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Voting without a paper trail

Technology Review says that “Some states — including swing states — are more vulnerable to glitches that could tip the election. But the lack of a paper backup means such errors can go undetected.”

  • The States with the Riskiest Voting Technology, By Mike Orcutt, Technology Review (October 31, 2012).

    Next Tuesday’s presidential election will likely be extremely close, magnifying the potential impact of vote-counting errors. So it could be problematic that several states rely on computerized voting machines that don’t print out a paper record that can be verified by voters and recounted by election officials if necessary.

What to Expect When You’re Electing

We are only one week away from Election Day, and with record turnout expected, there are no doubt still a number of people that have no idea where their polling place is or exactly what will be on their ballot.

Campaigns and PACs pay large sums of money to vendors that sell information on district boundaries, and even the US House of Representatives uses a commercial vendor to provide the data that powers their “Who is my Representative?” service. There is no reason why this information should be this difficult to obtain.

Google recently announced a project to help voters find their polling locations that makes use of data that a group called the Voting Information Project has asked all states to provide.

The Voting Information Project encourages Boards of Elections to standardize and share their voting information including what is on the ballot, where the polling locations are, and the boundaries for all the various jurisdictions. So far only a handful of states (Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, and Ohio) as well as Los Angeles County have published the requested information.

Voting information is some of the most important information to help the average citizen participate in our democracy, and the Voting Information Project is doing important work to ensure that this information is as open and widespread as possible. The states already participating should be applauded and the remaining states should be sure that by the time the next election season rolls around, they too are participating fully in the Voting Information Project.

For more information on the efforts of the Voting Information Project: visit their website.

Open source: How e-voting should be done

“In 2002, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act in response to the hanging-chad debacle of Florida’s 2000 presidential elections. The act’s main thrust was to provide money to states to replace outdated punch-card- and lever-based voting systems with optical-scan or touchscreen models. The act largely accomplished that goal, filling the coffers of closed source voting system manufacturers. In doing so, the act may have inadvertently placed the country in a worse situation….”

“Current U.S. policy ensures that e-voting remains in the hands of very few proprietary vendors…. But the key to securing e-voting resides in making its systems open source.”

CA Sec of State wants open source e-voting systems

Last week, at the Technology Review‘s Emerging Technologies Conference held at MIT, there was a panel on electronic voting systems in which CA Secretary of State Debra Bowen participated — along with Moderator Jason Pontin, Editor in Chief, Technology Review; Doug Chapin, Director, electionline.org; Ronald L. Rivest, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, MIT; and Pamela Smith, President, Verified Voting Foundation. You may remember that in 2007, Bowen ordered a complete top-to-bottom review of voting systems in CA. I’m really glad to see a top-level politician sitting on a panel of cutting edge technologists and really, really glad to hear that top-level politician advocate for [w:Open-source software].

Now, I’m not saying the open source is the end all and be all solution to the myriad issues facing e-voting (see Bev harris’ Black Box Voting for more on those issues); but it’s great to see that Bowen at least gets that open source software is at least part of the solution. We’ve been saying that for quite some time. For a complete wrapup of the panel see Lucas Mearian’s ComputerWorld blog

One method of addressing software issues associated with the vast majority of proprietary e-voting applications out there is to move to using open source, especially for applications residing on optical scanners, which have been particularly troublesom. The concern is that IT administrators can’t look at the software to correct errors or tweak it for a particular county’s needs. Open source would go a long ways to disclosing problems associated with today’s propretary e-voting applications, Bowen said.

[Thanks /.]

Research Reports E-Voting Error Rates Of 3 Percent Or More

Voters prefer e-voting, but tech has limits, By Grant Gross, IDG News Service, March 21, 2008. Researchers found the error rate of the worst-performing machines was 3 percent in a simple task like voting for president and, in “more complex races,” the error rate was higher.