clarity is useful. (Many e-voting experts use the term "disclosed source".)
  • So this voting system will require your DNA to be on file with the Department of Homeland Security, right?
  • Could it be that Mozilla's plans to put on a large ad in the NY Times has caused the paper to be more open-source friendly/aware?
    • Could it be that Mozilla's plans to put on a large ad in the NY Times has caused the paper to be more open-source friendly/aware?

      I doubt that a single page, one-time ad could sway editoral content of the New York Times. If that was the case, every movie review would be a rave. It might have brought the validity of open source to a particular writer's attention, but it's not as if open source hasn't been in the news for a number of years.

  • by myc (105406) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @04:29PM (#10615563)
    I really don't understand the infatuation with high tech voting. For something as critical as voting in a democratic election, I think the engineer's mantra KISS (keep it simple, stupid!) applies. Use paper ballots with the name and picture of the candidate in large print. Above their name, have a big checkbox, and indicate "Check here to vote for candidate". Count the number of ballots issued at each polling station, count the number of ballots that go into the box, and and count the number of ballots that come out of the box. Sure, it will take longer, but how hard is it to screw that up? It could be argued that using a simple enough ballot, anyone who fucks their ballot up is not "disenfranchised", they just fucked up, and it would rightfully be their own fault.
    • by Get Behind the Mule (61986) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @04:49PM (#10615666)
      I was going to post this very argument, and here you've said exactly what I wanted to say.

      So instead of just saying me too, let me add my perspective as an American who now lives in Germany. The way they run elections here was a real revelation to me. After a lifetime in a culture that is fascinated with high-tech solutions, and where high-tech is uncritically assumed to be better, I was amazed to see that a simple solution was clearly superior.

      Voters are handed a piece of paper with the names of the candidates. They take it behind a privacy barrier and mark an 'X' in circles next to their candidates' names. Then they fold up the paper, seal it in an envelope, and drop the envelope through a slit in a box. Then at 6 PM, the envelopes are dumped out of the box and the votes are counted and re-counted by hand. Anyone who wants to can witness the counting.

      With this system, a fiasco such as Florida in 2000 (or in a number of states in 2004, as I predict) simply cannot happen. The are far fewer possibilities for error, and the credibility of the result is much greater.

      The problem in the US is cultural. The very idea that a low-tech solution could be better simply doesn't cross our minds. For some things in life, we really are better off with more computers and machinery, but for elections, we should just dump them all on the trash heap, all they do is compound mistakes.
    • Sure, it will take longer, but how hard is it to screw that up?

      Umm... Lets se:.
      A) Ballots get "switched" on the way to the counting place.
      B) Ballots are put into the wrong piles for who the person voted for.
      C) Ballots are "miscounted".
      D) Ballots are "lost".
      E) Ballots are erased and re-inked.
      F) Your system forgot the write-in ballots which require someone to read anothers handwriting.

      Paper ballots are actually much easier to screw around with than an electronic or mechanical system coded by an ho
      • A) Ballots get "switched" on the way to the counting place.
        B) Ballots are put into the wrong piles for who the person voted for.
        C) Ballots are "miscounted".
        D) Ballots are "lost".
        E) Ballots are erased and re-inked.


        Sorry, all of these can happen much more easily inside a black box than they can out in the open.

        F) Your system forgot the write-in ballots which require someone to read anothers handwriting.

        So you're saying the election might be stolen from a write-in candidate? Somehow I think democracy mig
    • A high-tech voting system that is properly designed and deployed should be easier to use and more secure then a paper solution. A paper ballot can't prevent a person from voting for two different candidates in the same race. A paper ballot can't remind a person that they didn't place a vote for dogcatcher, and make sure that they truly intended to not vote in that race. Paper ballots have problems with hanging chads (if they're the punch-out type) or improper erasures (did he intend to erase "A" and vote
      • by MillionthMonkey (240664) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @06:27PM (#10616195)
        A high-tech voting system that is properly designed and deployed should be easier to use and more secure then a paper solution.

        I put bold tags around your enormous qualifying assumption, which you seem to gloss over as if it's a given. It is extremely difficult to create a properly designed high-tech voting system. The network of bluescreening touchscreens that lie in wait for many of us don't even come close.

        Paper ballots have problems with hanging chads (if they're the punch-out type) or improper erasures (did he intend to erase "A" and vote vor "B", or did he vote for both of them?) or faint markings that may or may not have been intended to be votes.

        Feh. These are sources of random error, which although undesirable, affects the outcome nowhere near as much as systematic error. [ucomics.com] In general systematic error has partisan effects, whereas random error in general does not- it mostly cancels itself out. 10000 votes affected by random error affect the election about as much as 200 votes affected by systematic error.

        See this post [slashdot.org] and the reply to it for details. I don't want to keep repasting it in every thread. Maybe I'll start a journal.

        And you're going to have errors when you start to count millions and millions of paper ballots by hand.

        Like I said before, unless you hire outright partisans to count votes, these will be sources of random error.

        Any candidate who lost by a narrow enough margin is going to demand a recount,

        Good. I hope they do.

        A recount for the Presidential election would have to be completed before January 2nd. Limited time means people rushing, which means more errors...

        Not if your Daddy appointed a few Supreme Court justices. They can stop the recount and choose you as president before the outcome is even known.
    • I really don't understand the infatuation with high tech voting.

      The most common justification I hear for touch-screen voting is customization. It's trivial to make custom "ballots" for people with any kind of handicap or limitation, for whom filling out a normal ballot might be difficut. Everything from blind people to ESL folks, to old people who have trouble with small print. It kinda makes sense, but all you need is an electronic interface. No reason you can't then print out a ballot that can be verifie

  • by coshx (687751) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @04:35PM (#10615589)
    There are two kinds of paper trails. One is a readable ballot that must be submitted into the ballot box, and the other is a sort of receipt to let you know whom you voted for.

    The first kind is acceptable, and I believe the open voting consortium [openvotingconsortium.org] has this idea correct: the machine should print out a barcode, that can then be verified by another scanning machine. This barcode must then be submitted into the ballot box.

    The second kind is flawed for two reasons. First, there is no way to verify that what the computer printed is actually what's recorded on the bar code, or what has been submitted electronically. Second, and more importantly, it provides an easy way for proving whom you voted for. I could tell all of my employees to bring in their receipts, and those who vote for candidate A will receive benefits. Yes, this is illegal, but we shouldn't make it any easier.


    what's a sig?
    • What people mean by "verified voting" is:

      a) the voting machine produces a 'voucher'
      listing the canidates whom the voter selected

      b) the voter can, in the privacy of the voting
      booth, review this voucher for accuracy

      c) the voucher is placed into a ballot box
      for the vote to be counted, the voucher
      itself _is_ the legally binding vote

      You are absolutely correct to rail against a receipt which the voter takes home with them. I've personally witnessed Diabold people purposefully mis-represn
  • The rest of the world is not to impressed by Diebold either. A couple of Dutch jokers have put together this little thing on Diebold and voting (in Florida):

    http://www.boomchicago.nl/Section/Latest-News/Boom ChicagoVotingMachine [boomchicago.nl]

    Mirror: http://politiken.dk/media/wvx/3223.WVX [politiken.dk]

    Let the Slashdot'ing begin ;-)

  • by MSBob (307239) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @04:42PM (#10615624)
    International election observers noted several issues with the US election process this year. One of the criticisms in their report is electronic voting without any transparency or a paper trail. One of their recommendations was also to use open source code software for the voting machines. Here's the link [alertnet.org]
  • a good thing (Score:2, Interesting)

    I am a very liberal new yorker who gets the times every day at home. And if you read the technology section, in the thursday paper, you will quickly come to the conclusion that this most august of american journalistic institutions does not know its head from its elbow when it comes to comsumer electornics. ONe can only hope the editorial board is better informed.
  • I am afraid that even if the public pushes the opensourcing of the voting code, they will make it available under a "shared source" license a-la M$. That's better than closed source, but definitely is not enough. The general public might think it's enough, but it isn't since the code creators will continue to have exclusive rights over a piece of software that is of extreme importance to the society. The voting code must be available in the public domain or under a mini-license that could be compatible wit
    • I forgot to add this: Consider that in the future humans may live in space or other planets and they will definitely need some sort of device for the survival in an environment without oxygen. The oxygen-generator/provider/whatever will probably be a device controlled by a computer so it will need some sort of software. Would you accept exclusive copyright rights, possibly revocable, over a piece of software that is of extreme importance to your life? I hope not. Election/voting software is not very differe
  • One-Time IDs (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Rie Beam (632299) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @04:47PM (#10615655) Journal
    One of the major problems with keeping track of voting records is that you don't want to give away too much information to the public on who voted what, while at the same time, keeping everything hidden will draw cries of foul play, tampering, et cetera. So here's an idea - one-time voter cards.

    Lemme explain. They would be plastic cards, about the size of a credit card, with a random ID and password on them in print - long enough not to be memorized by passer-bys, but short enough to make it humanly possible to type later on. Also on the card is a magnetic strip - think something like a credit card. Now, when you show up at a voting center, they hand you one out of a pile - it's in a sealed envelope, so they haven't a clue as to which one they hand you. You go in the voting booth, slide your card through the machine, and vote. A paper trail is produced with your barcode and adjacent votes - but not anything that could be used to ID you later on - and you slide your card again. It registers your votes on the card, and you leave.

    Now, the votes are tallied, and the results are given. However, the election isn't over yet. An open database is publically produced, with barcode/vote combinations, and the voters then mail their cards to be tallied and compared to the database. If the paper trail doesn't match up with the card count, something has gone wrong, and all votes without cards, cards without votes, are cast out.

    I know this still has some flaws, but I'm curious as to what the Slashdot community thinks. One thing I was worried about is that in checking on your barcode, you may become ID'd in that manner - although compared to other methods, I think the chance of something like that, for example, through an encrypted channel online, is a lot less likely. Comments?
    • Re:One-Time IDs (Score:3, Informative)

      by MalHavoc (590724)
      I was at a conference for Privacy, Security, and Trust a few weeks ago here at the university where I work [www.unb.ca], and there were two very interesting papers presented by people who had given this idea serious thought. Both papers, in PDF format, are available here [lib.unb.ca] and here [lib.unb.ca].
    • Annonominity (Score:4, Insightful)

      by ClarkEvans (102211) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @05:20PM (#10615816) Homepage
      The most important aspect of a voting system is that how one voted remains anonymous. If it is possible for an employer, spouse, parent, or anyone else to have someone 'prove' that they voted red or blue, then organized coersion is likely.

      Another important aspect is that the person's vote should not be "sellable". If this mechanism admits the possibility of a card to be sold, then it is a non-starter.

    • Re:One-Time IDs (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      An open database is publically produced, with barcode/vote combinations, and the voters then mail their cards to be tallied and compared to the database.

      When I mail in my card, would I have to write my return address on the envelope? Even if I do not include my return address, if I mail it from my house, it can be traced back to me.
    • Re:One-Time IDs (Score:3, Interesting)

      by winwar (114053)
      And the point is?

      Secret paper ballots work fine. Granted, if they are poorly implemented problems will occur but that is no different from any other solution. We know what paper solutions work and don't work. So what is the point of changing to a new system?

      We don't NEED quicker results. We need the CORRECT results that are BELIEVED to be accurate by the public. Your solution adds technology where none is needed. The result will be more problems.
  • by meese (9260) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @04:57PM (#10615720)
    NIST did a great job with the AES competition (to develop and standardize a new block cipher to replace the aging DES) - why don't they have a competition to standardize a electronic voting machine platform? There's no reason this shouldn't be done on a national basis.

    I think that if we as a community put enough pressure on NIST, they'll do it. And since NIST is a non-partisan body, there's no good reason for congress to not support a design that is sponsored by NIST.

    Such a process would promote both openness of participation and review of designs. The winning design could then be standardized and vendors could simply implement them to spec.
  • by anon*127.0.0.1 (637224) <slashdot@baudkar m a . com> on Sunday October 24, 2004 @05:26PM (#10615844) Journal
    There will be lots of allegations of election fraud and election screwups for the upcoming vote. The closer the races, the louder and more widespread the allegations will be.

    However, we won't be hearing "The voting system is confusing and insecure. We need to change it!". We'll be hearing the Democrats say "The Republicans screwed with the results and stole the election!". The Repubicans will be making the same allegations about the Democrats. And both sides will be so busy pointing fingers and slinging mud, the process itself will be completely ignored and will remain as broken as ever.

  • Wish we had that... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tit0.c (245434) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @05:44PM (#10615926)
    Wish we had that here in Venezuela las august.

    The voting machines here for the presidential referendum produced a paper trail.Suddenly when there was a doubt of the transparenncy of the whole process (because the voting machines were black boxes, noone knew what the code on them did) the government refused to count the papers from each machine.

    Instead, they performed an "audit" where a member of the national electoral council on TV announced that a certain number of boxes would be chosen at random...by another computer running who knows what code on it and after the program was done "generating" the number of the boxes to be audited he proceeded to open a Word document with the numbers on it.

    Of course, when the audit was done nothing was found amiss.

    Transparent indeed...
  • by timothy (36799) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @09:46PM (#10617362) Homepage Journal
    Let's say there are going to be ballots provided by the election officials (I just noticed someone talking about Badnarik*'s idea of every voter bringing his own ballot, never thought of that angle before). I'd rather have a slightly more involved, even if more expensive, elections process that invited two or more companies to supply the machines used *at every polling place.* In the fashion of the time-stamp cards in some workplaces -- like the Hallmark store I worked in during high school -- such a device could tell you with a satisfying "WHOMP!" that Yes, this vote has been registered on one side or the other, and visibly increment the "total votes" column by one. Then let the second machine WHOMP the same ballot, and finally put the ballot into locked box for later recount purposes if the two machines disagree.

    The kicker: pay only expenses up-front, with a bonus going only to the most accurate machine. There will be votes that are lost / spindled / folded / mutilated; sorry. Mistakes and bugs may be inevitable, but that doesn't mean that "just any system" is good enough.

    timothy

    * My candidate of choice
  • by eyepeepackets (33477) on Monday October 25, 2004 @01:52AM (#10618474)
    Experience says that when there is much controversy over solutions to a particular problem it is often because the problem hasn't been properly defined.

    Current definition of "The problem:" How to change government in a democracy with open, accurate elections which allow the voter to remain anonymous.

    The solution is in the history of U.S. democracy. History tells us that a small group of elite folks (Founding Fathers) decided that the electorate could not be trusted (Electoral College) and that the best overall solution was a restricted form of democracy (representative democracy.) In the years since, the attitude of our ruling class has blossomed into a degenerate, self-serving incompetence-towards-the-whole which threatens the longevity of the nation.

    Ask yourself why only the two parties can play and any third party or other outside group gets lead weights hung around the necks of their efforts. Don't think it's true? Go check the election rules for your city, county and state. Two-parties-only is the end result of many very suspicious rules and requirements for other groups or parties wishing to play. The same game of Restriction-via-Rubric-Rules exists at the federal level.

    Redefinition of "The Problem:" How to get an entrenched (and very rotten) ruling class to open up the process to open, accurate elections and thus move closer towards achieving a true democracy? In most of the rest of the world -- and throughout human history -- such efforts usually result in civil war.

    If you think any elite group will just give it up, open your eyes and your brain at the same time and witness the current bitterness over voting methodologies: When none of the players are willing to be open and honest, then none of the players _are_ open and honest. Bluntly, the last thing either party wants is open, accurate, direct elections.

    Do we have a democracy or an illusion, a national delusion that we are a democracy? Has not representative democracy failed when a small group of the very richest individuals and corporations (hey, same group of folks, imagine that) severely restrict who can participate in governance?

    You fix this by not sending the same rotten bastards back to Congress time and time and time again. One term and they reek with the stench of corporate cash. In other words -- and let me make this as simple as possible -- the focus on the Presidential election is a red herring, a sleight-of-hand, a trick of the light, a cheap trick, social engineering on a colossal scale, a setup for a SUCKER PUNCH!

    So what did the Harvard Republican say to the Harvard Democrat? "You're either with me or against me! *wink wink, nudge nudge*"

    Cheers and ciao.

It is not for me to attempt to fathom the inscrutable workings of Providence. -- The Earl of Birkenhead

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