back to article Judge: Georgia's e-vote machines are awful – but go ahead and use them

A US judge has OK'd the use of paperless electronic voting machines in Georgia – despite being "gravely concerned" about the state's ability to defend them from hackers. District Judge Amy Totenberg said in a ruling (PDF) issued Tuesday that the state would be allowed to use the machines to collect and tabulate votes in this …

  1. Youngone Silver badge

    The Solid South

    It's a Southern State, so I assume the flaws are all by design.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: The Solid South

      Flaws by lack of design. Every US state designs its own paper voting system, but they don't employ designers. So there's been the case of the "hanging chads' in Florida, and another state that mandated 8 pt text on the ballot forms.

      If they can't bring the first bit of common design sense to paper ballots, what hope their electronic voting systems?

      1. MyffyW Silver badge

        Tenth Ammendment

        Idiocy not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

      2. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
        Pirate

        Re: The Solid South

        No time to print ballots? BS. If there's enough time to program the machines, they can get ballots printed and rent/borrow the ballot box/scanners.

        They don't want to do this, because they're convinced that the electronic machines are better/already paid for/easier to fiddle.

        My state mandates hand marked paper ballots statewide. Each ballot represents a legal vote. Easy to count by hand, faster to count by machine. There's no debate, and recounts (we just finished one) come in very close to the original count.

        There are a few "special" states in this country which refuse to admit they lost a civil war, and that people of color are actually real people.

      3. BillG Silver badge
        WTF?

        No Power Voting?

        So what happens if a precinct uses electronic voting machines and there is a power outage on voting day?

        1. Mark 85 Silver badge

          Re: No Power Voting?

          It's happened in the past. Creates headaches and sometimes a "re-vote" in that everyone affected gets to vote again.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Scanning?

    Why?

    In Canada (generally), the staff manually sort the ballots, and then count them. They write up a wee report and submit it to Elections HQ. Takes maybe an hour, sometimes a bit longer.

    We generally know the results before we go to sleep. In spite of residing on the right hand side of a country spanning 5.5 time zones.

    But there are always a few exceptional ridings that may be so close that it needs a Judicial Recount. They're rare.

    One of the obvious root causes of the loopy system in the USA is that they have far too many elected offices. Their ballots are the size of newspapers. They elect their Dog Catcher, and (frighteningly) their Sheriff and Public Prosecutors (a monumentally daft concept in both cases).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Scanning?

      Totally agree.

      Paper works just fine.

      How long to get a print job run and some secure storage boxes made?

      Results often only take hours to count.

      1. Stuart Castle

        Re: Scanning?

        Just put an Amazon Alexa in each booth, and have people shout at it "Alexa, vote for <insert selected name here>".

        What could possibly go wrong?:D

        1. MrGutts

          Re: Scanning?

          "Alexa, vote for Stacy Abrams"

          Alexa, playing all movies by JJ Abrams.

        2. Captain Scarlet Silver badge
          Happy

          What could possibly go wrong?:D

          They could be listening to Chris Moyles where he was trying not to say Alexa like he did in their podcast, but said it so thought balls and ended with order 10 pints of milk.

    2. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

      Re: Scanning?

      It's not just the number of positions that can get crazy in the US. Check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_gubernatorial_recall_election#Results and be sure to expand the list to see all 136 candidates on the ballot.

      Edit: No, that election wasn't hacked. It really was that bad.

      1. DougS Silver badge
        FAIL

        Re: Scanning?

        Not just the number of candidates that might stand for a particular position, but the number of different positions, measures, etc. on the ballot. It isn't practical to hand count when you have several dozen different things on the ballot, and individual precincts in some places may have tens of thousands of voters (which is another problem for another time)

        People who say "hand counted paper ballots work where I live and will in the US too" don't understand US elections. As I keep saying every time someone brings this up as if to say "stupid Americans just do things like us" when your ballots and precincts are nothing like ours.

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: Scanning?

          Paper voting can work just fine, but it's often poorly implemented in the US. A history is here:

          https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/butterfly-effects/

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Scanning?

          "People who say "hand counted paper ballots work where I live and will in the US too" don't understand US elections."

          Agreed, I used to say that myself, then I learnt more about how it works in the US, and was properly shocked.

          To me, the most shocking is definitely the "several thousands of voters" in a single place (and there were reports that it's sometimes deliberately created like that, because many people faced with hours of queuing have to give up voting).

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Scanning?

            "...people faced with hours of queuing..."

            There are queues to vote in Canada. Sometimes the queues can stretch to almost several people in length. Typically, we get 40 minutes change back from the one hour that we allocate to the process. Including the drive to the poll and back. If we pick up a pizza, then that takes longer than the voting.

            Acknowledge in advance that this may vary in other jurisdictions within Canada. But in general it's quick and easy.

            Perhaps the USA should contract out their voting to Elections Canada, who are actually competent.

            1. Mike 16 Silver badge

              Queues and competence.

              The queues are typically produced deliberately, in districts that do not typically align with the party controlling the elections board. Those people on the elections board are quite competent at assuring that only the "right" people are elected.

              Think Occam once in a while, not just Hanlon.

              1. Eddy Ito Silver badge

                Re: Queues and competence.

                I think Occam would say elections are typically held on Tuesday which is a day when most people work and the lines generally form right around 4 PM and since the polls often close at 7 PM it doesn't leave regular folk much time in between.

                That said, it should be a holiday or a Saturday as either would relieve most of the congestion and ideally it should be either 20 April or the third Saturday in April. Just to limit all the horrid campaigning throughout the summer when folk have better things to think about of course.

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: Queues and competence.

                  [...] and ideally it should be either 20 April or the third Saturday in April

                  April 1 would be apropos

                  1. Eddy Ito Silver badge
                    Devil

                    Re: Queues and competence.

                    April 1 would be apropos

                    But that would be before tax day.

              2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                Re: Queues and competence.

                "do not typically align with the party controlling the elections board."

                There's one of the primary problems right there of course. An election board should be apolitical and be seen to be so. Or at worst have an even number of members split across party lines equally.

        3. Milton Silver badge

          Re: Scanning?

          People who say "hand counted paper ballots work where I live and will in the US too" don't understand US elections. As I keep saying every time someone brings this up as if to say "stupid Americans just do things like us" when your ballots and precincts are nothing like ours.

          The response to which is embarassingly simple and obvious. Separate the critical political offices from the rest of the mess and ensure that elections which really matter (congressional, gubernatorial, presidential) are held to an extremely high standard of transparency and hygiene. The fact that this is done with ease in other countries, like the UK, where elections simply cannot be interfered with electronically, suggest that the American "system" is, indeed ... stupid.

          But of course, it's much worse than stupid. By supposedly venerating democracy to the point where you elect the Dog Catcher and up, you create a system where responsibility is not given to those best qualified, but to those with a large mouth, the lies to use it for, and the "friends" to supply campaign funds. Add a hefty dose of gerrymandering and your democracy is quite certain to be corrupted. Add a further ingredient of blithe stupidity—internet-connected e-voting without a paper trail—and you can also be quite certain that hostile foreign powers will try to subvert what scraps of democracy may remain. Indeed, they may already have done so, and you'll most likely never even know for sure.

          Finally, given that your current president, an unhinged pathologically lying racist sex-assaulter and egotistical lunatic man-child, got nearly three million fewer votes than his rival but was given the job anyway ...

          ... I suggest that the word "stupid" barely begins to describe the US voting system.

          Then again, a lot of people do vote for Trump and Republicans, despite the fact that the party of the rich presides over eyewatering levels of social inequality—people subsisting in trailers voting for billionaires—perhaps it is a kind of democracy, and the people are getting what they deserve.

          1. Eddy Ito Silver badge
            Happy

            Re: Scanning?

            The fact that this is done with ease in other countries, like the UK, where elections simply cannot be interfered with electronically, suggest that the American "system" is, indeed ... stupid.

            I always love it when someone who has absolutely no concept of what transpires in the US suggests that the American "system" is anything. So here's a little primer:

            First, there is no American "system". Got that, or did your head just explode?

            Second, there is no American "system". Just making sure that point gets through.

            Third, every state, county, and town has their own ways of doing things; there isn't one particular American "system" you can compare the UK to. You lot keep mentioning electing dog catchers but I can honestly say I've ever lived in the one place where dog catcher is actually an elected position. I have also lived in places where sheriff isn't an elected position and others where it is. I agree it's a little loopy here in SoCali but as the kids say, "it is what it is".

            Fourth, every state, county, and town is free to change their "system" as they see fit so there is no American "system".

            Finally, I understand you like limes so maybe you're just a tad bitter and feel the need to make up some imaginary American "system" to rail against. It's ok, maybe you should get out more and stop watching your equivalent of Fox or CNN or Limbaugh or Kos or what-have-you as they tend to stir things up and make everything sound worse than it actually is. Just remember, everyone is only trying to do what sells ads and that 95% of it is crap. Mmmkay?

            1. Paul 5

              Re: Scanning?

              First, there is no American system... Fourth, there is no American system...

              Are you arguing he should just have said "the American systems are stupid"?

              If the systems are so insecure, and cannot be replaced with something more secure, then there is clearly SOMETHING wrong.

              1. Eddy Ito Silver badge
                Trollface

                Re: Scanning?

                Perhaps it says that there aren't enough different systems. If there were 4,283 completely different systems it would be very expensive to try to subvert each and every one. Isn't that the very concept of diversification and not putting all one's eggs in one basket?

          2. Mike 16 Silver badge

            hostile foreign powers

            Who needs hostile foreign powers when we have plenty of hostile domestic (and trans-national) powers to subvert our elections?

            1. Clunking Fist Bronze badge

              Re: hostile foreign powers

              "Who needs hostile foreign powers when we have plenty of hostile domestic (and trans-national) powers to subvert our elections?"

              Republicans working to beat the Democrats to gain power, is NOT subversion. Although Hillary and many in the mainstream media sure seem to think so.

          3. This post has been deleted by its author

          4. Clunking Fist Bronze badge

            Re: Scanning?

            "egotistical lunatic man-child, got nearly three million fewer votes than his rival but was given the job anyway ..."

            Are you living in the UK? The UK has a first-past-the-post system, very similar in some respects to the electoral college system: votes decide blocks, the number of blocks decides the president. It is not unusual for a UK Government (and Australian and, before MMP, New Zealand (and perhaps even Canada?)) to receive less votes than the party who sit in opposition.

        4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Scanning?

          "People who say "hand counted paper ballots work where I live and will in the US too" don't understand US elections. As I keep saying every time someone brings this up as if to say "stupid Americans just do things like us" when your ballots and precincts are nothing like ours."

          When did electronic, paperless voting become the norm and is it the norm in every state? How did they cope before they came along and how do the states not using them cope? And finally, if the voting system is so large, complex and convoluted that only electronic voting is feasible, maybe the problem you should be dealing with is the size and complexity of the ballot and not the methods of vote casting.

    3. Halfmad

      Re: Scanning?

      Consider the time and cost setting these machines up then collecting them etc and needing staff on-call to fix them urgently if they break during the voting period.

      Now consider just collecting sheets of paper and counting them..

      This is use of tech where there is no need to use it.

    4. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: Scanning?

      In Canada (generally), the staff manually sort the ballots, and then count them

      Likewise in most civilised countries. And in the UK :-)

  3. Mark 85 Silver badge

    I'm wondering why don' they use encrypted VPN or a true private network. Or do something like they did in the past: Count the votes locally and call in the results or sent them by courier. Too late for that to happen. No internet involved.

    1. Gerhard Mack

      You have equipment that unvetted people by law can't be supervised while using. All it would take is one person to plug in something extra and your private network suddenly isn't private anymore.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Audit trail ?

    That'll fix it.

    1. Excused Boots
      Headmaster

      Re: Audit trail ?

      Blockchain! Just use Blockchain. Blockchain solves all known problems - apparently, or so I've heard.

      Oh and AI, that solves all known problems as well

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        https://xkcd.com/2030/

        Megan [a software engineer]: Don't trust voting software and don't listen to anyone who tells you it's safe.

        Ponytail: Why?

        Megan: I don't quite know how to put this, but our entire field is bad at what we do, and if you rely on us, everyone will die.

        Ponytail: They say they've fixed it with something called "blockchain."

        Megan: AAAAA!!!

        Cueball: Whatever they sold you, don't touch it.

        Megan: Bury it in the desert.

        Cueball: Wear gloves.

  5. Richard 12 Silver badge

    Bollocks

    A month and a half is plenty of time.

    UK by-elections are required to take place within 21-27 working days of "moving the Writ", which means the entire election process - including candidate registration - takes place in that time.

    Printing doesn't take very long, neitger does organising automated optical and manual counts. There are certainly both in and out-of-state entities willing and able to do both.

    Heck, schools do the optical scan part for multiple-guess exams.

    This judge has effectively said "Yeah, you've proven that this election is going to be fraudulent but I don't care."

    1. DougS Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: Bollocks

      A lot of places will be sending out absentee ballots before the end of the month. US elections don't work like UK elections, so don't assume Americans are just stupid and should simply do things like you do.

      1. PiltdownMan

        Re: Bollocks

        But Americans are stupid. Who the fuck do you think voted in Trump? Oh Yeah, that was the Russians, wasn't it

      2. Wolfclaw Silver badge

        Re: Bollocks

        "don't assume Americans are just stupid", we don't, history has proven this time and again :P

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Bollocks

        "US elections don't work"

        Quite.

      4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Bollocks

        "A lot of places will be sending out absentee ballots before the end of the month."

        If an absentee ballot is what we call a postal vote, then yeah, we do them too, and all in the 20-odd day window.

  6. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

    "Not Enough Time"

    Dangerous precedent which will no doubt be invoked everywhere where there is an ulterior motive.

    1. Twanky
      Coat

      Re: "Not Enough Time"

      Dangerous precedent^Wpresident...

      FTFY

  7. Terje

    I guess the real reason is that you need an organization around the voting process. printing ballots etc should not be the issue. Getting people to count the votes and training them is likely to be a much larger problem.

    1. A.P. Veening

      Getting people

      Getting people shouldn't be much of a problem as long as they don't pay peanuts (in which case they get more monkeys). Training them to reliably count the votes would be the real problem, especially given their so called educational system.

  8. Potemkine! Silver badge

    "The system sucks, but go with it anyway because rigged elections is what we need".

    Does this judge agree that elections are meaningless?

  9. defiler Silver badge

    Deja Vu

    Didn't this happen before, just a handful of years ago?

    "Oh no! We know all the voting machines are shit, but we were too busy fucking about to check until now, and now we've got no choice!"

    (I may be paraphrasing slightly, but the essence is there.)

    1. Ian Emery Silver badge

      Re: Deja Vu

      I was going to post exactly the same thing; reports the US voting machines had more holes than a colander have been reported for a decade at least; but nothing ever changes.

      It is almost as if the Powers That Be want the old, insecure machines, because they know how to use them to cheat.

      I mean, how many of those Trump supporters actually voted? Most of them struggle to sign "X" on the dotted line.

  10. Threlkeld

    Player piano

    As Kurt Vonnegut pointed out in 'Player Piano', published 65 years ago, any voting system can be hacked.

    You can have checks on the system, (i.e. an audit trail) so that any hacker would need to hack them also. To make all this work, there has to be a strong intention on the part of the people involved that the system shall be fair, and seen to be provably fair.

    This isn't about different practices in different countries, or one approach being intrinsically better than another one. It's about a having a continuous determination to test, review and check important procedures in order to ensure that they serve the public interest and no other. As William Penn wrote in his preface to the first Frame of Government for Pennsylvania, bad people can spoil a good system just as good people can mend a bad one.

    Complacency is an enemy, because the 'mending' must never stop.

    1. Justicesays

      Proportionality

      I would propose that the difficulty of "hacking" an election is proportional to the amount of work taken to run it. If your election requires printing out 10's of thousands of ballots, getting everyone in to fill them in manually, then employing 100's of people to count them, it's going to take a determined and well manned (and local) effort to interfere with that system in any significant way.

      If your election set up and counting require a few mouse clicks by "Bob" the election official, then I imagine you are also only a few clicks away from massive election fraud.

      I cant think of a foolproof way to even put in an "inline" audit trail into electronic voting, as even a mechanical one would rely on the selections on the screen corresponding to the correct audit output, and so could be potentially manipulated on a per-voter basis. esp. if the election required multiple options to be selected on different screens (earlier selections could be used to tell what the later selections are likely to be). Hmm, maybe you could video the whole thing and store it locally and send that in to be compared with the audit trail...of course doing that would probably take more work than using paper ballots in the first place, plus loss of vote privacy.

      Once we start letting people vote with their smartphones, then Google can just decide who wins elections.

      If you are going to go down that route you could probably just save a lot of time and money by asking Google how an election in any particular area would go , based on all the data they have on everyone, then use that result.

  11. Twanky
    Happy

    Voter of the Year

    2008 has been and gone but we're still not quite ready to select the voter who will represent the rest of the people at an election?

  12. Sixtysix
    Mushroom

    Please, please, please, PLEASE

    I know I shouldn't, but I can't help myself...

    I actually, sadly, REALLY hope that this ends up as an object lesson in WHY IT WAS A BAD IDEA due to all the possible hacks being used wherever and however possible. With luck that will give results that have been OBVIOUSLY tampered with (preferably by millions of "extra" votes for an unlikely candidate) and rather than the rest of the world pointing and sniggering quietly, REAL ACTION results.

    Also: not gonna hold my breath - they'll probably believe and defend the result whatever happens.

  13. MrGutts

    Stolen machines in GA

    This is so funny. So some of you may have known in the 6th district was a major runoff in GA, well at one polling place some machines and cards where stolen outright and in the area that favored one of the candidates. So people already voted there. What do you think GA did? Nothing, they didn't count those votes and moved on with what they had.

  14. unbearable

    Suggested?

    What is this supposed to mean?

    "Totenberg suggested the state will have to introduce a more secure voting system that includes a paper trail ahead of the 2020 elections."

    Does this mean that this is a court mandate? Another trial in early 2020?

  15. DerekCurrie
    Facepalm

    18 Years and Counting

    Electronic voting machine hell began in 2000 in the USA with garbage devices being sold by Diebold Election Systems, Inc. Eventually, it was shown than any granny could rig a Diebold POS device in seconds. Diebold stopped selling these devices and changed the name of their now support-only division to Premier Election Systems. Many US states (exm: Maryland) were caught stuck with this junk, not just southern states.

    Here we are 18 years after this form of voting hell started and the USA is still trying to clean up the mess. Here are some Learning Links®™:

    Voting Machines [2018]

    https://votingmachines.procon.org

    4 Things You Need To Know About Diebold Voting Machines [2016]

    https://www.dailywire.com/news/10081/5-things-you-need-know-about-diebold-voting-aaron-bandler

    Historical Timeline

    Electronic Voting Machines and Related Voting Technology [2013]

    https://votingmachines.procon.org/view.timeline.php?timelineID=000021

  16. Slx

    Have you forgotten how to count?!

    In ireland we manage to manually count very complicated proportional representation ballots, where there are up to 5 seats in a constituency and you cast a vote by ranking candidates in order of preference 1,2,3.. and so on.

    It takes a couple of days, but it's an epic exercise in sorting, bundling, pigeon holes, rubber bands and it all takes place in public and under the gaze of 'tallymen/women' from various parties and organisations, all scrutinising everything and also trying to predict the outcome.

    It's nail biting stuff and is like watching horserace, except that it's already happened and is being decoded two days later. The sheer geekery of it is part of the fun of elections.

    All the statisticians, the experts, the pundits, the bookies, the campaign, the raising people shoulder high and giving them the birthday bumps when they get elected - It's what elections are about.

    For the sake of a few days of chaos and recounts, I prefer the very verifiable manual count system human touch.

    1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: Have you forgotten how to count?!

      and under the gaze of 'tallymen/women'

      All doubtless fuelled by copious free banannas..

      1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

        Re: All doubtless fuelled by copious free bananas..

        The tarantulas might assist with the counting procedure if things are looking a little close...

  17. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    Real Issue

    The state government of the Peach Pit State is dominated by the dregs of the alleged college in Athens best known as THUGA and many dismal local school districts. They are quite good at subtracting from the sum total of human knowledge by breathing. Asking for competence is a definite stretch. I say this as a long time observer of state politics.

  18. Geekpride

    Worrying for USAians

    "Plaintiffs have shown the threat of real harms to their constitutional interests"

    "Defendants introduced substantial evidence from Elections Directors from counties with major populations regarding the fiscal, organizational, and practical impediments and burdens associated with a court order that would require immediate implementation of paper ballot and ballot scanning voting systems"

    So it's OK to harm someone's constitutional interests if doing otherwise is impractical. Wow. That seems like a pretty far-ranging call. Vote at risk of being stolen? Tough, it's impractical to take action. I think the USA just gave up any claim to being a democracy.

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