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back to article Judge muzzles Sequoia e-voting attack dogs

New Jersey voting rights advocates will have the chance to have independent experts inspect electronic voting machines they say malfunctioned during the recent presidential primary election, a state judge has ruled. Sequoia Voting Systems, the manufacturer of the touch-screen machines, previously forced New Jersey officials to …

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Better Than Nothing

Even though it'll be too late to matter for this election cycle, it's still fantastic that the judge wasn't intimidated by Sequoia.

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Black Helicopters

Hopefully this will send a message...

With any luck this will send a clear message to these corrupt companies: no covering up your failures and wrong doings with trade secrets and threats of legal attacks, not today, not in my town...

I hope these independent audits bring to light evidence that ruins this company....

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Black Helicopters

Now

Now all they have to do is fix all the bent ones deducting two out three democratic/non aligned votes and awarding it to their candidates installed by all repuke controlled counties from both the Atlantic to Pacific seaboard the northern Canadian border to the Mexican border and the Gulf of Mexico , and then maybe democracy may have a slim chance to return ?

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Judge muzzles New Jersey voters

Hmm. So you think the voters of New Jersey 'win' in any sense because Feingold marginalizes their votes, regardless of any harm to Sequoia? Sequoia's machines would not survive to the next important 'election' anyway, and now their predeterminable November 2008 results are certain.

Sequoia's lawyers must be celebrating tonight, as will every less-than-honest election commissioner throughout the state. It would not surprise me to see Linda R. Feinberg as the guest--live or figurative--of honor.

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Stop

What's wrong with paper ballots?

Pen and paper, a proven technology which is generally accepted to be accurate enough by most people. Why on earth do electoral officials think that there is a need for something new? Is it that hard to count pieces of paper?

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@Stuart Morgan

Because the US is a big country and they want to know who won as quick as possible. If accuracy needs to be compromised in reaching that goal, so be it.

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Thumb Down

@Stuart - What's wrong with paper ballots?

What's wrong with paper ballots? As a starter....

* Ballot boxes go "missing"

* Ballot boxes get "stuffed" out of sight

* Counting is slow / error-prone

* A significant proportion of paper ballots are 'spoiled'

* Electronic machines can be made more accessible to the disabled (supposedly)

Today's electronic voting machines are clearly shockingly poor and should not be in use. But I am (naively?) hopeful that a future generation of voting machines will be up to the job.

Robin

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Anonymous Coward

Election machines were invented...

To make it easier to steal elections. That's the whole purpose.

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Electronic voting machines

Face it, electronic voting machines *ARE* the way of the future, as they should be. Paper ballots appeared to work relatively well for a long time, but that's only because we intentionally overlook their pitfalls. Electronic voting machines can be much more efficient and accurate, and less prone to errors or corruption. However, this can only be the case when you have companies who *WANT* to design such machines.

When you have a company (say, Diebold) who publicly endorses a particular candidate, and may have even gone so far as to say that that candidate would win an election, it is completely irresponsible and reprehensible to use any type of voting method provided by that company.

Electronic voting machines *CAN* work. We just haven't seen anyone honest enough who wanted to design one.

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Gates Horns

E-voting is a scam

'Electronic' Voting has always been a scam. Why is it that people are so easily fooled into believing that the newest, shiniest machine or gadget is always the best? While paper ballots can be faked, stuffed, etc. , they can also be re-counted and checked for accuracy. Also, there is nothing in the U.S. or New Jersey constitution that says that the votes have to be tabulated in one day or even in one month. Are we all so addicted to 'instantaneous' results that we can't wait to find out who the next politician/criminal to hold the office is going to be?

And it's WAY to easy fake the vote totals on these machines. It's already happened in an election fraud down in.....you guessed it...Florida! (No, not the Bush election, one before that actually)

Bah, I'm disgusted with the whole process.

(Evil Bill, 'cause he represents the 'computers as the answer to everything' school of thought.)

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Joke

Mugabe to be toppled by American trade embargo?

If it wasn't for the Zimbabwe trade embargo then Mugabe could have simply bought American voting machines and avoided all the recent unpleasantness.

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What's right with paper ballots

* Ballot boxes go "missing" (If people care enough about democracy they will volunteer as scrutineers so this doesn't happen.)

* Ballot boxes get "stuffed" out of sight (ditto)

* Counting is slow / error-prone (Not in Australia it isn't. Last Federal election, polls closed at six, the result was known by around eight. If the result's close enough that the error rate matters, just do a recount. Did I mention scrutineers whose job is to ensure that there aren't errors? )

* A significant proportion of paper ballots are 'spoiled' (If you spoil a paper, just ask for another one.)

* Electronic machines can be made more accessible to the disabled (supposedly) (very supposedly - How hard is it to make a mark with a big thick pencil?)

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Dead Vulture

@James Henstridge & @Robin Marlowe

James: India gets their results VERY quickly from paper ballots. Do you have a billion people in your country?

Robin: You have a VERY limited payoff and a fairly high effort to make any of those items turn up. With an electronic verstion, you have the same attack vector able to affect millions of votes. The ability to find any wrongdoing is nearly non-existant (especially when TradeSecret is waved) compared to the fairly easy "how many boxes do we have? How many now?" for paper ballots. Disabled people may still have issues: colour blindness doesn't affect black-and-white print but who makes an electronic display that's B&W any more? You had ways of enabling the disabled to vote before, but "hanging chad" furore made up so that Shrub's bro could make sure the right votes got counted had the additional bonus of making a case for electronic versions.

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@Chris C

If ever there was a project that is just crying out for open source this has surely got to be it.

The advantage of the paper ballot is that everyone is capable of understanding how it works.

An electronic voting system should be a remarkably simple system. There is nothing complicated needed here really. A database that keeps a record of every vote that is cast and can then add these up. The voter should be given a receipt that shows how they voted. They should be given this and verify it before the vote the vote is entered into the database. The database of votes and the database of voters needs to be kept separate and it should only be possible to correlate them in responce to an appropriate court order.

With an open source system any would be election observer can check the code.

With a suitable encryption system any person standing for election could be fed a realtime hashed feed of the votes. This wouldn't allow them to see the score but they could use it to correlate the official copies of the results with their copies and check the receipts of any voter who requests it with the final tallies.

Democratic systems need openness in how the election system works. Without trust in the process there can be no democracy.

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Receipts - Secrecy

Giving each voter a receipt of how they voted violates the principle of a secret ballot, since the person could be put under pressure afterwards to disclose the receipt.

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Stop

They don't save money either...

The technology is obsolete and unsupportable after a few years. Most jurisdictions would be lucky to be able to use the stupid things a second time. Who wants to use a ten year old computer to vote? Command Line interface, maybe CPM? Geesh.

Maybe Italy would benefit - they turn over their government about once a year.

We use paper ballots in Canada. The election results are typically available the same night or perhaps the next morning at the latest. No sign of election fraud, except in campaign financing. So the purported advantages of 'electronic election stealers' are of no interest, except as we watch the fiasco unfold south of the border.

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Unhappy

@heystoopid

"Repuke"? Seriously? Is that the best you can do?

With friends like these...

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@What's right with paper ballots

Actually in Australia the 'live' count is just for show and has no legal basis other than as a quick and dirty exit poll (I was an election official on the day).

The real count starts on the Sunday and can last up to three weeks. When the votes have been properly counted (scruteneers standing at each shoulder) the Divisional Returning Officer declares the poll which is the legal binding result until the court of disputed returns gets involved.

The merkins make it harder for themselves as they vote for all three tiers of govt on the same day.

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Re: Receipts - Secrecy

>Giving each voter a receipt of how they voted violates the principle of a secret

>ballot, since the person could be put under pressure afterwards to disclose the

>receipt.

Voters should be given some printout of how they voted - which they should probably put into a box - like current paper votes. Once polling is complete, random areas should be selected, the receipts tallied and compared to the electronic vote, just to make sure.

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Gates Horns

Delayed until September!!!!

I think that the job is done. If they have to wait until September to look at it then it's too late. By then things will have happened so that fraud is not proved.

Voting is by people for people so it should be counted by people or at least machines people can test and prove to be correct. How they work should not be secret.

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Vote hacking

Electronic voting will always be easier to rig than paper. It's just a question of manpower. One hacker (or corrupt progammer at the factory) can potentially control an entire election whereas vote stuffing and all the other things you can do to a paper election need people to physically do it. The more people you have the more chance of a leak or just a mistake which revels the conspiracy.

Electronic voting is a stupid idea done badly.

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recounts

Put simply you cannot prove e-voting wasn't fraudulent. You can't have election officials supervising the count/recount. And surely if democracy is so important then we can wait a couple of days for the counts to come in, especially if we have to wait four years for the next election.

Given the events in Volusia County with the negative vote counts for Gore and Nader, and that Diebold's own staff queried whether there was a secondary memory card that came from an authorised source there doesn't appear to be as much security as paper based voting.

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Paper and Electronic

Why not just have both, enabling manual recounts and auditing:

1) Give voter machine readable voting slip upon entry;

2) voter goes into booth, sticks slip in machine, enters their choices using sane, easy to use GUI and hits accept/ok/enter;

3) machine prints out vote in clear, human (and machine) readable text, e.g. "You are voting for Dubya to be president." on voting slip; If voter has cocked up, then there's a process to go and get another one and destroy the bad one.

4) voter exits booth, puts slip first through counting machine, then into ballot box.

5) job done.

By having the machines produce, and read, human readable text there is no issue with the possibility of some kind of bar code showing one vote, while the text shows another.

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Boffin

Voting is unlike any other thing we do.

Computers have changed the way we do almost everything, from phone and postal communication to reading newspapers, to running businesses, banking and buying and selling.

But the key difference between all of these activities and voting is that we have decided that there is a fundamental requirement for secrecy in voting. Some people say that there's secrecy in banking too, but there isn't - there's privacy, but at least 2 parties have to be aware of a financial transaction for it to have any meaning. In voting, nobody else is supposed to be aware of how an individual voter voted, and no individual voter is supposed to be able to prove that he voted a particular way.

This requirement for secrecy is something that electronic voting is fundamentally unable to deliver. It is physically impossible for a voter to verify that pressing button A causes a vote to be recorded electronically for candidate A. If the voting machine prints out a ballot, but also "counts" the vote internally, the paper ballot will inevitably be a cosmetic exercise, and seldom, if ever, counted.

The "need for speed" in counting is a truly narcissistic demand - in most cases the results will stand for years, so who, besides the media and the politicians themselves, really cares whether the result comes in 1 hour or 1 day? (Ironically, the elected position that really brought e-voting to the publics attention isn't actually filled until 10 or 11 weeks after the election - US Presidents don't take office until late January).

The key fallacy that most proponents of e-voting make is in conflating the issue of voting with the issue of counting the votes. These are two separate functions, with very different requirements, and in trying to design a "ballot box that counts it's own votes", the integrity of the voting and the counting process is inevitably compromised.

(The other fallacy that people outside the US make is paying too much attention to the way the US deals with this issue. Now-where else in the English speaking world has such convoluted voting practices as the US does, with literally dozens of offices listed on a single ballot, and with the rules for how elections are managed often differing from town and state to state. But that's a whole 'nother story!)

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@Gareth - Receipts - Secrecy

There are various voting protocols that permit verification by voters without allowing verification by third parties (for purposes of coercion or subornation). Bruce Schneier mentions one propsed by Ron Rivest:

http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2006/10/new_voting_prot.html

While there are implementation difficulties (notably the problem that people are already confused by our existing, rather simple protocols), this does show that it's possible in principle.

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Unhappy

Public policy and confidence

The PROMISE of electronic voting is that it can be used as part of a framework to make elections more free, fair, accessible and efficient (in that order of prioritisation). Indeed, several countries around the world have positive experience with this. It is truly ironic that we Americans now look to /other countries/ as the "Free World".

For e-voting to work, it has to be part of a framework as I indicated; it's not a magic bullet. It also has to be implemented and operated in a fully transparent manner, open to public scrutiny and responsive to public criticism and suggestion. Failing that, it turns the table turtle instead of levelling it.

For companies such as Diebold and Sequoia to hold these systems as proprietary, covered by trade-secret law and the DMCA and not subject in any way to public scrutiny or oversight, is appalling. To then have such companies engage in openly partisan activities, favouring candidates who themselves have questions of legitimacy and transparency attached to them, is nothing short of treasonous.

I am an American citizen, born in California. I have lived in or visited more than a dozen other countries, including the Soviet Union, China, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Palestine. i find it absolutely outrageous that in each of those countries save one, I felt significantly more free from surveillance and harassment than in the former self-styled 'land of the free and home of the brave'. That what once was a decent-enough constitutional republic called the United States is becoming more like that one country every day is readily apparent to everyone outside its borders, and, fortunately, an increasing number within.

For some time late last year and early this year, it looked like the demand for change was so overwhelming that no amount of skulduggery-as-usual could stop it. That 'danger' appears to be receding; people's votes in the last few primaries have closely tracked the way they've been told to vote by the media, and Tuesday looks fair to be the finale of what was shaping up to be a true danger to the powers-that-be.

But what are we to expect? The US was, after all, the first country to declare that fictional legal persons (known as 'corporations') have greater and more important rights under the law than natural human persons. So long as that remains the case, you can file 'freedom' under that other F-word: 'fiction'.

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