Electronic voting

From Academic Kids

Electronic voting (also known as e-voting and including Internet voting and other online voting) is any of several means of determining people's collective intent electronically. Electronic voting includes voting by kiosk, internet, telephone, punch card, and optical scan ballot (also known as "mark-sense").



Electronic voting systems have been in use since the 1960s[1] (http://inventors.about.com/library/weekly/aa111300b.htm) when punch card systems debuted. The newer mark-sense ballots allow a computer to count a voter's mark with an optical sensor. Internet and telephone voting systems have gained popularity for non-governmental purposes since the 1980s but suffer security problems preventing their application for government elections.

Direct recording electronic (DRE) systems, with interfaces much more like an ATM can, depending on design and implementation, provide instant feedback to the voters in case of invalid votes, and they can provide instant counts after polling. With a paper printout of each ballot -- verifiable by each voter -- they can also offer certain verifiability. By contrast, in a paperless system, voters must have faith in the accuracy of the counting software. Vendors of voting equipment tend to prefer proprietary software for business reasons; this alarms some observers. Open source software, based on its established track record related to security design (as opposed to the "security through obscurity" approach by proprietary software), would provide a large degree of transparency for such systems, at the cost of loss of exclusivity to vendors.

Electronic Voting Machines are used on a large scale in India (See Indian voting machines) and Brazil. In 2002, in the United States, the Help America Vote Act apparently mandated the use of electronic voting in all states. It seems possible that such systems will eventually be mandated across most or all democratic countries, although currently many countries still prefer hand-marked and manually counted paper ballots.

Types of systems

Direct Recording Electronic

Main article: DRE voting machines

Direct recording electronic (DRE) voting machines are often favored because they can incorporate assistive technologies for handicapped people, allowing them to vote without involving another person in the process. However, most DRE's do not keep a voter verifiable paper ballot for re-counts and audits, making them arguably the least secure of all voting systems invented to date.

Mark-sense (optical scan) voting

In mark-sense voting the user marks a paper ballot and feeds it into a ballot box. The votes may be tallied by automatic sensors at a central location or at the precinct. With precinct-tallied votes, the systems usually verify that the ballot is legitimate as they accept the ballot.

Improper marks on the ballot are the primary cause of problems with mark-sense voting. The marks may be inadvertent, accidentally outside the prescribed locations, made with an incompatible writing instrument, or incomplete.

Punch card voting

With punch card ballots, voters create holes in prepared ballot cards to indicate their choices. There are two main vendor systems, Datavote and Votomatic. Datavote systems use a cutting tool and vacuum to clean away material from unperforated cards indicating the voters' choices. Votomatic machines require the voter to punch out a perforated rectangle (ie, a chad) from the card using a stylus.

The Datavote systems tend to have higher accuracy than Votomatic machines. Votomatic machines suffer from all manner of problems related to handling the perforated cards - problems that featured prominently in the 2000 U.S. Presidential Election.

Internet voting

With Internet voting people cast their ballots online, generally via a web interface, although email voting has occasionally been tried. With web voting the voter navigates to the proper election site using a web browser on an ordinary PC and authenticates himself or herself to see the appropriate blank ballot form presented onscreen. The voter then fills out the ballot form and, when satisfied, clicks the "cast vote" button to send the completed ballot back to the election server.

Some corporations routinely use Internet voting to elect officers and Board members and for other proxy elections. However, its use for public elections, where the security, privacy, and auditability standards are much higher, is generally considered prohibitively dangerous because, besides all of the dangers of ordinary electronic voting, there are additional severe security problems inherent in the PC and in the Internet that have no good solutions with current technology.

The main weakness of the PC architecture is its vulnerability to malicious code, which can be introduced through countless different channels to interfere with voting in often undetectable ways. The voter may be prevented from voting, or the privacy of the vote might be compromised, or the vote might be altered before transmission without the voter's knowledge, etc.

The weaknesses of the Internet as a platform for voting in elections include its vulnerability to many kinds of denial of service attacks, spoofing attacks, and man-in-the-middle attacks, which could lead to massive, selective voter disenfranchisement, or to automated vote buying and selling. Attacks on Internet voting systems can be launched remotely from anywhere in the world, and might change the results of elections undetectably; or if the attack is detected, there may be no way to correct the tally.

More importantly, any voting system which permits people to vote from any random private place cannot be secured against vote-selling, which is considered a fundamental requirement in American democracy.

Because of these security concerns (detailed in [2] (http://www.servesecurityreport.org)) the U.S. military cancelled the SERVE program (Secure Electronic Registration and Voting Experiment) in early 2004 that would have allowed military personnel and overseas citizens of eight states to vote online in the 2004 presidential election. [3] (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A18597-2004Feb6.html)

Telephone voting

Telephone voting allows people to call different telephone numbers to indicate preference for different options, or a voter might call one number and indicate a preference by pressing buttons in a menu system. Its main drawback is the difficulty in verifying the identity of the voter and in permitting only one vote per person. Its chief advantage is the ease in getting people to participate.

The Fox TV Network used telephone voting to determine the winner of the American Idol television talent contest. In the case of the 2003 Ruben Studdard/Clay Aiken contest, another drawback of telephone voting appeared. Viewers were asked to call a number indicating their preference, but the telephone systems, presumably two identical systems for counting votes, were operating very near capacity for the duration of the voting period. Perhaps as a result, out of 24 million votes cast, Studdard "won" by only 130,000 votes.

Advantages of electronic voting

People for the American Way cites as the principal advantages of electronic voting:

  1. Each machine can easily be programmed to display ballots in different languages.
  2. Machines can be made fully accessible for persons with disabilities. [4] (http://www.pfaw.org/pfaw/general/default.aspx?oid=14581)

The advantage with respect to ballots in different languages appears to be unique to electronic voting. For example, King County, Washington's demographics require them under U.S. federal election law to provide ballot access in Chinese, although only 24 people in the county requested Chinese ballots in the September 17, 2002 primary election. [5] (http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/91756_language18.shtml). With any type of paper ballot, the county has to decide how many Chinese-language ballots to print, how many to make available at each polling place, etc. Any strategy that can assure that Chinese-language ballots will be available at all polling places is certain, at the very least, to result in a lot of wasted ballots. (The situation with lever machines would be even worse than with paper: the only apparent way to reliably meet the need would be to set up a Chinese-language lever machine at each polling place, few of which would be used at all.)

Punchcard and optical scan machines are not fully accessible for the blind or visually impaired, and lever machines can be difficult for voters with limited mobility and strength. [6] (http://www.pfaw.org/pfaw/general/default.aspx?oid=14581) Electronic machines can use headphones and other adaptive technology to provide the necessary accessibility.

Problems with electronic voting

  • Diebold Election Services, Inc. president admitted security flaws and disenfranchised voters in the March 2, 2004 California presidential primary using Diebold's TSx system for DRE voting. [7] (http://www.trivalleyherald.com/Stories/0,1413,86~10669~2100333,00.html) On April 30 California's secretary of state decertified all touch-screen machines and recommended criminal prosecution of Diebold Election Systems.[8] (http://www.fcw.com/fcw/articles/2004/0503/web-evote-05-03-04.asp) The California Attorney-General decided against criminal prosecution, but has joined a lawsuit against Diebold for fraudulent claims made to election officials.[9] (http://www.blackboxvoting.org/?q=node/view/484)
  • Diebold machine review (http://www.cs.umd.edu/~bederson/voting/umd-dre-report.pdf)
  • Diebold system discussion (http://avirubin.com/vote.pdf)
  • Fairfax County, Virginia, November 4, 2003. Machines quit, jammed the modems in voting systems when 953 voting machines called in simultaneously to report results, leading to a denial of service attack on the election. 50% of precincts were unable to report results until the following day. Also, some voters complained that they would cast their vote for a particular candidate and the indicator of that vote would go off shortly after. Had they not noticed, their vote for that candidate would have remained uncounted; an unknown number of voters were affected by this.
  • Florida Primary 2002: Back to the Future (http://www.notablesoftware.com/Papers/BtF.html) — A litany of problems with voting systems in Florida since the 2000 Presidential election
  • Napa County, California, March 2, 2004, an improperly calibrated mark-sense scanner overlooked 6692 absentee ballot votes. [10] (http://www.wired.com/news/evote/0,2645,62721,00.html)
  • Voting machine testing shrouded in secrecy (http://www.cnn.com/2004/TECH/biztech/08/23/evoting.labs.ap/index.html)
  • The U.S. League of Women Voters, who generally favor electronic voting, nonetheless point out that "HAVA allocates $100 million to make polling places physically accessible, but there is no national definition of 'accessible' or a deadline for implementation." [11] (http://www.lwv.org/where/promoting/votingrights_hava_recom.html)
  • Because the software used in electronic voting machines is often not available for public review, it could contain undetected mistakes or deliberate cheating. Clint Curtis, a former employee of Yang Enterprises, stated that, in 2000, at the request of Congressman Tom Feeney, who was then the Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, Curtis developed a "vote fraud software prototype" ([12] (http://www.buzzflash.com/alerts/04/12/images/CC_Affidavit_120604.pdf)) that could alter machine results. [13] (http://www.wired.com/news/print/0,1294,66002,00.html) Both Feeney and Yang have denied the charge, however, and some critics of electronic voting have expressed doubt about Curtis's charge. [14] (http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/sptimes/762017021.html?MAC=d1c2e3fb55d2a5ce31ee494885975c13&did=762017021&FMT=FT&FMTS=FT&date=Dec+12%2C+2004&author=ADAM+C.+SMITH&printformat=&desc=Voters+still+steaming)

Recommendations for improvement

Michael Shamos devised the Six Commandments of Electronic Voting [15] (http://www.cpsr.org/conferences/cfp93/shamos.html). Although stated humorously, the assertions made are intended to be taken seriously. The commandments are in estimated order of importance, judged by statutes and willingness of election officials to compromise on the various requirements.

  1. Thou shalt keep each voter's choices an inviolable secret.
  2. Thou shalt allow each eligible voter to vote only once, and only for those offices for which she* is authorized to cast a vote. (*Recall that women now constitute a majority of registered voters in the United States.)
  3. Thou shalt not permit tampering with thy voting system, nor the exchange of gold for votes.
  4. Thou shalt report all votes accurately.
  5. Thy voting system shall remain operable throughout each election.
  6. Thou shalt keep an audit trail to detect sins against Commandments 2-4, but thy audit trail shall not violate Commandment 1.

In the summer of 2004, the Legislative Affairs Committee of the Association of Information Technology Professionals issued a nine-point proposal for national standards for electronic voting. [16] (http://www.aitp.org/newsletter/2004julaug/index.jsp?article=evoteside.htm) In an accompanying article, the committee's chair, Charles Oriez, described some of the problems that had arisen around the country, and noted that the state of Nevada, in its regulation of slot machines in casinos, was much more stringent than any state was in regulating voting machines. [17] (http://www.aitp.org/newsletter/2004julaug/index.jsp?article=evote.htm)

See also


  • Chaum, David. "Elections with Unconditionally Secret Ballots and Disruption Equivalent to Breaking RSA." Advances in Cryptology EUROCRYPT '88, .G. Gunther (Ed.), Springer-Verlag, pp. 177-182.

External links

de:E-Voting fr:Vote électronique


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