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US Elections Dominated By Closed Source. Again. 403

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the pay-no-attention-to-the-bot-behind-the-curtain dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Another American election is almost here, and while electronic voting is commonplace, it is still overwhelmingly run by closed source, proprietary systems. It has been shown that many of these systems can be compromised (and because they are closed, there may be holes we simply cannot know about). Plus they are vulnerable to software bugs and are often based on unstable, closed-source operating systems. By the inherent nature of closed software, when systems are (optionally!) certified by registrars, there is no proof that they will behave the same on election day as in tests. The opportunities for fraud, tampering and malfunction are rampant. But nonetheless, there is very little political will for open source voting, let alone simple measures like end-to-end auditable voting systems or more radical approaches like open source governance. Why do we remain in the virtual dark ages, when clearly we have better alternatives readily available?"
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US Elections Dominated By Closed Source. Again.

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  • Obligatory Daley (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DevConcepts (1194347) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @11:31AM (#33962352)
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by cayenne8 (626475)
      Who needs voter fraud, when you can have Voter [youtube.com] Intimidation [youtube.com]?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by interkin3tic (1469267)

        Who needs voter fraud, when you can have Voter [youtube.com] Intimidation [youtube.com]?

        Since both of those links were to youtube videos of the same incident, one could conclude that one would want voter fraud because voter intimidation is not a significant factor nationwide.

        Seriously, I can see how two black panthers outside one voting place in Philadelphia would be intimidating to voters, and since this would be the left, two guys in one location would be about the most organized voter intimidation conspiracy we could come up with, but you have to be badly deluded to equate the black panther

  • Because... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by twilightzero (244291) <mrolfs AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @11:31AM (#33962364) Homepage Journal

    Why do we remain in the virtual dark ages, when clearly we have better alternatives readily available? ...there's lots of money and power behind closed source, which leads to corruption and back-room deals. QED.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      And open source company are really bad at lobbying.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by spidercoz (947220)
      Exactly. Democracy in this country was bought and sold a long time ago, along with most of our other rights. But considering how little anybody gives a shit, it's no less than we deserve.
    • Re:Because... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by icebike (68054) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @11:46AM (#33962548)

      Why do we remain in the virtual dark ages, when clearly we have better alternatives readily available? ...there's lots of money and power behind closed source, which leads to corruption and back-room deals. QED.

      And so far, no believable evidence that any errors actually changed the outcome of any election other than in those cases where it was so close that even human error could tip the balance. That's why mandatory recount rules kick in, in most states when races are very tight.

      At least with the paper ballot reader systems you have the actual documents to count, and could count them on by hand or by an Open Source device after an election to prove or disprove any claims of errors.

      But until that happens, even on a small scale, and demonstrates that the closed source systems delivered the wrong result there is just no motivation to do anything.

      Of course the totally electronic voting systems, with NO physical record remains pretty much un-audit-able.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by spidercoz (947220)
        Really? Might want to look into voting irregularities in Ohio in 2004. Documented proof exists that thousands of votes were either altered or outright made up.
      • Personally I'm a big fan of the old Scantron-style systems that some states still use (Minnesota in particular). It's read electronically but still gives you a physical paper record to go back to. But then again some people are too stupid to fill in ovals correctly. Come to think of it, I'm not sure why they should be allowed to vote...

      • Re:Because... (Score:5, Informative)

        by Sigma 7 (266129) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @11:58AM (#33962758)

        And so far, no believable evidence that any errors actually changed the outcome of any election other than in those cases where it was so close that even human error could tip the balance.

        From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volusia_error [wikipedia.org]

        The error cropped up in Volusia's 216th precinct of only 585 registered voters. A Global Election Systems (acquired by Diebold Election Systems now Premier Election Solutions) voting machine showed that 412 of those registered voters had voted. The problem was that the machine also claimed those 412 voters had somehow given Bush 2,813 votes and in addition had given Gore a negative vote count of -16,022 votes

        This margin of error alone was greater than the population of the affected riding, and is well beyond human error. It also caused a riding to appear it supported the candidate they didn't vote for.

        Of course the totally electronic voting systems, with NO physical record remains pretty much un-audit-able.

        Actually, they can be audited if you want your vote as part of a public record. In that case, the parents/employer/mafia/dictator will demand you vote in a certain pattern.

      • That's why mandatory recount rules kick in,

        Oh whew, good thing too. 'Cause as we all know, partisan politics or outright corruption could never stop a mandatory recount. That's crazy talk.

      • Why do we remain in the virtual dark ages, when clearly we have better alternatives readily available?

        Because the government is a bureaucracy with inertia. It takes time and effort to change it's course, and unless there is a perceived critical issue, there is very little drive to change things.

        It seems sad to have to say this, but it is going to take some serious criminal hacking and blatant manipulation of an election to get a proper open source election system in place in within the next decade. A
    • Re:Because... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by IgnoramusMaximus (692000) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @12:25PM (#33963114)

      Not only that, but people seem not to realize that the whole concept of "democracy" is these days merely a marketing gimmick.

      As long as the ignorant masses have an illusion of participation and influence on the government, everything is "fine".

      So it does not really matter if the new "voting" systems are auditable, error-proof or if they are even functional at all. As long as the spectacle of "voting" is staged with all the appropriate lip service, posturing and grand proclamations, then the machines fulfill their requirements. In fact electronic voting machines do better in this than the traditional ones because of all the blinking screens, fancy graphics, the general air of "high tech" to the uninitiated (which means 90%+ of "voters"). They allow for the show to go on with the bonus theme of "progress" while stuffing pockets of various corporate cronies of the politicians along the way.

      As for the "votes" themselves, nothing would appreciably change if the machines did not even bother counting them and replaced them with random noise as most candidates of all political parties these days are already pre-approved by the true rulers of the so-called Western Democracies, i.e. the aristocratic insiders who control all the traditional mass media and the central structures of all major parties.

      No outright ballot-box stuffing, electronic edition, is needed. It simply does not matter anymore as the system is rigged far past the point of the need for such crude methods.

      And this is the true reason why there is no interest in making sure the voting process actually works. Open source is only a tangent in this, because even without Open Source, other means of insuring validity of the votes exist, such as various paper trails etc. But they are simply deemed irrelevant by those who know that the voting and its outcomes are really meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Hence their different priorities and general disdain for any attempts to introduce any sort of "accountability" by well-meaning but horribly out of touch true believers in "democracy".

  • Common misconception (Score:4, Informative)

    by Pojut (1027544) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @11:31AM (#33962366) Homepage

    I think a big part of it (from the public's perspective, anyway) is a misconception about open source. Many non-technology-oriented people I know think open source automatically makes it less secure, since "anyone can see what makes it tick."

    Personally, I think it has to do with money more than anything else (duh.)

    • by Nerdfest (867930)
      First you get the money, then you get the power, then you get the women.

      The attitude towards open source seems to be changing .. it's getting almost trendy, with people mentioning it when they don't even know what it means. The big software companies seem to be using the buzzwords to get contracts, but behinds closed doors are doing everything they can to reverse the trend.
    • I don't understand why they can't use some Open Source Single Purpose Hardware - All it's supposed to do is tally votes!

      That way - any tampering would mean someone literally has to attach something on the board to alter the results. And would be obvious upon investigation.

      The whole "Connects to the internet" or "Antivirus" or "Pac-Man Simulation" things really bother me.

      Is everyone too silly to realize that these things basically operate like a glorified turnstile?

    • For most people, open source voting software for electronic voting is no more secure than closed source. In both cases they have to take someone else's word for it that it accurately reflects the will of the voters.

      Additionally, even if the software that is used in electronic voting machines is open source, how do you know that the software installed on any voting machine is the same as the published source code?
      • by jra (5600)

        If you design the system properly (no counting in the terminals at *all*; they merely remember ballots, count printed ballots and spoils, and speak to blind people), then it doesn't matter: you have a Physical Vote, and *humans* can read it and count it if necessary, cause it's printed in OCR-A.

        • by Americano (920576)

          Can I ask, though - since when is a manual recount, done with human hands and human eyes, performed by humans who are full of whim and malice, conducted in a subjective manner ("is this a legitimate ballot? No, that chat is still hanging with a bit too much paper attaching it, better discard it as invalid.", considered more reliable & less error-prone than a machine-conducted recount?

          I'm not sure I understand this fetish for "a paper trail." I get the idea of open source, and open elections, in the se

          • I just don't understand how "paper" is somehow better, or less error-prone when you introduce humans who have to interpret the marks made on the paper objectively, and who will no doubt try to find reasons to disqualify votes for "the other guy" while they do the recount.

            Paper is not less error prone. Error is not the problem. Fraud is. Paper is less fraud prone because everybody can recognize fraud on paper ballots when they see it, not everyone can recognize fraud when they see it with electronic ballots. Worse, it is significantly easier to hide fraud with electronic ballots.

    • Being open source doesn't magically make it any better. In fact, there was an article recently about an open source based voting system in (i think) Washington DC that was found to be riddled with security flaws and problems as well.

      http://yro.slashdot.org/story/10/10/05/2246215/DC-Suspends-Tests-of-Online-Voting-System?from=rss [slashdot.org]

  • Alternatives? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Mongoose Disciple (722373) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @11:36AM (#33962440)

    So here's a question:

    Does there currently exist a complete open source voting solution? Something that you could drop in in place of a Diebold or what have you.

    It seems like we'd make more headway with local governments if we could say, "Here it is, it's free, it's ready to go, all you have to do is okay it." and I'm not sure if that solution yet exists?

    • i don't think that is the point. With the amount of money states/countries have spent renting/licensing these solutions. One of them, or a collection of them could have contracted the work for hire, and stipulated they receive the source code.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        With the amount of money states/countries have spent renting/licensing these solutions. One of them, or a collection of them could have contracted the work for hire, and stipulated they receive the source code.

        Probably, but that's not really the way local government works. Custom software development tends to be reserved for things for which there can be no shrink-wrapped-ish universal solution, usually because that city/county/etc. has unique laws that make the more established solution somehow incompatible with how they have to do things.

        The most effective way to get people to do the right thing is to make it easy for them to do the right thing.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Enigma0498 (1572247)
      The Belgian government publishes the source code of its voting machines after each election: http://www.elections.fgov.be/index.php?id=627&L=3 [elections.fgov.be]. You still need dedicated hardware (which basically is an antique Pentium 1, 4 megs of RAM, some serial interfaces, a lightpen interface and a magnetic card reader)
    • Does there currently exist a complete open source voting solution?

      Yes, but you have to write it yourself. Oh, and once you finish if you wouldn't mind committing that back here that'd be great. God, don't you know anything about how open source works? ;)

    • by Rockoon (1252108)
      The thing is, even if there was such a thing, there is still the issue of verifying that all of the code installed on the device (including OS, Rom's, etc..) during the election is actually the result of a fair and honest compile of said source code, and then further than the hardware itself (cpu, etc..) is actually vanilla specification.

      I'm not sure how you go about verifying any of that in a satisfactory manner. Even if you did shit like making sure the CPU's were acquired with a randomized off-the-shel
  • Insiders (Score:2, Insightful)

    by schmidt349 (690948)

    Why do we remain in the virtual dark ages

    Because those in power don't want transparency to be a two-way street. They want to be able to peek into every aspect of our private lives, ostensibly to seek out some tiniest sliver of evidence that we maybe once upon a time didn't think it was necessarily all that great an idea to disembowel Osama bin Laden and stuff him with pork sausage on live TV. But they don't want us to be able to peek into their private lives, or even the seedier aspects of their public ones

    • If the insiders really wanted to systematically exploit the voting system, I don't think they would be dumb enough to rely on MS Access like Diebold did. The project would be a big budget extravaganza, managed by $POPULAR_MGMT_CONSULTING_FIRM. The complexity would be enormous, and there would be some sort of bizarre "national security" black box requirements that would be where all the dirty stuff lived.

      Never attribute to malice that which can be just as easily explained by stupidity. Idiots outnumber ev

    • by Nimey (114278)

      There are some ordinary people whom I will call "collaborators" who think that we don't need to know the sordid details of how government works. These folks believe that we must trust the people we elect and then if the results are not to our liking, then they can be replaced with someone else when the next election comes up.

      Doesn't occur to them that it's helpful to know /why/ we got to the point we don't like, or why we got somewhere we like.

  • Let's see: those closed source voting machines will either be biased towards Big Oil (Republicans) or towards Big Entertainment (Democrats). Open source voting machines won't be biased: they'll pick up the winner using the random(3) function (hopefully properly seeded). OR... let's follow the example set forth in Asimov's story Franchise [wikipedia.org] and let Multivac decide and save the costs of elections.
    • Does it matter indeed.

      Should we instead be worried that voters are still choosing candidates based on height [wikipedia.org], order on the ballot [uvm.edu], the last commercial they saw on the boob tube, or other sadly irrelevant issues.

      If you don't know who to vote for in your area based on your values and beliefs, check out VoteSmart [votesmart.org]

  • by Agent0013 (828350) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @11:47AM (#33962572) Journal
    "Why do we remain in the virtual dark ages, when clearly we have better alternatives readily available?"

    Because it would take a politician to change the law. But both parties like the broken system we have now because they each want to game the system for their own advantage. Fair and accurate voting doesn't help the political parties or the candidates, it only help the voters!
  • what's the big deal. Most of you don't vote anyway.. what does opening the source do? it won't prevent bugs or hacking or cheating (which has nothing to do with the source). There are many things that affect our lives that aren't open. Why voting?

    • by kellyb9 (954229)
      Agreed, but if they opened up the code, there's more people available to check for mistakes in the code or even worse potential fraud by the company writing the code.
    • by Duradin (1261418)

      Because it is an excuse to not vote until something very unlikely happens. They aren't too lazy to vote, they just won't vote until it is open source, etc. etc. and so on.

  • If Closed Source:
    Con - Companies can secretly build in flaws to exploit trust.
    Pro - A chance at security through obscurity (not too much, of course, because exploiters KNOW the code exists, just not what the code says exactly)
    Con - Companies can unknowingly build in flaws that can be exploited by those in the know.

    If Open Source:
    Pro - Everything is known about the code so any potential flaws are widely known and can be fixed.
    Con - Fixes can be flawed, too.
    Con - No standard will likely be settled upon-- part

  • by joebok (457904) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @11:50AM (#33962610) Homepage Journal

    There are generally 2 main points that electronic voting needs - coding available for public scrutiny is one, but in my mind a more important one is a paper audit trail - the vote is recorded electronically, but the voter gets to see a paper record of their vote (they either see but can't touch or carry it to a ballot box) which can be used later for recounts and verification.

    I'd rather have a proprietary system with a paper trail than an open system with no paper trail. But really we need to insist, at a minimum, on both.

    • by spitzak (4019)

      Of course I did not RTFA, but it does sound like it is misleading, perhaps yelling for open source when in fact what is needed is a paper trail.

      A fully open-source machine that produces no physical result could still be reprogrammed at the last moment (well of course with closed source but that is not really the point) to throw the election.

      A machine producing a voter-verified paper trail is what is needed. If the machine designers can't figure out how to draw text on the screen except by using Windows, wel

  • by g0bshiTe (596213) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @11:50AM (#33962614)

    Why do we remain in the virtual dark ages, when clearly we have better alternatives readily available?"

    The reason is simple. Our government would not be able to fix elections if it were more transparent or had adequate auditing.

  • "Why do we remain in the virtual dark ages, when clearly we have better alternatives readily available?""

    Better for who? The answer ti this will give a hint of why...

    • by jra (5600)

      Sure it will.

      But the *answer* is: "better for our democratic country, by the *objective standards by which voting and vote-counting systems are evaluated*", and there are such standards, and nobody much disagrees with them, that I'm aware of.

  • I'm still waiting for Obama to post his genome.

    McCain posted his, and all the little clones proved that he has 100% pure American genes.
  • hack the systems on election day.
    Get scoobey doo elected.
    go to jail.
    Improve the state of affairs?
  • All somebody needs to do is write an iPad app, and polling locations could be fitted with iPads behind the curtain booths. What could possibly go wrong?
  • In other words (Score:5, Insightful)

    by houghi (78078) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @12:08PM (#33962892)

    A comparison between Vegas slot machines and Electronic voting:
    http://media3.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/graphic/2006/03/16/GR2006031600213.gif [washingtonpost.com]

  • No one in government sees it as a problem because there has been no issue involving the units.

    If, for instance, There was a call for all Hackers and Tech people to rig the election.
    Lets say they were asked to Exploit the system and force a third party like the libertarian party (www.lp.org) to win (They are on most if not all the ballots)

    And say it just so happened that the Libertarian party won by a land slide. There would be a call to recount, with out the ability to recount all hell would break loose. Th

  • By the inherent nature of closed software, when systems are (optionally!) certified by registrars, there is no proof that they will behave the same on election day as in tests.

    Actually there is, for that (optionally, yes) certified software. The distributed software is built from source by the independent testing labs (in what's called a trusted build) and hashes are taken of all the components. The testing lab keeps escrowed copies and the hashes are also available from eac.gov.

    Of course, this does assum

  • Why shouldn't the voting system be any less corrupt than the candidates?

    My point is it's going to take a lot more than an election to clean house on the hill, and even then it's an uphill battle to keep the country from sliding into a full-fledged military dictatorship, instead of the secret one it already is. For example when a military can get away with firing radioactive weaponry into civilian populations [globalresearch.ca] on at least two occasions without so much as a slap on the wrist, they are above the UN, much less

  • i can deal with OCR machines, but you need to vote on paper. this provides a picture of actual voter intent that is harder to lose/ fake/ destroy/ etc. of course you can have fraud in any election, but the difference between electronic and paper is that you need an army of saboteurs and an ongoing conspiracy with paper, and with electronic you just need one guy with the right code for a few milliseconds

    additionally: attack vectors. there are dozens of way to cheat on paper voting. there are order of magnitu

  • With optical scan there is a paper trail so theres less temptation to screw things up.

  • Great opportunity to let your congressmen and women and the President know your feelings on the subject. Lets /. them on this.

  • what's wrong with paper ballots - ignoring the pathetic wingnut canards about vast flocks of illegal aliens voting, of course. Helluva lot easier to change a number in an unprovable database than stuffing boxes with the requisite tens of thousands of fraudulent ballots.
    In short; after a brief (though hardly satisfying) two-year interlude, Idiocracy is returning next month; this time for good.
  • When the Libertarians win a major election, martial law will be instituted and all voting machines and personnel will be quarantined until the source the corruption is found.

  • If it was open source software running on a micro architecture, it still wouldn't matter. The fact that they are machines is what the problem is. In NY we use a lever system - they are also problematic for the same reason, though at least you can look inside the thing and see what it's doing - and tell when tampering has occurred. With a computer you can NEVER EVER look inside and see what it's running, no matter how clean you think the millions of lines of open source code you looked at last week are.

    Pleas

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