back to article US expat casts ballot from Vienna, wonders if anyone got it

This story was updated to correct the location US expatriate Joanna Bryson voted from. By now, you've most likely heard of Democrats Abroad, the organization that for the first time in history is allowing US citizens to use the internet to cast ballots in a presidential primary. It acts almost as a 51st state that allows US …


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  1. Charles

    Illegal Procedures

    It appears that the procedures described by Ms. Bryson are illegal under US voting rules. The system prohibits giving receipts to voters that show which candidate they voted for. This is to prevent vote-buying, if you had a receipt, you could take it to your political Boss and show them you voted for his candidate, and get your payoff.

    Furthermore, it would be illegal to put both a voter's ID and the candidate he voted for on a receipt, that would violate the Secret Ballot rules (in addition to aiding vote buying).

    For details on the legalities of voting systems, I always point to CompSci Professor Doug Jones' authoritative website on voting systems:

    In particular, I recommend his essay "A Brief Illustrated History of Voting."

    I am continually astonished when these modern voting systems don't follow the simple, basic procedures that have been well established for hundreds of years, as described in Prof. Jones' history paper.

  2. Ole Juul

    Be careful what you ask for

    You just might get it!

  3. Martin Budden Silver badge

    printer out of ink?

    well it's possible!

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Secret ballot

    cunningly designed by Baldrick who, if I recall correctly once got elected with thousands of votes out of a constituency of one.

  5. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    Re: Illegal procedures

    Just as well the paper was blank then!

  6. mr.K


    I have followed the primaries and have struggled to figure out how they actually work. I have discovered several issues that I find slightly undemocratic, and it have made me wonder how can this possibly be legal in a democratic election. The answer is that this isn't really a democratic election as I see it. It is two separate private election within two different organizations, both independent from the government. If I am right about this they can do whatever they want, for instance can they decide that the Florida votes won't count for the democrats this year.

  7. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Seems obvious

    What to print should be obvious : the unique ID of the vote that has just been cast. That is the only real data that is needed.

    With the unique ID, it should be quite easy to trace the vote, find out where it was made and when, and which candidate was voted for. Maybe even the machine it was cast on. If absolutely required, it could probably be traced to who made the vote, but that might be something prohibited by existing law.

    In any case, anything other than a unique ID means the system was not properly thought out, and certainly not properly tested.

    Frankly, I am appalled that voting systems are still so clearly out of sync with real world requirements.

    Then again, they seem to be perfectly in sync with Bush requirements, so I guess that's good enough.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No receipts...

    I voted in an election last year by turning up, showing my card, was given a piece of paper which I then marked and dropped in a box.

    There's also no receipt and it would be a huge breach of anonimity if it were possible to link my voting paper to my card.

    Machines may appear more ephemeral, and so enhance the feeling that nothing was actually done, but in the end you have the same proof.

  9. Sampler

    RE: Martin Budden

    If the printer was out of ink it would report back and say so - not print a blank sheet.

    If she was using a laser printer with a faulty corona wire though - that would be a different story....

  10. Branedy

    I voted in O'Neills Pub

    I voted in O'Neills Pub Dublin, with a paper ballot.

  11. Anonymous Coward


    "There's also no receipt and it would be a huge breach of anonimity if it were possible to link my voting paper to my card."

    I think you'll find your vote either had some little identifying holes on it, or a barcode of some type, to allow your vote to be linked back to you (should "they" need/want to do so).

  12. DZ-Jay


    "The answer is that this isn't really a democratic election as I see it. It is two separate private election within two different organizations, both independent from the government. If I am right about this they can do whatever they want"

    You are right, it is a private election by what are essentially private organizations, and therefore they can do whatever they want. However, the problem is -- as mentioned in the article -- that if no large problems are reported, the manufacturer of the system (or even the Democratic Party itself) will pressumably regard this as incontrovertible proof that fully electronic, Internet-based voting is safe and effective, and thus push for its use in real democratic (i.e. governmental) elections.

    But you are right, people in the United States tend to forget that primaries are mainly a private contest within an organization to pick their candidate. It's akin to us getting together to form a party and deciding to flip coins or play rock-paper-scissors to nominate our candidate. This is why there are no Federal laws controlling Primary contests (which is good).


  13. Richard Gadsden
    Black Helicopters

    Votes can be traced, but they aren't

    Anyone wanting to really observe the UK democracy can. It's very boring, though.

    Ballot papers have a serial number on the back

    The stub on the book (they're like giant cheque books) the ballot paper is taken out of has the same serial number on.

    Your voter number is written on the stub.

    The stubs are sealed in a tamper-visible bag at the close of poll, when the ballot box is sealed. The box is unsealed at the counting location; the stubs aren't.

    At the end of the count, the ballot papers are put into tamper-visible bags and sealed.

    The ballot papers and the stubs are stored in physically separate secure locations for a year and a day, after which they are taken out, the seals are checked and then the paper is destroyed (normally burnt) in public.

    If there is a court order, then the seals will be opened and individual ballot papers will be traced, so that the result can be corrected. This hasn't happened in over a century.

    Postal votes, on the other hand, I don't trust one bit. Way too easy to defraud.

  14. Steve


    secret != anonymous

    If you voted in an election in the UK your vote can be tied to the stub of the ballot paper, and that stub can be linked to you. It needs a court order to be able to assemble the information to make that link, but it is possible.

  15. Anonymous Coward

    Where's the URL?

    Can we all have a go?

    By the sound of things it shouldn't be too hard to hack into...

    They do have the Monster Raving Loonie party in the USA don't they?

    Oh yeah, sorry, they call them Republicans. :o)

    It's the Asbestos coat and gloves please.

  16. M. Burns Silver badge


    You overlooked the fact that the Primaries are not government elections. That is why the courts have refused to step in on subjects like Florida's Democratic Party primary not being counted by the Democratic Party. That's also why Internet Voting was allowed in the Democratic Primaries but not the Republican Primaries, and will not be allowed in the Presidential Election, which is a government election.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Either they're incompetent or it's an empty gesture"

    Shouldn't that read "They're incompetent and it's an empty gesture" - we are talking about politicians after all.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @M Burns

    If that is the case, then primary elections should be regulated in the same way as government elections.

  19. jai

    @Richard Gadsden

    "and then the paper is destroyed (normally burnt) in public."

    i did not know that

    is it done with any kind of ceremony or something? i kinda like the idea, it seems quite an old fashioned way of doing it and it'd be cool to see

  20. Shannon Jacobs

    Heck, Texans living abroad can't even vote

    I actually asked for voting information a couple of weeks ago and the office of the Secretary of State of Texas basically told me it would be more convenient if I didn't bother. It's been getting harder every time, like trying to use a bucket trying to turn back the tide. Funny thing. I thought Americans were supposed to be encouraged to vote.

    Silly me.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: No receipts...

    My point was really that you personally are left with nothing in either system.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    Software requirements

    Somebody sent the following requirements to the software developer for the internet voting:

    1) The voter should be able to print out a receipt for their vote

    2) The receipt must comply with U.S. voting rules.

    The poor slob must have said "That means a blank slip of paper. Should be jolly quick to code!"

    The people whose printout contained the name of the candidate were obviously using a beta version that got patched later.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Vote often

    Add this bit from the site:

    Can I vote in my home state, too? U.S. voters living overseas may vote for a presidential candidate in either the Democratic Global Primary or their state primary back home. You may not vote for president in both. (When you receive your state primary ballot, you can vote for all offices other than President, but you must not vote for President on that ballot.)

    The state ballot being secret......

  24. DZ-Jay


    >> "If that is the case, then primary elections should be regulated in the same way as government elections."

    You still do not seem to get it. Primary elections are not government elections, and should not be regulated as such. This is because primary elections are private elections by private entities. The Democratic Party is not a government institution, but a private organization and therefore have the right to choose whomever they please as their candidate, in whichever way they deem fit. The same for any other party.

    This is a right endowed by the First Ammendment of the U.S. Constitution: the people have the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of speech. As I mentioned in another post this is no different than you getting together with a bunch of friends and deciding to pick your own candidate for President (after all, anybody who fits the requirements can run). The government cannot tell you who to choose for your candidate nor how to choose him; you may want to choose yourself as a candidate (as independent candidates do) and nobody can tell you otherwise as long as you comply with the requirements. A political party is no more than a (possibly large) group of people that organize to choose and support a candidate for an office -- its like a big club.

    Sure, some large political parties may have become corrupt during the years, but regulating them is tricky since any law that affects private entities making private decisions will necessarily affect you and I and any individual citizen.


  25. Paul Murray

    private institutiuons

    The democratic party is not a "private institutiuon" - it is a registered political party. Heck - over here in Oz, elections in labour unions are run and regulated by the Australian Electoral Commission.

  26. Joanna Bryson

    auditing voting

    If you go to the verified voting website, you find out that quite a few states in the US still have no paper trail and even more have no mandatory auditing. So indeed the Democrats Abroad are no worse than voting in, say, Texas.

    Hopefully random external audits of elections will become an international democratic norm... one of these years!

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