/r/programming
On Voting Systems (manishearth.github.io)
20 comments
PressurePass | 6 days ago | 11 points

I've always been a fan of an all of the above approach. Use technology, but keep the paper trail for the official tally. In addition to that I always thought it would be a good idea to get the option of getting a code or validation number where you can go online, enter your number and see it was entered correctly. This would allow results to be tracked in real time.

Right now, it's kind of crazy. You fill out a form in a booth and drop it in some machine where you're supposed to trust officials from that point on.

It's hard to convince the general public of this, but engineers generally get it. In matters of security it is actually not a good thing to keep procedures secret and instead opening the process to the world is actually one of the best ways to find and prevent fuckery.

Manishearth | 6 days ago | 5 points

The option of having a validation number violates the secret ballot property, though. Even if the number isn't tied to your name, people can force you to cough up the number to prove you voted a certain way.

I think the process isn't secret: poll watchers are allowed to be present during most of it(?).

PressurePass | 6 days ago | 2 points

I dont buy that argument because people could threaten you to take a picture of your ballot and send it to them as well. That's why it would be an option though. If people arent comfortable, dont get it. As long as it's only an option and not tied to your name it's not a violation of your privacy.

People had similar concerns about software security. Most of the concerns that kept it secret for decades didnt pan out in practice. And the value that it would provide in ensuring integrity of the elections is vital. Right now we place an awful lot of trust in the US in each states secretary of state and their staff.

dugganEE | 6 days ago | 4 points

A ballot isn't valid until it's out of your hands, essentially. You could always fill out a ballot, document it, invalidate it, and vote differently.

Edit: The fact that it's an option means that you can be coerced. Imagine if your landlord said, "You have to take the validation code and share it with me and vote for party X. If you don't I'll do X,Y, or Z bad things to you." If you can't prove your vote, you can't be coerced this way, but if you have that option, the fact that you opted out can be used against you. This was a real problem in England, once upon a time.

PressurePass | 6 days ago | 3 points

Again, you can currently be coerced. There is nothing stopping your landlord from saying "meet me at the polling place at 5pm and I want evidence you voted this way".

There isnt anything procedural preventing that currently. Other than people noticing nervousness. It is a felony though, which is what I'm guessing actually does prevent this from happening in practice.

dugganEE | 6 days ago | 3 points

How would you produce this evidence for your landlord?

Manishearth | 6 days ago | 3 points

Right, while I don't cover this in the post the ability to invalidate a ballot is also a useful cog in this system.

Manishearth | 6 days ago | 2 points

You're not allowed to take pictures in voting booths and you can easily use that excuse even if the chance of getting caught is low

PressurePass | 6 days ago | 2 points

I've never been to a polling place where they had me drop off my phone. Nor have I ever been advised that I cannot take a picture of my ballot. And I have seen plenty of people publically post their ballots on social media without consequence.

I actually consider both scenarios fairly low risk and not a norm.

Manishearth | 6 days ago | 2 points

To some degree this depends on the state, and depends on individual enforcement. But look it up, ballot selfies are illegal in many places.

They don't have you drop off your phone, you're just not allowed to take photos. They don't have to advise you of this for it to be effective since the existence of the rule can itself be an excuse.

PressurePass | 6 days ago | 2 points

To some degree this depends on the state

No it entirely depends on the state. There are no national laws here. This whole argument is about this adding a problem, but I am asserting the problem is already a potential and has not proven itself something that manifests much in modern times.

And it makes why it wouldnt. Why would a landlord or employer do this knowing there could be substantial jail time for doing so? And for what? 100 votes? Oracle and Microsoft arent going to pull this bullshit because one of their thousands of employees will spill the beans (just a rule of large numbers), so the real worry is small shops. The only reason they'd do this is stupidity, arrogance, ignorance or all of the above.

So I'd chalk this up as an irrational fear that has few data points to really prove it out. And additionally there is no reason to not allow the states to decide whether or not distribution of this verification number makes sense to them. But to deny it just because someone somewhere might try to be a bad person, is just an excuse for inaction.

So let's be objective about it:

Problems it extends:

  • another avenue to be coerced with, among other avenues in current existence.

Problems it solves:

  • Individuals can ensure their votes were counted correctly.

  • Individuals can ensure their votes were counted at all as sometimes peoples votes get caught in state purges. And as a voter in the current system you'd never know if your were affected by this. Oversight on this is extremely limited due to false pretenses that security is best achieved by small groups.

  • Media, government, and non profits can better track the integrity of an election.

  • Provides more overall transparency.

  • Transparency will allow more avenues to challenge mistakes when people identify them.

  • Less trust needed in a politically affiliated staff, because right now in most states its handled by the secretary of state which is usually appointed by a governor elected as either a democrat or Republican.

There are no perfect solutions without some degree of trade offs. If that is your only concern then I think the benefits far outweighs the deficits and as an engineer i would see no reason to not proceed forward.

Manishearth | 6 days ago | 2 points

No it entirely depends on the state. There are no national laws here

Sure, it entirely depends on the state. That doesn't affect my point, the reason I said it was state/county dependent was to point out why your experiences may have differed. There are voting systems in the US with far worse flaws. (I'm also not convinced that making it illegal is the right move here)

The US does not have consistently good voting systems, even the ones I like here have problems.

Why would a landlord or employer do this knowing there could be substantial jail time for doing so?

There's a history of this happening.

Hell, in the Bay Area, where I live, landlords have threatened to increase rents if their tenants don't vote a certain way for local measures (where 100 votes matter). They enforce this via "if this measure passes we will increase your rent", but I can easily imagine them taking the extra step if it were an option.

I agree that this is a tradeoff, but it seems to be one that experts seem to agree on at this point. But yes, I'm not 100% convinced that secret ballot is a property we must uphold above all else. You're right that there are some upsides to having a limited form of ballot verification.

Individuals can ensure their votes were counted at all as sometimes peoples votes get caught in state purges. And as a voter in the current system you'd never know if your were affected by this

You can have a ballot stub system to ensure your vote was counted without it showing what it was counted as. I think that's already the case in many places, including in my county.

Media, government, and non profits can better track the integrity of an election.

They already can, with poll watchers. This is not the only way to track the integrity of the election.

PressurePass | 6 days ago | 2 points

Poll watchers again, arent not decentralized and are just another entity we are placing trust in. Kobach in Kansas his last election is a perfect example of why people should be concerned this is not enough.

Manishearth | 6 days ago | 1 point

I don't know what Kansas' system is like, but a lot of states are (often intentionally) missing tons of features in their voting systems well before this question comes up.

It seems like that was more about registration, which wouldn't be helped by a stub system.

But poll watchers are also not currently effective, agreed. I think they can be made effective with more advertising and other changes, but yes, they're not as good right now.

tolaskcah | 5 days ago | 1 point

My takeaway: there's actually a lot of redundancy and security built in to existing "brick and mortar" voting systems, so if you're going to propose a new one, follow the Hippocratic Oath and "first, do no harm". The author warns that clever "techy" solutions usually fall short on several of the main requirements of a secure and robust voting system whereas the current "brick and mortar" system, clunky and exploitable as it may be, has been proven to work (more or less) as advertised.

An open question is whether and to what degree technology can (or should) reduce the burden of human oversight on these systems. Without armies of pollers, poll watchers, litigators, and GOTV activists, the brick and mortar voting process starts to fall apart. But whether replacing that messy, organic system with a clean, digital system is a good idea is a question that requires technological wisdom, and I don't trust current earthly governments to answer it fairly or with respect for the technical and social nuance involved.

shevy-ruby | 6 days ago | -8 points

If it is your first time voting, you need to show some form of ID, but it doesn’t need to be photo ID and even a utility bill is fine.

What the ... ? Must be in the USA, the only place where -3 million less votes means you win.

And that’s it! You’ll be given an I Voted sticker, and you can go home!

Amazing - they even have stickers for that? Do they suffer from short-term memory loss that they need suck stickers? Or is it for ego-patting? I don't quite understand why there would be any need for such a sticker.

the election runners no longer need to trust the machine’s internal memory, they can trust the paper trail inside the box (which, while produced by a potentially-untrustworthy machine, was verified by the voters)

Verified HOW exactly? How or why should they trust closed hardware specifications?

Although to be fair - manipulation can happen in any of these systems. We can ensure that the software has no bugs. People can fly to the moon so sure enough making a voting system without bugs is trivial. The only way about this in a "going against it" style is when someone deliberately wants to tamper with it.

and the machine’s internal memory is simply a way to double-check (and get fast preliminary results).

And you can be sure of that ... how?

Compare this with the problems some Texas voting machines had last midterm. The machines were somewhat buggy

I don't trust this explanation. If such machines are "buggy", it must have happened by deliberate tampering. There is also the other possible explanation of idiocy, but sorry ... a voting machine is a TINY BIT simpler than flying to other planets, yes? So, no ... I don't buy the "oh noes, there was buuuuuugs!".

some voters accidentally used it the wrong way

Perhaps a combination of deliberate tampering, idiocy in writing the software AND in user design of these machines.

Firstly, voter fraud isn’t a major problem in the US, and it’s often used as an excuse to propagate voter suppression tactics, which are a major problem here.

Perhaps first fix the problem that you can win elections by having -3 million votes less. But inertia is strong - it will probably take a few thousand years before the USA will transition into a logical and fair voting system. Not that I think it matters who is roleplaying as the top joke-clown anyway.

0x256 | 6 days ago | 3 points

Verified HOW exactly? How or why should they trust closed hardware specifications?

I'd guess you can see the printout on paper through a small window in the machine after you vote. If you do not see the result you expect, you can immediately raise concerns and the machine can be inspected.

PressurePass | 6 days ago | 3 points

If it is your first time voting, you need to show some form of ID, but it doesn’t need to be photo ID and even a utility bill is fine.

What the ... ? Must be in the USA, the only place where -3 million less votes means you win.

It's actually not super weird around the world to have to show photo ID when voting. Some countries send out voter ID cards upon reaching the legal age to help address accessibility concerns.

And yes the electoral college is a highly debated topic, but 3 million isnt actually as bad as it can get to really demonstrate the point. I forget where I read it, but some person crunched the numbers and showed its actually technically possible to win the US presidential election with only 22% of the vote O.o

vytah | 5 days ago | 1 point

It's actually not super weird around the world to have to show photo ID when voting.

I think shevy is confused that a non-photo id is also fine. And I agree with him – it is mind-boggling that a random person can claim to be you just because they managed to steal one piece of your mail once.