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Theory of Computing > Nova Content

Written by: Hyunjin (Harry) Park & Kendall Loebbaka Trinity Info Media, L.L.C. v. Covalent INC. Before STOLL, BRYSON, and... Read More »
University at Buffalo computer scientists are exploring how machines can read the visual cues that give away deceit. Results so far are promising: In a... Read More »
The last 20 years have seen unprecedented advances in the realm of computer science and engineering. One area that remains remarkably traditional, however, is voting. ... Read More »
Nicholas PellI'm sort of confused by this response. My intention in writing this piece was to present a balanced account of the issues surrounding electronic vs. paper ballots. To that end, I even included innovations suggested by Dr. Mercuri regarding how to improve paper balloting. I further drew attention to present challenges in the field.

While I wholeheartedly agree that there are difficult challenges ensuring both transparency and accountability with regard to electronic voting, I find it hard to believe that such challenges are insurmountable. In fairness, Dr. Mercuri knows more about this than I do, but then again, so does Mr. Wallach.

As I expressed privately in an email, I find it very hard to believe that anyone would come out of this thinking electronic voting is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Little content seems to indicate that present technologies are up to the task. Indeed, if anything, I think this article presents electronic voting as a sort of boondoggle -- taxpayers are overcharged for ineffective services that don't deliver what they promise.

I am, of course, always unhappy when an interview subject is displeased with an article. In this case, however, I'm not clear on what I could have done to please Dr. Mercuri, short of trashing the entire concept of electronic voting in toto.
Jan 10, 2012
RT MercuriWow, what an amazingly incorrect piece!

Electronic voting machines are considerably MORE difficult to audit than traditional methods, since they can be programmed to delete their own code so that it is very hard (if not impossible) to catch if they are cheating.

There is absolutely nothing simple in the design of a microprocessor-based system with millions of transistors. Dan's example of the older microprocessors as somehow obsolete is incorrect -- the less complicated devices have stood the test of time (we call it "debugged") and offer FEWER features that can be exploited to insert back-door attacks into the system.

Larger ballots INCREASE both programming, setup, and pre-election testing costs on computers, as well as increase complexity in checking for correctness.

It has been proven that ballot tracking using computers can be thwarted and spoofed -- what does it mater if the ballot is tracked if it is recorded incorrectly by the computer to begin with? -- so this is a false assurance.

The same is true about multiple voting machines keeping copies -- computer scientists call this GIGO -- garbage in, garbage out -- if the ballot is incorrectly recorded on one machine it will be replicated with the same incorrectness on multiple others.

What is actually obsolete, is the idea that self-auditing electronic voting systems are somehow secure or an improvement over paper-based methods. Heck, even Homer Simpson experienced a "vote flip" -- press for one candidate, the machine records your vote for someone else. This is no joke, it does happen. We even have a video showing machines being tested in a Pennsylvania certification where the vote flipped right before the eyes of the examiner -- guess what, the machines were passed and allowed to be purchased!

And as for those talking voting machines -- well we've seen those do an audio vote flip too -- say one thing, record another (happens for the foreign language ballots as well). Unfortunately, the voter doesn't know it's happening.

I continue to fail to understand how presumably intelligent people are able to convince themselves that somehow the computer, with all of its known complexity and flaws and viruses and glitches, is in any way capable of providing the transparency and independent auditability that is required for government elections. Perhaps it is because voting is really a religion, so faith-based electronic solutions will continue to be promoted, and writers will be hypnotized into spreading the fantasy that a new crop of devices, just around the corner, somehow will really will work as advertised. Dream on.

I'm looking forward to reading Nicholas Pell's article on global warming.

R. Mercuri
Jan 10, 2012