I think we can all agree (this will likely provoke disagreement) that a voting machine that records a vote electronically without a way to do a manual verification is a bad idea. How then should a proper voting machine work. My suggestion is to have a touch screen on which the voter makes his/her selections (invalid selections would not be allowed). The voter would

  1. Make selections on screen
  2. Print ballot
  3. Compare ballot to screen

Once the voter receives the printout he/she would then compare the printed ballot with the selections made on screen. At that point the voter would be required to press one of

  1. Accept this ballot as correct (this would reset the machine for the next voter) or
  2. Reject this ballot as invalid (this would lock the machine leaving the current selections visible)

Rejecting a ballot would require intervention from polling station officials from both parties. They would determine whether or not the ballot was correctly printed. If correctly printed then the machine would be unlocked/reset. If not correctly printed then the machine would be shut down.

In the event that the ballot was correctly printed, the voter would insert the ballot into a scanner to record/count the votes. The scanner would only be opened in the presence of officials from both parties.

Possible ways this could be rigged

The ballots could be printed in a human readable form (names and check boxes) plus machine readable fields (bar codes/QR codes) where the machine readable selections would differ from the human readable selections. Because of this, bar/QR codes should not be allowed.

In the event of a dispute, paper ballots would be available for manual recount. This would avoid the problem of hanging chads.

Voting machines would be physically locked to prevent tampering and would not be network accessible or have any external ports. All software would be open source and publicly available for all concerned groups to audit for security and proper operation.

feedback anyone?

commented: Discussing what needs discussing. +0
commented: A cardpunch verification would also prevent hanging chads. In all my years, never saw a punch create a hanging chad. They're clear punches, anyway. +0

Doesn't get around issues where the machine/screen in rigged to make it really hard to select a particular candidate. Plus it doesn't ensure voter anonymity because in the event of an error party officials will know who that person was voting for in order to confirm the error.

IMO the most fool-proof system would be to have a physical ballot that people mark that is also machine readable (like a scantron card). In the voting booth they fill it out and stick it into a machine to verify that the machine reads it correctly, if it does not they can press a button and officials will destroy their current ballot without looking at it, and provide them a new one, potentially also offering guidance on how to fill it out correctly.

The problem with a ballot that is marked/filled out by the voter is that any deviation from perfect can be interpreted by someone as spoiled depending on who the vote was cast for. I have worked several elections as a poll official and have seen this happen. That's why I think a screen selection that then prints the ballot is better. The selection screen would prevent making an invalid set of choices (like selecting both candidates), as well as marking the candidates incorrectly (using a checkmark instead of an x, for example). All printed ballots would, of necessity, be correctly filled out.

My suggestion could be altered slightly by not showing the voter selections in the case of a dispute but then it becomes too easy to shut down a machine. Take this scenario - a particular district is known to highly favour party "D" (any resemblance to a specific party is unintended (yeah, right)). So members of party "R" (same bullshit disclaimer) deliberately report the machines as faulty, thereby shutting down the polling station and effectively blocking a vote for the "D" candidate.

This could possibly be avoided as follows:

If a machine is flagged as faulty, representatives of both (all) parties would test the machine by making selections, then printing ballots to ensure proper operation. If correct then the machine is put back into service. The test ballots would be shredded in the presence of all reps. This would protect both the integrity of the machine and the privacy of the voter.

I know that both major parties are guilty of gerrymandering, although one party does it far more than the other. But when one party (the one that is always screaming VOTER FRAUD) doesn't complain when voter turnout in one district in Georgia is over 200% (their candidate won), then I get a bad feeling when this party pushes voting machines (made by a company that contributes heavily to that party) that cannot be audited and which do not provide any way of doing a manual recount in the case of a dispute.

"The problem with a ballot that is marked/filled out by the voter is that any deviation from perfect can be interpreted by someone as spoiled depending on who the vote was cast for. I have worked several elections as a poll official and have seen this happen."

There is no way to really avoid this, because people are infinitely creative at coming up with reasons to exclude a ballot if they want to - oh, this one printed crookedly, this one has streaks because the inks was running out, this one got crumpled a bit. Hence why there should be observers from all parties witnessing the recount to check this isn't happening.

If every ballot is checked by the voter to be machine readable, then it will also be checked to ensure it is filled out correctly in case of a re-count. Since an incorrectly filled out ballot would almost certainly cause it to not be machine readable.

There have been a number of reported cases of touch screen voting machines making it hard to impossible to select particular candidates. Whether due to deliberate hacking or just lack of maintenance.

The reason behind the strict regulations on marking ballots, like marking with an x instead of a checkmark, was to prevent votes from being bought. The idea is to make one ballot indistinguishable from another (other than who gets the vote, of course). Thus, no extraneous marking. Draw a happy face on your ballot and it goes in the trash. Any artifacts from the actual printing would not be traceable to any voter, or group of voters.

Obviously there will be flaws in any system. The question is how do we minimize them. Having a black box with no method of verification or manual recount is the system most open to abuse.

Over here we have a history of deliberately spoiling ballot papers as a means of protest. Would the machine not allow this? Or would there be an option, something like "none of the above arseholes" .

+Revered Jim

That's an interesting consideration. I wonder why we don't currently use a stamp or something to mark ballots instead of having people write an "X"? Seems like that would get rid of a lot of those concerns.

+alan.davies

My university had "re open nominations" as an option for every elected position for that. It's funny how less important elections are often more democratic than the most important ones.

I agree with the "none of the above" option to crete a protest ballot. As for the stamp, as seen by the "hanging chad" problem in the 2000 election, any ballot that is not perfectly marked, even if the selections are clear, will be disallowed by an official if the vote was cast for the "other" party. That's why we need some method of having all ballots marked consistently.

I have read that block chain technology is ideal for voting mechanisms because it provides anonymity and security. The election results on the distributed ledger are easily verifiable. It seems likely that certain additional fields could also be used for an extra layer of visible validation. Those validation fields might include an exact date/time stamp, a booth number, and a precinct location. In operation the voter makes his/her selections from the touch display screen. An image of the choices is displayed on screen when voting is complete, along with the validation fields at the bottom. The ballot machine prints a hard copy and gives it to the voter who then compares the printed ballot with the displayed results, before dropping the ballot into the ballot box. The election results are then electronically aggregated and/or transmitted as desired, with little delay. The hard copy of all ballots are available if a recount is ever desired. The validation fields of any single ballot can be verified for inclusion in the distributed ledger which is publicly available. The entire box of ballots can be machine scanned and the resulting database can be cross matched to the distributed ledgers rendered by the block chain.

What exctly do you mean by "easily verifiable"? Personally, I don't believe that blockchain is mature enough to be used as the basis for voting. Once all the hype dies down it might be worth a look.

Reverend JIm thanks for taking the risk of raising the subject in our current state. What a great and mature discussion. If we were not so polarised, and hating the others label, perhaps we could discuss this at a political level so that voters get what they voted for. Keep the discussion going guys and don't write of blockchain it is protectiong hundreds of millions, a ballot is not to much of a stretch.

+mbannister What's your ploy? Your comment is basically empty words which is usually a hallmark of the "good people on both sides" crowd who pretend they are centrist, moderates but are actually closet extremists trying to make their fanatism more palatable to "moderates", but a discussion of voting machine technology seems an odd place for it.

Agile Mind well their is a first time for every thing. Perhaps I was little early in congratulating everyone for their maturity in discussing the very hot subject of alleged voting fraud and how voting machines with the right features might help to ameliorate this. I believe that more votes are lost or misdirected because of poor voting administration than any number of individuals voting illegally. In fact reports of voter fraud are rarely substantiated
The whole point of voting is that is to have your say, part of the solution to ensuring that happening is the best voting machine technology. It is a solution that everyone should be interested in, and something that in the past has been tackled in a bi-partisan way. So no ploy in that I just made an accurate comment in passing that if we weren't so polarised we might get further with voting machine technology that comment is based on history, a fact, not a ploy. So unless I have missed something I think your comment is disingenious and adds nothing to the conversation.

For another perspective see XKCD

commented: "Blockchain" + claim = wear gloves, bury in desert? +0

Love the cartoon, not being a coder of any great note I cannot comment except to say that the cartoonist is half right, there is some incredibly amazing software created every day, think of the Nasa software engineers, the aircraft software engineers, the lift software engineers, without them their producy would still be pioneering and not as safe as it is today. There is also incredibly bad software
does blockchain fit the good or bad software team, I think both, why do I think it may have a use in a voting machines because of the very characteristics that make it useless in many applications. Have a read and join the discussion, it may offer a solution, because its strengths lie in maintaining the integrity of data, but the downsides may make it not viable. Throwing it out or keeping it because of confirmational bias is not a useful way to find a solution to the problem of getting voting machines to record and store accurately and securely the votes that people or obviously meant to cast.

Here is one proposed voting solution based on blockchain. The system is called Voatz.

I am not sure but I bet that we will not get flying cars until we get self-driving cars. In crowded cities, people have trouble traveling in 2 dimensions so how could we possibly allow people to drive flying cars.

Actually, I am pretty upbeat about getting self-driving cars although that might be a misnomer - cars will probably have some initiative but the majority of traffic will be controlled by groups of autonomous car-intelligences. They will band together to protect themselves from the really bad drivers.

Grumpy/Grim

And this relates to voting machines how?

Obviously a mis-click for the adjacent self-driving topic. I tried to move it, but couldn't find that option.

commented: I guess I should get in the self driving topic and note how airplanes often are all auto pilot. +0

I tried to move it, but couldn't find that option.

I'd vote for that option. If only there was a way to do that securely (cleverly putting us back on topic).

commented: "I saw what you did there." +0

This just in. http://www.kut.org/post/hey-texans-if-youre-voting-straight-ticket-machine-check-your-ballot

Hey, Texans! If You're Voting Straight Ticket On A Machine, Check Your Ballot.
The Texas Civil Rights Project said it has heard about issues with the Hart eSlate machines, which are used in Travis County and many other counties.

"We’ve been hearing reports of voters who go to the booths, they try to vote straight ticket and then the next screen they see it appears that their vote has been selected for a candidate of the opposing party,” said James Slattery, a senior staff attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project.

This is the way to inspire confidence in voting machines?

The same was repoted in several counties in Georgia. The only answer at this late stage is to encourage voters to check their ballots thoroughly

commented: Taking bets there is a common vendor. +0

The problem in Texas isn't the machine registering incorrectly, but the machine having a poorly designed user interface.
People do something to change the selection on the screen, then instantly press the ok button (or whatever mechanism) while the screen is still updating.
At that moment the new selection hasn't yet registered with the machine's electronic brain and it registers the old selection.

Poor design IMO, the voting button (whatever) should be locked so it can't be activated until the screen shows the correct data that will be registered if and when it is pressed.

A far worse problem happened in the Netherlands several years ago and prompted the government to order ALL electronic voting machines to be taken out of commission.
Due to a security problem at a storage facility, it became possible for a group of activists to break into the facility, steal a machine, modify it to always register a specific result, and return the machine to the facility without it being noticed.
In this specific case the activists recorded their actions and sent the tape to law enforcement and election officials, causing a massive stink as you can imagine, and ALL electronic voting was banned almost instantly as a result.

Our machines didn't print anything, the voter pressed a button next to the name they want to vote for, then another button to finalise the vote, which is then stored on an attached secure laptop that's sent to a central location after voting is complete for the records to be retrieved and votes counted.

There is no way with these machines to verify that
a) what you press is actually what's registered as your vote by the machine
b) what is registered by the machine is what's registered on the attached laptop as a vote
c) whether your vote is even anonymous
d) whether the votes stored on the laptop are actually being counted (but that's of course an issue with all means of voting, if the people counting the votes are not to be trusted there's no reason to vote in the first place).

We've since reverted to paper ballots and iconic red pencils for all voting, the ballots being counted by hand.

What about blockchain technology? Could this possibly solve in the near future a lot of issues, fraud and security the voting systems are facing today?

Ok, but that's not a problem that Blockchain should solve, that's a (huge) UX problem from that eSlate. :)

EDIT: also I think that paper (physical) ballets and polling stations that are collecting and counting is not the way forward. Eventually (probably not in the near future) there willl be a solid voting system that has been build upon Blockchain technology.

commented: That's huge. As in HUGE. Also, Microsoft code quality (1990's era). +0

rprofitt is right. There are plenty of ways to undermine democracy without having to directly interfere with voting machines. Frankly, democracy depends on people with power valuing it.

commented: While we are veering a little off topic, I'm glad folk are seeing the shenanigans. +0

There are plenty of ways to undermine democracy without having to directly interfere with voting machines.

Indeed. I've just written something on Forbes about this very subject, after 81 million voter records (across 20 states) have been found for sale on dark web markets. Article is here if anyone fancies a read: https://www.forbes.com/sites/daveywinder/2018/10/30/81-5m-voter-records-for-sale-on-dark-web-ahead-of-midterm-elections

commented: That's a very big % of registered voters. From 2016, 250 million registered and 138,847,000 (estimated) voted. +0