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August 23, 2007 08:27 PM UTC

Voting Systems Still Not Ready

  • by: Colorado Pols

From The Denver Post:

Secretary of State Mike Coffman’s office is three months behind its deadline to recertify voting systems, leaving clerks in Colorado’s 64 counties anxious about finding temporary solutions for the Nov. 6 election.

The work won’t be done until Oct. 1 – a scant five weeks before the election – the state notified clerks last week.

“That leaves us in a quandary,” Jefferson County Clerk Pam Anderson said.

If voting equipment is not recertified, counties must scramble to find a fix.

The Montrose County clerk, for instance, already has decided to use paper ballots for the upcoming election. Officials said last week that if the optical scanners currently used are not certified, ballots can be counted by hand.

Other counties, such as Larimer, Jefferson and Adams, plan mail-only elections, so there will be a way to perform hand-counts, though they would delay results.

“We’re sensitive to the fact that the county clerks are in a bind,” said Jonathan Tee, spokesman for the secretary of state’s office. “We will work with the counties to ensure they are able to perform their responsibilities in November.”

The bottom line is to ensure thoroughness, said Tee, who declined to specify where the office is in the recertification process or what it would do to help counties.

Some county officials say privately the state has no plan for how to help and may not make the Oct. 1 deadline.


12 thoughts on “Voting Systems Still Not Ready

  1. ..that were crushed to make room for buses and cars, the old mechanical machines are now imported steel having made a detour to India.

    Unhackable, probably never failed, but 1) no new models to sell for many, many years, and 2) in our rush to know the results we have bastardized our democracy. 

    The Germans use a paper record, use non-essential bureacrats to count, and announce the results using exit polls almost immediately. 

    They’ve never been wrong.

  2. and assume if we “computerize it” it will be both more efficient and more accurate.

    The problem is most software is pretty badly written. And logic mistakes can be very difficult to find. So you end up with a system that almost certainly has errors, but no one knows what they are or what they do.

    And no paper record is nuts. With no record what do you do if you have a hard drive crash on one of the systems? Or where it records 10X the number of votes as there were voters (this has happened).

    1. In case you’re not a nut on voting technology, you might have missed that someone was able to piece together a paper vote trail with the poll log records and come up with each voter’s actual ballot votes.

      To be secure, a paper ballot must be (a) non-contiguous with other ballots – i.e. not on a spool – (b) un-numbered or randomly numbered, and (c) not logged together with the poll log – i.e. card numbers issued by the poll log station must either be not linked to the poll log, or not linked to the ballot.

      Electronic balloting should *never* issue a receipt which can be used to recover ballot choices, unless the receipt verification machine is in a private booth in a public location under proper supervision (the same criteria goes for the actual balloting procedure – Internet voting sounds cool, but it lends itself to voter coercion tactics).

      Software like balloting software can be well-written, IMHO.  A proper application of coding techniques should render a system that is easily separable (and hence auditable), and is reliable.  It isn’t rocket science; software has a bad rap because it’s often developed under pressure or without much planning.  The hard part is in designing the input/output devices to accommodate all users.

      1. My daughter took a programming class and proudly showed me one of her early programs that was about 20 lines of code. Very simple and straightforward and it worked.

        I found 4 bugs in it for conditions she had not thought of. The rule of thumb is that even the best code has a bug in every 700 – 1,200 lines of code.

        Writing good software is very very difficult – both in terms of how a team goes about it and who is on the team.

    2. According to the California Secretary of State’s report on August 3rd, none of the major voting systems are secure.

      If one wants to read the whole report, it’s here at the official web site for the State of California:

      If one doesn’t want to read the whole report, there are critical excerpts at the web site for Feral House, a rather outrГ© publisher:

  3. Granted, it’s hardly surprising when the people in charge of getting this done aren’t going to suffer any penalties for screwing it up.  In fact, if they make a big enough mess, they’ll probably get more time and additional staff.  But, why isn’t anyone bringing up the reason it’s so wretchedly difficult to do so much as get a ballot put together for the city dog catcher election, specifically, the ‘written-by-idiots-for-idiots’ HAVA mess?

  4. It is amazing.  Over two hundred years of history and we have forgotten how to hold an election.  I hope that whoever the wizard is that put together the cost benefit analysis for the new computer systems added the costs of certifying, government inefficiency, waiting in lines and causing voters not to vote into the computer side.  It is so out of whack that it doesn’t seem like a rational person would be involved.

    1. we have taken something so simple and made a Frankenstein.  A lot of blames to go around, but I would say one is the American faith that technology can fix anything.  Even things that aren’t broken.

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