In the Democratic and Republican primaries being held today, voters from 24 states will cast ballots for presidential candidates, making it the biggest "Super Tuesday" in US history. But this election day comes with a much more dubious distinction: mistrust of the electronic equipment that will be used to tally many of the votes …
Surely the whole 'excitement' of an election result is the fact that the various results dribble in slowly. If fully-automated interconnected voting machines were used, it'd be nothing more than a glorified Celebrity-come-skating-with-an-X-idol contest.
10:05pm election results
The fact that it can take nearly a day to know who won kind of emphasises the importance of the election. And it gives the Snows and the Dimblebys something to do too.
the proof of the pudding
will be how many nominations Ronald Regan gets
Vote by text message
Just text your candidate's name to USVOTE (878683). (Not responsible for misspelled candidate names, whose votes will be awarded to the opponent. Only one vote per phone number, $.99 per vote, additional fees may vary depending upon carrier, void where prohibited or not. Outcome and vote accuracy not guaranteed. Voting apathy is a tool of terrorism. Maybe you should just watch TV and try to ignore the lapsing of your civil liberties.)
Paris, void where prohibited.
Who came up with the phrase "aging fleet of analog voting systems"? Surely not an IT professional?
A hanging chad isn't less digital just beause it has a not-very-crisp waveform. A smudged mark-sense card may not be mechanically unambiguous, but then all inputs to digital systems have noise which may or may not be filterable.
What a load of techo-cobblers.
The whole thing is being spun around E-voting when the real problem is that nobody has troubled themselves to design a secure system.
The analogy with crash testing is good (if misused). They crash test cars to show that they are safe. They should also crash test computer systems to show that they are safe (obviously not with a dummy and a wall, though.......hang on........just hold this PC and run that way......don't tempt me.)
If the systems are properly evaluated and passed as secure then people should be confident in them.
If the systems are found to be insecure then they shouldn't be used until they are fixed.
There is no 'mechanical/analog bad - electronic/digital good'; any voting technology however simple or complex should be designed to prevent tampering and regularly checked.
There should be an audit trail to allow checks that the system has not malfunctioned; the voter need not be identified but the way the vote was cast (or voided) should be recorded for later review.
This is [AFAIK] what happens with the paper based UK system - you are given a numbered ballot paper which you fill in.
This is counted.
If necessary this paper can be tracked back to the voter via the list created when you went to vote, but the ballot paper does not directly identify the voter.
Returning to the older discredited systems is not a solution either.
Do it again, and this time get it right!!!!!!!!
Or is that too simple a solution?
A cross in the box.
Seriously, who the fuck came up with this punch card bollocks to begin with?
All you need is a ballot paper with a list of candidates' names on the left and a corresponding box on the right. You put a cross in the box of the guy you want to vote for.
If someone can't follow that properly, then who gives a fuck what they think about something as complicated as who should run the country.
Waste of Effort
Electronic voting systems are a solution to the wrong problem.
You can introduce various layers of complexity, audit trails and so forth, but none of this changes the fact that most people would be incapable of understanding the operation of electronic vote-counting equipment even if the complete blueprints, schematics and software listings were publicly available (which ought to be a minimum requirement for consideration anyway: nobody's "intellectual property" is more important than the very foundation of democracy). And how can you reasonably expect someone to trust what they do not understand? Whereas pencil and paper, ballot boxes and manual counting have the property of being universally comprehensible.
If there is even one layer of abstraction between the physical action taken by the voter and what actually gets counted, what's to prevent them from claiming some utterly bogus totals as the "final count"? Just because you know how you voted, that doesn't prove anything about how your vote was recorded. You could have 500 people voting for A, 480 people voting for B and 120 people voting for C; but the totals could be *claimed* as 390 for A, 600 for B and 110 for C. And nobody would be any the wiser, because the errors are just about within the bounds of plausibility (only a sample was surveyed, and people often lie to reporters about who they have just voted for / are going to vote for). To discover the error, you would have to check everybody's votes and see that the final totals are not as claimed; and you'd be arrested for Treason long before you got far enough to notice any anomaly.
Even including some kind of hand-countable paper ballot "to check how you voted, and as a backup in case things go wrong" is a misguided strategy. (At the very least, it means admitting that things can go wrong.) How *you* voted is irrelevant. It's how *everyone else* voted that swung the election. Seeing something that proves you voted for candidate A is meaningless. You don't have any way of knowing who the 499 others who really voted for A are. As far as you are concerned, you and 389 anonymous strangers voted for A.
Your paper ballot which you drop in the backup box may match the record of your vote (which can be checked by you or anyone seeking to know how you voted, but *doesn't* necessarily contribute to the running total for the candidate you thought you were voting for); but if those paper ballots aren't going to be counted by hand (because there is a plausible alternative explanation for the discrepancy, i.e. "That is how the people actually voted, and it must be true because the machine says so") then what's the point in having them?
If the paper ballots are going to be counted by hand (which will reveal that the election was rigged somehow, but the Powers That Be have all manner of techniques at their disposal to prevent that happening), then what was the point in having all that expensive machinery, when you could just have used paper ballots and hand-counting in the first place?
And if the paper ballots are going to be counted by machine, then the counting machine can always be rigged to produce totals which do not reflect reality: 500 in the "A" pile under a display reading "390", 480 in the "B" pile under a display reading "600" and 120 in the "C" pile under a display reading "110". If the ballots are deliberately "mistreated" by the machine, so as to give them a slight but randomly-variable curvature, then the discrepancy in sizes of the piles won't be so apparent.
It is reasonable to assume that a hand count is certain to be correct, since an adversarial relationship exists between the candidates in an election. That is to say, candidate A and their aides do not trust candidates B, C or their respective aides; candidate B + aides do not trust candidates A, C or their aides; and candidate C + aides don't trust candidates A, B or their aides. As long as the actual candidates and/or their aides do the counting themselves, and all sides are represented, everyone will be watching everyone else like a hawk and there will be a strong disincentive to cheat.
I was over in Slovakia recently, and was confronted with a free standing cash machine with a huge Diebold logo vacuum formed in the side casing...
I gave it a wide birth and got my koruna from a different machine!
Don't be scared
Cash machines have to be secure, because they are the front-line interface between the banks and their customers. It's not in the manufacturer's interests to make a machine which behaves in any other way than impeccably.
If a hole-in-the-wall machine consistently failed to dispense while still debiting accounts, customers would very soon lose confidence in the bank and the HITW machine manufacturer would lose custom. On the other hand, if a hole-in-the-wall machine repeatedly over-dispensed while debiting accounts for a smaller amount, banks would lose confidence in the HITW machine manufacturer and go shopping elsewhere.
The same goes for amusement machines (whose manufacturers are often recommended, by people who clearly have not thought about the issues involved for long enough, as potential suppliers of voting machines). If an amusement machine pays out too little, punters will soon learn to avoid it; amusement arcade operators will lose money and the manufacturers will lose business. On the other hand, if it pays out too much, amusement arcade operators will still lose money; and again, the manufacturers will lose business. All the security protocols exist mainly to protected the interests of the established manufacturers, by blocking entry to the market.
And the worst that can happen as a result of tampering with a cash dispenser or a one-armed bandit is that someone loses a finite amount of money. In the case of voting machines, the stakes are much higher .....
Electors should vote in private - to ensure confidentiality - and the count should be conducted in public - to ensure it is done accurately.
The use of voting machines ensures that neither of this principles apply.
Herein lies the problem with outsourcing
It just hit me that none of this "IP" and source code foolishness would be a problem if the government did not outsource its programming and critical systems.
IIRC, we entrust the results of election counting to government certified counters, then outside auditors to ensure that the gov-cert'd counters actually know how to count. Should we not do the same for critical systems and programming?
In all seriousness, we're essentially selling our country to the lowest bidder in just about everything we do. Is it not time to bring all that back home and at least give the semblance of increased and credible security.
Well, DHS aside, since they cannot even pass their own internal security audits. Sheesh, what a circle jerk...
Paris, because, sheesh...
Before anyone else says it...
I for one welcome our flawed electronic voting machine overlords!!
"All you need is a ballot paper with a list of candidates' names on the left and a corresponding box on the right. You put a cross in the box of the guy you want to vote for."
It's been pointed out by more knowledgable people than me, but it's worth repeating that American elections are often so complex that paper ballots are impractical. A full blown November election may involve 1. President of the US, 2. US Senator, 3. US Representative, 4. state governor, 5. & 6. state-level equivalents to senator and representative, 7-N1. dog catcher, tax assessor, judges, and a host of other lesser elective offices, N1+1-N2. assorted initiatives, referenda, and recall ballots. Plus God knows what else.
Contrast this with the usual election here in Canada: you have a list of candidates for Parliament *or* the provincial legislature *or* the municipal council, and you vote for exactly one candidate. Dead easy to count by hand from paper ballots.
Mechanical voting machines use mature technology and don't seem to have any issues: the adoption of electronic voting seems to be impelled by an intuitive sense that mechanical is just too retro for words. Thus one of the most important functions of a democracy is subordinated to fashion sense.
Paris, in view of her fashion sense.
The report mentions "Stephen Weir, the County Clerk of California's Contra Costa County and the head of the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials".
This means that he's the CC of the CCCC, and head of the CACEO. The last time I saw such a complicated job title I was reading a detailed history of the Sukhoi SU-9 interceptor jet.
I wonder what his business care looks like?
"Hi, I'm Stephen Weir, CC of Triple-C Cocao."
There are people who have done this...
We here in California have a silly "stupidity tax" department (its really called the Lottery). They have ALL sorts of machines that are VERY accurate, produce paper trails, and seem to get the job done. Why they can't use that technology in voting amazes me to no end. For some reason they chose the ATM people to do this job, and then used windows based machines to do the actual work. Oh, well.
We used to have nice punch card based boxes, but there were some idiots in Florida that mucked THAT up. I understand that it is EXTREMELY difficult to produce hanging chad unless you really mis handle the card (fold, staple, spindle, or mutilate). It seems that all it takes is one instance to foul things up.
Personally, I feel that having the counting function the same box as the voting function is a conflict of interest (security). The ideal solution would be to separate the two functions, but it seems that nobody wants to do that.
Life goes on, candidates are elected, taxes increase (*SIGH*).
unofficially from Diebold
I had a conversation with some Diebold sales reps trying to sell me some new managed services about this a few months ago.
They told me that they can design the most secure, robust e-voting system there is, but no one would buy it because it cost too much.
"How much security can I get for just one dollar?"
.....Meanwile back in the states.......again
Fuck me runnin'!!!! The whole point of changing the system is to pad tech businesses bottom line and let Cheyney, Dick's snoops "observe, revise and extinguish" the opposition.
It worked in 2000 and 2004.............
As always since day one in 1776 of the so called Land of the free and the brave electoral fraud , vote cheating and rigging has been a way of life for some nine odd plus generations of Yankees so why would one expect any different in the new electronic age ?
Electronic voting machines
Since I live in Montgomery county of Pennsylvania, I can say that electronic voting machines have been used here for close to fifteen years with nary a problem. All votes are private and accountable. I'm not sure what the rest of the country is doing, but they appear to be going about this in a odd fashion.
@Tim Coughlin E-voting
I live in Allegheny County (PA) and can basically say the same thing......but being to sort of close Ohio I get some of their news. Their political bosses seem to have some interest in keeping things working badly (or well if you happen to be a Republican). Oh wait....isn't Diebold an Ohio company? Gee, wonder what accounts for Florida?
Quite, the US voting systems is too complex.
In a presidential election in Finland each canditate is given a number. And when you vote you are expected to know which number to write and how to write numbers (1 digit), in the first place.
Donad Duck is one of the most popular non digit canditates.
I will not mention other popular "body part" canditates.
However, this question of having outside controllers, in less democratic countries, like Russia, soon, and other African and Asian countries, something Ido not oppose at all.
And then, looking at the US election, and how it is done, forces me to wonder if, perhaps, the US should not ask for some "foreign aid" in controlling the voting system.
As a programmer, I would like to warn you about using IT for voting.
The temptation to tamper with bits and bytes meets the the posibilities too easily.
Now, why do I, having delivered and taken part i a lot of fine solutions using IT (for more than 30 years) , warn you about it’s use in voting.
Well, the reason is, that it’s a one time, one off, system where the murderer and the body will dissapear in a manner totally new to history.
No body, no fingerprints at all.
We laughed a lot at the US during the 2000 electoral fiasco. In Brazil, we've had electronic voting for a long time, and we've never heard of any type of problem. And that's the sure catch: we've *never heard* of them. I hope they really don't exist...
Then make it less complex .....
"[I]t's worth repeating that American elections are often so complex that paper ballots are impractical. A full blown November election may involve 1. President of the US, 2. US Senator, 3. US Representative, 4. state governor, 5. & 6. state-level equivalents to senator and representative, 7-N1. dog catcher, tax assessor, judges, and a host of other lesser elective offices, N1+1-N2. assorted initiatives, referenda, and recall ballots."
Obviously, you use separate ballot papers for each of the elections being held on the same day. Then you can parallelise the manual counting process.
The crash test dummies save-face analogy does not work here.
In the last congressional election voting officers got caught attempting to throw away votes. The system only works when no one is trusted.
So that's why
George W.C Bush won the election twice! the machines were run by bloody windows!!!!!
What would happen if power goes down in the middle of an election,
say in an entire city as a result of grid meltdown ? Are the e-voting
systems equipped with an autonomous battery and if so for how long would
it last ? Should the power fail to return before the batteries are exhausted,
are polling stations equipped with independent generators ?
Also, what was the rationale for going to a purely computerized voting system ?
Wouldn't have it been simpler to continue using punchcard equipment for casting
ballots, just making sure that pincers are used to perforate holes in front of the name
of the candidates, but turning to optical reading coupled to a computer to count the ballots ? Optical reading would eliminate the risk of a deck of cards shredded
by the mechanical reading equipment thus making a possible recount by hand
feasible in case of doubt on the reliability of the automated recount.
You can't win
Mechanical voting is more reliable? No matter what study you read, if it includes lever voting machines, they get rated less reliable than punch cards, hand-marked ballots, or electronic systems.
Just mark the piece of paper next to your choice? We do that here in Oregon. Believe me, people can mess it up: marking multiple choices, writing in illegible names...
And here's a failure mode which I believe is unique to Oregon's system: In the last election, when ballot envelopes were opened for counting, a few hundred (IIRC, the story's stick behind a paywall now) contained things that were not ballots-- random receipts, shopping lists, nothing at all. A bunch of people took a sample ballot from an ad urging them to vote no on a ballot measure and just mailed that, apparently thinking it was a valid ballot.
Ah, but this wouldn't happen if people had to go to the polls and vote under supervision? Okay, find the volunteers who can spare a Tuesday to be your pollworkers. If we hadn't all gotten focused on a few dozen hanging chads in 2000, the big story in Florida would have been the *thousands* of voters allegedly disenfranchised because their polling places opened hours late and they gave up waiting. Oregon probably would never be able to switch back from vote-by-mail for lack of pollworkers.
Full disclosure: I developed an interest in election technology through having a relative who worked on voting-machine software. You haven't heard of the company because they've never been the cause of an election fiasco, real or hypothetical.
I love the candidates that demand a recount based on "undervotes".
Since None of the Above isn't on the ballot, we just didn't pick any of the candidates.
Paris, since it looks like she is crying Hillary, I mean crocodile, tears.
Re: Small questions...
"Also, what was the rationale for going to a purely computerized voting system ?"
The biggest reason is usually cost, in not having to buy tons of paper and ink (which is one of the reasons there's so much resistance to voter-audited paper trails) or replacement mechanical parts.
There's also the speed at which the result is announced. Even optical-scan ballots can take hours to count. (And there's cost again-- less overtime paid to fewer people.)
And there's the Help America Vote Act, which among other things says that blind people have to be able to vote unassisted. Your options there are either finding a way to get he ballot printed in Braille, or buying an electronic system which includes an aural feedback mode.
So use the most reliable system of all namely rocks
White rock for Hillary Black rock for McCain and total up who has the most rocks afterwards. No fraud possible.
This may be the one thing Michigan does right
We are an optical-scan state and I have to say that I think it's a huge improvement over any other type of voting I've done. They have computer terminals for those with disabilities, but even those print out a paper copy.
As soon as you are done voting you stick the paper in the machine and you know instantly if you've done anything to invalidate your ballot. No hanging chads, no invalidated ballots because someone accidentally voted for the wrong number of candidates and you have a paper trail. Even if it does take a few extra hours to count the ballots than an all e-system I think it is worth it.
Still doesn't protect from someone hacking the voting machines and throwing away ballots, but those old ladies at my polling place look like they have l33t ninja skills and I wouldn't risk crossing them.
The vulture since so much of our political system smells like carrion.
And do we get to...
"White rock for Hillary Black rock for McCain"
And.. Do we get to present these rocks to them in person, Biblical-style?
My bet is still this - shrub will get his wish for a war with Iran. shrub will use that war (and maybe further attacks on US soil which leave way to much room for conspiracy theories about who carried them out) as an excuse to use certain "emergency powers" to "postpone" the election, as after all "America is under serious threat and the disruption of an election now will cost lives" or some such rubbish. And will remain president well past his deadline. (Or, maybe there will still be an election, but afterwards things will get nasty)
I hope I am wrong because, as someone living in a peaceful and friendly country to the US, but one that has some independent oil and other natural resources, I find the current government in the US to be very scary.
It's just so easy to fix
Have ONE National standard voting system, all for 50 States.
Teach it in high school, use similar for class elections, etc.
Use paper ballots.
Put a pencil on a string in the booth.
Point the great unwashed at said booth.
In Florida, check up on them if they are not out after 10 minutes or so....
Scrutineer all ballots, destroy those that are defined as spoiled.
This is america we're talking about.
And the problem isn't whether or not the machines are secure, it's a marketing problem. People "think" they are insecure (it doesnt matter whether they really are or not).
Now, seeing as americans neither care, nor know anything about their voting system and government, then this problem effectively is just a sales one. The solution is simple.
Nicolas Cage in a new movie. Perhaps called "American Hero Voter" or something. Put some flags around, play the national anthem a few times, interspersed with him using an e-Voting machine. Maybe chuck in a few images of a witty, heroic, intelligent, rugged, good-looking, passionate white male as the president, and then bingo.
Everyone upon seeing the movie will automatically "know" that e-Voting machines are not only secure, but also patriotic, and help fight terrorism. No one except the "Terrorists" and Michael Moore will ever question this "fact" again.
Problem solved. They can now continue to ignore the political process, comfortable in the fact that they are using e-Voting machines to do so.
It can be done
One could easily design a system to be both anonymous and secure, using cryptographic certificates.
At the polling place you pick up a ballot, marked with a unique serial number that is signed by the body that prints the ballots.
You take this to an electoral official, who checks your id. They generate a document saying that you (elector X) picked up ballot form Y, and a random number Z. This document is then SHA hashed - we will call this "the hash". They store electronically a statement saying that You picked up a balot, the hashed code above, and this is signed by their code.
On the balot is then printed a barcode containing a message signed by the electoral official, indicating that some properly identified person was granted possession of the ballot. This mesage includes the hash. On the balot is also printed the random number that was included in the hash, but this is not done in a machine-readable way.
You then take this bit of paper to machine A, where you make your vote. Machine A prints on your balot paper a barcode ecapsulating your vote, the hash, and a signature by machine a. It also prints a human-readable vote mark.
You scrutinise this bit of paper. If your vote is recorded correctly, you take it to machine B. Machine B reads the barcode put there by machine A, checks the signature, asks you to confirm your vote, and if you agree, records the vote and prits on your ballot it's own signed certification that the vote was recorded. Machine B is run by an electoral official who is responsible for asking each person "does this balot show your vote". The machine reads the vote, shows the official the barcode that was read, and the official can check that the barcode read matches the barcode on the form.
OK. The electoral commision knows that you were issued with a proper ballot by a known official, but not which one it was. It also knows that some particular vote was recorded on each ballot, but not by whom, and that a known official witnessed that an elecor stated that the ballot contained their vote.
The ballot contains printed on it both facts, along with a random number.
You can then go to the website of the electoral commission, and check that the vote recorded for your ballot paper (which you have kept) is indeed the vote you put in.
If it isn't then it's possible to either determine that your vote has been tampered with or lost, or that you are lying.
Maybe HAVA is the problem?
Maybe HAVA, or more specifically its requirement for disabled people to be able to vote unaided, is part of the problem.
What, in all seriousness, is wrong with requiring disabled people to take an able-bodied carer of their own choice -- and, therefore, presumably whom they trust -- to help them cast their vote?
For how often elections happen, and the proportion of the population who would need such measures, this would be the simplest thing all around.
Optical Mark Reading
I don't understand why optical mark reading, which seems to work so well for exam boards and lotteries the world over and for votes organised by the respected independent balloting company Electoral Reform Services Limited, amongst others, hasn't been more widely used in state-run ballots. It certainly seems preferable to some of the methods described here.
Evoting = no democracy
Reminds me of the DVD player market. Once again, how many are "secure" in the sense of respecting zones without any way to unlock this ? Who bothers with zones nowadays ? Why is that: follow the money, no manufacturer is dumb enough to not provide the unlock "feature", and customers *DO* want it.
Now, same reasoning with evoting machines. What do customers (aka elected people that pay the bill) want ? Control, to be re-elected. What manufacturer will be dumb enough to make it absolutely secure and audited ?
See ? Evoting is not democratic.
"Physical locks in Sequoia's Edge system could be bypassed by unfastening screws. "
That's a good one, really, which proves the point. I bet they even had standard screws rather than torks to make it easier ...
Crash test dummies
"Laboratory scientists strap a dummy into a vehicle that's had its brakes disconnected and is sent hurtling into a brick wall."
Presumably they disconnect the brakes in case the dummy becomes sentient, panics and tries to stop the vehicle?
Electronic voting is...
...A solution to a problem which doesn't exist.
With an voting system which couldn't possibly be much more basic - first past the post - why on earth do you need a machine or computer to do that???
Piece of paper with names and a box next to each + a pencil/pen + voter. Place mark next to one name, put ballot into locked box. At the end of voting empty locked box and counts names with marks next to them. Simple. Even a human could do that. And much more reliably.
Of course, the US doesn't have a proper democratic electoral system to begin with, unlike true democracies like Australia. In Australia, you have one electoral commission overseeing the entire election, national wide. The ballot paper format is identical regardless of which state or electorate you are in, only the names of the candidates are different depending on your electorate. That's democracy.
But in America, not only do different states have vastly different ballot papers and electoral rules for the same bloody election, they even differ from county to county within each state! Plus electoral commissions are partisan and not a truly independent, apolitical body.
US = Leaders of the free world?? Try leaders of stupidity!
crash test dummy example.
the example given is utterly absurd... Testing should always be done under the worst case scenario.
Not every poll official will be fully trained, not every guard will pay 100% attention to his job and not the pretty young skirt that walked through the door, and not every mcgyver is a good guy.
Just like in any system, there is a simple way of sorting this.
People don't trust computers. They are used to windows, which consistently ****s things up. They will not trust anything, anyway, until it is proven.
So how about this. Set up a touch-screen voting system. When you have selected, and confirmed, your choice, the kiosk:
1) Prints out a slip of paper (or cardboard), which is machine readable (set font, big black mark next to the candidates name, etc), and asks the voter to confirm again and place the slip in a box, and
2) Once it has been confirmed, saves the data to local storage, prints it on a printer in the back office, and sends the results to the revelvant systems which require it.
Once the election is over the first time, do a full manual audit based on paper records and all points at which the results were stored, by multiple independant auditors and the parties themselves. This allows more time to analyse the results, and will give the voters confidence in the system (or flag up any problems).
If everything runs smoothly, a random sample audit can be performed in subsequent years.
Both main e-voting problems are solved by this: Unreliable systems and public confidence
Cash Machines go wrong
Actually, cash machines aren't designed to always be 100%. Within the very small sample size of my own usage I've had cash machines go wrong on me twice. The first was a very old Lloyds Cash Machine (the ones with the single line display that you had to tilt to the right angle to read) which gave me an extra note crumpled up with the rest. The second was a cash machine that just after I had hit the button for £200 to be given to me it rebooted (it ran OS/2 btw). The money was taken from my account, but not give to me. In both cases the problem was corrected through the audit trail from the bank after a few phone calls.
Herein lies the problem with automated voting machines. If votes are correlated automatically without any physical, auditable proof being given to the voter, you have no way after the fact to be sure that your vote was counted. Worse still, if the vote is off by say 1%, no-one could ever know. If results are close, you can't have a recount, its all or nothing.
Given that cash machines go wrong, who is to say that voting machines won't do the same. And if they do, what about the occasion where that influences an election. It would make hanging chads look like good democratic practice...
Re: Maybe HAVA is the problem?
"What, in all seriousness, is wrong with requiring disabled people to take an able-bodied carer of their own choice -- and, therefore, presumably whom they trust -- to help them cast their vote?"
1. Because then it's not a secret ballot.
2. Suppose they are unlucky enough to not have someone in their life who they trust and is available to them on voting day?
The way this is normally handled, actually, is for one of the (presumptively neutral) pollworkers to provide assistance.
Mostly this just comes down to disabled people wanting to be able to take control of their own activities like real adults. There are a ton of advocacy sites that can explain further.
simplicity is the key
"It's been pointed out by more knowledgable people than me, but it's worth repeating that American elections are often so complex that paper ballots are impractical. A full blown November election may involve 1. President of the US, 2. US Senator, 3. US Representative, 4. state governor, 5. & 6. state-level equivalents to senator and representative, 7-N1. dog catcher, tax assessor, judges....."
The answer is simple - simplify the system! Have nationally consistent electoral systems, rules and ballot paper formats. Have separate ballot papers for different electoral contests, and don't hold elections for a gazillion completely different and totally unrelated things on the same day.
For national elections (President, VP, Federal Senate and Congress, national referenda) have one NATIONAL INDEPENDENT electoral commission run the whole show, so it doesn't matter which state you are in, it's works exactly the same where ever you go.
For State and local elections, have an INDEPENDENT STATE electoral commission which runs the whole shebang for the state and do this on a different day to a national election.
And what is this bullshit about electing Judges, sherifs and dog catchers anyway?
I mean really, how stupid are Americans? (That was a rhetorical question - the world already knows the answer).
I think you're missing some of the point about how elections work in the US. All elections in the US are either local or state elections. In congress, we elect a local representative and senator that represents the state. For the presidency, we vote in an all or nothing basis for delegates from the states to represent us in the Electoral College. Like it or not (and I don't), US citizens do not directly elect the president. Federal judges are appointed by president so there's no election there.
As for electing judges, sheriffs and dog catchers; I've always been of the opinion that its better to have elections for a position that doesn't need it than have an appointee that should have run for election.
There will probably not (I'd say never but there's no such thing) be any national control of elections in my life time. There will be guidelines, requirements and best practices but each state with do things its own way. That is both the strength and weakness of a federal republic vs a unitary style governmental framework.
Analog(ue) voting ??
So - people have been voting by being given a chunk of of plasticene which they could then split up and throw into boxes depending on how much they liked each candidate/party, and then the outcome was determined by weighing the boxes on election night ?
Hmm, come to think of it, it might have some advantages ...
The important words I think you missed were "whom they trust" -- meaning, in this case, someone they trust with their vote. In this respect, it wouldn't be so different from an ordinary proxy vote: you already have to choose someone whom you think will actually vote for the person you want and not broadcast it to the world. The only real difference would be that you would both be going to the polling station together.
Independent living may be a laudable goal; but when measures intended to help the disabled actually cause harm to the able-bodied majority, it is right to question them.
'Some votes were apparently lost, however, when about 20 folks at a Chicago precinct were given styluses designed for touch-screen machines instead of ink pens. When voters complained the devices made no marks on their paper ballots, a ballot judge told them the markers were full of invisible ink.
"After 20 people experienced the same problem, somebody said 'Wait, we've got 20 ballots where nobody's voted for anything,'" said Board of Elections spokesman Jim Allen. Officials were trying to contact the voters; Allen said the both the voters and the judge believed the invisible ink theory.'
In Australia we vote the old fashioned way. Then we go home to watch the count on TV from 6pm onwards. Somewhere between 7pm and 10pm we know who won.
You can go and watch the count, and lots of people do. If you are civic-minded you can go and help collect the ballots or count the vote.
What really makes it work is that there is one government agency dedicated to running ballots, and that government agency is used by the federal, state and local governments. There are different requirements for voting between these ballots --- but really the issues which cause mis-voting problems are the same whether the voting system is first-past-the-post, proportional, Hare-Clark, or whatever. Although a large amount of volunteer labour is used, that labour is well trained, very experienced and the oversight of the agency's professionals is very good.
I've never seen a US vote, but there's a great community atmosphere on a voting day in Australia. The voting place is typically a school hall and outside will be representatives of the candidates handing out How To Vote cards, the school will be selling BBQed sausages and people will catch up with friends.
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