back to article You can't spell 'electronics' without 'elect': The time for online democracy has come

E-voting over the internet is by common consent a bad idea. It has certainly had what looks like a very uneven history, with a handful of pilot projects usually leading to fairly stern analysis saying it's not fit to scale. No independent paper trail, no recounts, an immediate susceptibility to wholesale fraud: sticking paper …

  1. shortfatbaldhairyman

    April 1 today?

    1. Drew Scriver

      "Fifty-two different states with fifty-two different voting systems feed into an electoral college designed in the days of slavery."

      There was a candidate once who said "57 states", and he was elected president of the United States of America.

      But writing "52 states" in an effort to make the case for online democracy? The remainder of the article is equally challenged. The USA are not a country in the sense of a single European country like Belgium or the Netherlands. It's better compared to the European Union. Any takers to have Brussels dictate how the elections are run in each EU country?

      Then there's the misguided premise of "old is by definition bad, new is by definition good" that permeates the article like the scent of President Snow's roses...

      But hey, I'll play along. Currently, in order to vote you have to either be 18 (something about wisdom, life experience) or pass a civics test. Don't know how many seats there are in the House? Can't remember the name of the Speaker of the House? The number of Supreme Court Justices? Who wrote the Federalist Papers? No citizenship through naturalization, and no voting.

      So, let's drop the age limit and require everyone to take the current civics test for naturalization. Online, of course. If you can't pass the test you won't get to the ballot...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        >Any takers to have Brussels dictate how the elections are run in each EU country?

        You might find some takers, given that Brussels does in fact require European elections to be run under a proportional vote, party list/STV system.

        1. Clunking Fist Bronze badge

          "given that Brussels does in fact require European elections to be run under a proportional vote, party list/STV system."

          Well, except for pre-Brexit UK, obliviously.

          1. John Robson Silver badge

            EU elections are run proportionally - those are the elections which are governed by the EU.

            The UK had perfect sovereignty to hold its own elections how it saw fit previously - something that hasn't changed.

            Not that we have actually gained any sovereignty at all

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      It must April 1 somewhere...

      This can only really work if there's no hacking. No fraud. No "bought and owned admins". And the "code" the author speaks of.... who issues it? What protections from being mislaid, lost, or stolen? What about those who don't own a "smart phone" or a computer? I know quite a few who don't.

      Where I am here in the States, we vote by mail. Next to no fraud, etc. It's not perfect but there's no standing in line. No down time because the Interwebs have crashed. No hassles.

      This article sounds like a solution looking for a problem. And I think he has way too much faith in Tech and those who use and support it.

      1. Ken 16

        Blockchain

        At least the author didn't mention blockchain.

      2. JCitizen Bronze badge
        Happy

        Millennial...

        I wonder how many of the new kids on the block might refuse to vote until it does get online and easy? I'm not sure I blame them, despite the security difficulties! I'm afraid fewer and fewer eligible voters will bother to go to the polls, as time goes on.

      3. MachDiamond Silver badge

        "Where I am here in the States, we vote by mail. Next to no fraud, etc. "

        What?! No fraud? The reports of mislaid, binned and destroyed ballots are large and widespread. There are reports of absentee voters older than the oldest known citizens.

  2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

    Bought votes?

    One thing I've never seen a solution to when e-voting is mentioned is how you handle the problem of vote buying, that is how to maintain the secrecy of the ballot.

    Say I'm siting in a bar, moaning that it's waste of time voting, they're all the same, none of them will give me more money. Someone sits down beside me and offers me $100 to vote for their candidate. With traditional voting in a curtained cubicle they have no way to be sure that I stayed bought, and didn't just take their money & vote for someone else, but if they produce a tablet & have me enter the vote while they watch (or fill in a paper form which they take & post) they know for sure that they've bought a vote. Are there any e-vote solutions that address that?

    The obvious response is "it would cost too much to be worthwhile", but that isn't necessarily true. In Theresa May's 2017 UK election fiasco, 97 seats were won by a 5% margin or less, 16 seats were won with majorities of < 200, just a few hundred votes going the other way could have completely changed the composition of parliament.

    1. eldoc

      Re: Bought votes?

      That's the fault of the FPTP voting system. If the UK used a representative voting system like most of the rest of Europe do, then you don't end up with just a few hundred votes having a massive impact on the outcome, while on the flip side, millions of votes serving no purpose whatsoever.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Bought votes?

        No, you end up with a permanently hung parliament, and every vote ends up like the Brexit ones at the end of the T.May omnishambles. PR just makes minority parties like the DUP or LibDems into Kingmakers, where they have an influence out of all proportion to their share of the vote.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Bought votes?

          Rubbish. If that was the case, how did the SNP end in with a majority in 2011 for example. It's up to the parties to come up with an offer that enough people will vote for, not rig the system so they get to be in charge on little more than one third of the votes as happened, for example, in 2015 and 2005.

          If someone wants to pay me £100 for my vote, I'll take their money as, given where I live, my vote is worthless.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Bought votes?

            The UK?

        2. Geoffrey W

          Re: Bought votes?

          Whats wrong with a hung parliament? Most other countries in Western Europe just call them parliaments and get on with it. With a "no overall control" parliament you are more likely to get consensus on policies, rather than ideological policies that tend to benefit one small group or another, with everyone else suffering. Parties can share not only the success but also the failure , and we may actually get results that suit a larger demographic. Look at the current Covid crisis; One party is in control and doing a not very good job of it. This opens them to attack from the other parties who have nothing to lose. If they all got together to try and sort it out then, who knows, it might actually work better than now. If not then they all get the blame and we are in no worse a position than we currently are.

          See https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/221773.pdf for some better informed opinions than my nonsense.

          Disclaimer-This comment is a first draft and insufficiently thought out and may contain errors, factual, logical, or grammatical.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Bought votes?

            With a "no overall control" parliament you are more likely to get consensus on policies, rather than ideological policies that tend to benefit one small group or another

            You get the exact opposite. If there are a couple of large parties & several small ones, the small parties use their votes to support whichever of the larger parties they agree with, thus giving them a disproportionate share of control. If there's a broad spread of parties with no obvious large group then you end up with everyone voting for the position they dislike the least, the "mostly harmless" result of mediocrity and stagnation. No major disasters, but no progress either.

            Look at the current Covid crisis; One party is in control and doing a not very good job of it. This opens them to attack from the other parties who have nothing to lose. If they all got together to try and sort it out then, who knows, it might actually work better than now.

            That's working so well in places like Italy, they're on what now, the 61st government since the end of WW2? There's no reason at all that the various parties in Westminster couldn't co-operate, except that they'd rather score political points than do so. We saw the results of "co-operation" at the end of Theresa May's government, where she couldn't get any agreement on Brexit because Labour refused to vote for anything she proposed, even when they agreed with it, just to cause trouble.

            If not then they all get the blame and we are in no worse a position than we currently are.

            Oh we certainly would be. They all get the blame anyway. but permanent arguing with no decisions would just lead to a free-for-all.

            1. Geoffrey W
              Happy

              Re: Bought votes?

              RE: "no decisions would just lead to a free-for-all."

              Why? One of the west European countries - Denmark? Belgium? I don't recall but - They had no effective government for years and they seemed to do just fine. No political tinkering with existing systems to try and make them more in line with anyone's ideology. The country enjoyed a prolonged stability and benefited. You've been conditioned to believe hung parliaments are bad by people who benefit from majority parliament and don't want it to change.

              You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one!

        3. mdubash

          Re: Bought votes?

          So what if the minority parties did end up kingmakers? The point of PR is to enfranchise those who don't get represented because of the binary nature of FPTP. The world isn't that binary any more, old tribal loyalties have melted. So with PR, at least some of those whose views are not represented at all - and because of 'safe seats' aren't likely ever in their lifetimes to be so - will have some of their views turned into policy. That's a win for me.

    2. overunder Silver badge

      Re: Bought votes?

      "Bought votes?

      We'd be lucky to have parties try and buy our votes electronically or otherwise because after about 1,000 votes bought, at least 1 person would come forth or be caught bragging about it and the corruption would be exposed. So, an electronic voting system that can be audited in seconds by anyone? Sure, whatever makes it easier but sadly, regardless if the election is corrupt or not rest assured that the corrupt will still take seat.

      2,000 years ago at least 50% of the people (the poor) couldn't feasibly physically vote because they'd have to obtain a carriage and ride it for hundreds of miles each way for days, is it really any more feasible today? I'm not sure if electronic voting would be a "cure all", but it would surely nuke the entire reasoning of congress (bye house, bye senate)... baby steps.

    3. fajensen Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Bought votes?

      One thing I've never seen a solution to when e-voting is mentioned is how you handle the problem of vote buying

      In a similar way that Google handles AdWords!? Auction the digital votes off in The Market, of course!!

      Google, FaceBook, et. cetera. they have those digital avatars of us all, which supposedly knows us much better than we know ourselves, so is it not much more efficient if those avatars could join political parties and vote on "the issues"? I think it is!

      I think that politcal parties (and other commercial interests) would pay well to get sets of nice, segmented, digital voters - even if it was as a subscription service - VAAS!!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Bought votes?

        The American election would be much fairer and more efficent if the presidency was just put out to tender. The same people would get in but all the $Bn would go to the treasury instead of to facebook and billboard owners

    4. DS999 Silver badge

      Of all the problems with online voting

      Vote buying is the one I'm least worried about.

      Besides, what (other than a sign telling you not to) stops you from pulling out your phone to take a quick picture of your ballot with the candidate they paid you for filled in? If someone TRULY doesn't care about an election, what incentive do they have to not vote for the guy you paid them to vote for? Buying votes has been a tried and true American pastime since the days of Tammany Hall if not before, there is no way to eliminate it from any electoral system.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Of all the problems with online voting

        The fact that you could spoil the ballot after taking the picture? Optionally, then, throwing it away in sight of election officials and requesting another paper?

        All systems have weaknesses, the article is right about that. What it fails to do is to identify which specific weaknesses would be addressed by e-voting, and which wouldn't. Most of what it complains of is American federalism, gerrymandering and corruption, none of which would be alleviated in the slightest.

    5. jmch Silver badge

      Re: Bought votes?

      As you yourself mention, postal votes can be verifiable bought, its not exclusively an evoting problem. Plus, that type of fraud does not scale up well. A few hundred or few thousand votes here and there might be undetectably bought, but probably not enough to be decisive. For example the only proven US voting fraud in recent years involved postal ballots, and it was flagged and caught even with a level of, IIRC less than a thousand votes

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Bought votes?

        In 2016 it was estimated that 1000 strategically changed votes would have made the difference between a hung parliament and a clear Tory majority.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Bought votes?

          @AC

          "In 2016 it was estimated that 1000 strategically changed votes would have made the difference between a hung parliament and a clear Tory majority".

          "Estimated", an intellectual sounding word for "guessed". In reality, it means they have not got a clue.

          Cheers.. Ishy

        2. veti Silver badge

          Re: Bought votes?

          Yep, after the event you can sometimes make that sort of calculation. (Although even then it's usually wrong, frankly.) The trick would be, to make it before the election.

        3. Cynic_999 Silver badge

          Re: Bought votes?

          Easy to see that with hindsight. But if you were the party willing to buy an election, how would you know *beforehand* how many votes you would need to buy, and who from to ensure victory? And for that very uncertain outcome you would face the very real and very high risk of going to prison should just one person you tried to bribe tell the authorities.

    6. Cynic_999 Silver badge

      Re: Bought votes?

      That's just not true. If anyone is bribed to vote in a certain way at a polling booth, then you can be 100% sure that they have got some way to ensure that the bribed person has done what they were paid to do. The usual way is to have someone in the polling station that they have to show their completed voting slip to immediately before folding and putting in the ballot box. In fact, when it is suspected that there may be widespread bribery or intimidation of voters, the monitoring authority will look for signs of such "checkers".

      But in a Western country it would not be possible to bribe voters in sufficient numbers to make any significant difference whether online voting or not. The individual bribes would have to be large, and there would be bound to be quite a few people who tell the authorities that they were offered a bribe.

      Intimidation would be a bit easier with online voting. Not in a widespread way, but by a single member of a household dictation how the other members of the household voted. I'm not convinced that it would be prevelent enough to alter the outcome.

  3. lglethal Silver badge
    Go

    I just want to point out that all of the issues you point to with Manual Voting in the US are nothing to do with Manual Voting itself, and are entirely down to US Politics. In no other country where Manual Voting takes place are there the massive lines that are seen in the US, nor the Problems with counting, and other issues. Look at India, over a billion people, at least half of which can vote, and they dont queue for more then 30 minutes. Same in Australia, Germany, even in the UK.

    US Politics have made the problems in the US - onerous ID requirements designed to suppress certain sections of the voting population; reducing the number of locations where voting can take place; voting taking place during the week instead of on weekends or holidays, such that those who are working and cannot get time off cannot vote. All of these are byproducts of US Politics, and nothing to do with Manual Voting.

    And I'm afraid, your suggestion of Electronic Voting, wouldnt fix any of those problems. Those without electrical devices (the elderly and poor for example) would automatically be excluded (voter suppression once more). ID requirements would likey remain and would probably require you to either visit or send off those details to some government department, not making it any easier for the sections of society currently suppressed by such measures to vote. Additional requirements would likely be added so as to continue to suppress certain sections of society, if Electronic Voting took off. Time frames for voting would be closely controlled to limit voting by those deemed undesirable by the ruling party. I'm sure you can come up with further voter suppression techniques that could be used to continue to suppress "undesirable "voters.

    Before Electronic Voting will make the US more democratic, you would have to fix US politics first - gerrymandering, the electoral college, that all 50 state have different voting rules - these are all failures of US Politics. The choice of Manual Voting or Electronic Voting will fix none of those.

    Manual Voting works. It's proven throughout the West for a 100 years and more, that's why it's used. I'm glad Estonia are using Electronic Voting and works for them. But all it would take is one large failure, a hack, a changed election result, and confidence in that system will fall. Manual Voting requires an entirely corrupt system in order to fail, and by the time you've already reached that stage, (hello Belarus), the voting system, whether Electronic or Manual, is not going to fix anything. Plus it is easier to film bags of corrupt paper votes being carried into distribution centres, then to see a single changed value in a million lines of code.

    I know which one i trust...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Manual Voting requires an entirely corrupt system in order to fail, and by the time you've already reached that stage, (hello Belarus), the voting system, whether Electronic or Manual, is not going to fix anything.

      Malaysia also says hi...

      1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

        Nazi Germany

        In her memoir of Nazi Germany "The Past is Myself" Christable Bielenberg recounts that her husband was a teller at one of the referenda about Jewish rights. He personally counted that 99% of the paper ballots were against curtailing the rights of Jews (one even managed to write 'lick my a*%e' on the paper). When there result was announced by the NAZI party, it was 99% in favour of the proposal. But a at least the opposition knew the people were overwhelmingly against the NAZIs as it was a paper ballot.

        The only way to trust an electronic ballot is for the (encrypted) vote to be formally accepted before it is read (i.e. decrypted) so the voter gets a receipt signed with the Returning Officer's private key, before providing their deciphering key, and all votes should be published with the relevant deciphering key so everyone can validate every vote. The problem, as the OP points out is that you can then tell how everyone voted and voter intimidation or bribery can affect the outcome.

        As for foreign countries organising voting, that would probably constitute an act of war. Look at how Spain considered the Catalonian 'independence' ballot. (Oh, so we in the UK / USA / EU, don't like the Russian government, so how about WE organise a general election for the Duma?)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      While I agree with your post on the whole (with upvote), I want to address "onerous ID requirements".

      It appears that just about ANY requirement seems onerous to some.

      I don't see a basic gov't-issued photo ID requirement as particularly onerous, especially when so many day-to-business also require it (e.g.: banking, age verification for tobacco/alcohol, certain prescription meds).

      What-if example: If I knew my next door neighbor's name and address, without gov't-issued photo proof (and assuming the poll worker didn't have personal knowledge of my neighbor) there would be nothing stopping me from stealing his vote. And again a few hours later (different poll worker) for the neighbor on the other side. (And finally my own, via absentee.) If said neighbors go to vote after me, they would be rejected unless they had proof. If they did, the false-pretense ballots could be tracked down and subtracted from the automated count.

      If trying to get our population ID'd is a problem, then it sounds like the ID system itself needs help, and unfortunately the speculative solutions (e.g.: implanted palm chip with name, birthdate, location day after birth) have even greater issues on multiple fronts.

      (Caveat: No one checked a photo ID for me to do an absentee ballot this year. An online voting system could actually be designed more secure in this regard, in that I'd have to enter some unique data from my ID, rather than merely "matching" signatures from application to ballot envelope.)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        >It appears that just about ANY requirement seems onerous to some.

        Yes. Exactly that. As any technologist will tell you, requirements should always be matched to the challenge they are intended to solve. If one posits that you are attempting to combat electoral fraud, it is rational to look at the actual amounts of electoral fraud taking place.

        Even the most cursory of examinations will very quickly lead you to the conclusion that the answer is as-good-as-zero, therefore any requirement intended to combat electoral fraud is a requirement without basis in fact. Therefore what you're proposing is a serious and concrete barrier-to-entry to a process otherwise deemed to be a near-fundamental human right.

        Which is exactly why ID requirements are perennially and exclusively proposed by right-wing hate factories who are solely concerned with voter suppression and not electoral integrity.

        1. jmch Silver badge

          "the answer is as-good-as-zero"

          Downvoted for that. Electoral fraud isn't just on election day. District gerrymandering, voter suppression, selective availability of ballot boxes etc are all (institutionalised) fraud

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            >Downvoted for that. Electoral fraud isn't just on election day. District gerrymandering, voter suppression, selective availability of ballot boxes etc are all (institutionalised) fraud

            Actually none of those are electoral fraud. They are voter suppression, which is a completely distinct thing with its own universe of evils, not least because it is usually a perfectly legal act perpetrated by the tyranny of the state, usually against a minority/underrepresented group.

            Electoral fraud is a criminal act of interference with an election to improperly influence the outcome. It is almost invariably the fig-leaf of justification presented in defence of voter ID legislation, which is an act of legal voter supression perpetrated by the state.

        2. Cynic_999 Silver badge

          Absolutely ZERO ID is required to cast a paper vote. So long as I am certain that a particular person is not intending to vote, I can walk into their polling station, tell the person at the desk that I am that person, and cast a vote in their name with almost zero chance of it being detected.

          It always amazes me that people always demand that a computer system be 100% secure even when the system it is replacing is full of holes. It was the same when Mondex was proposed to replace cash. Many rejected it as being insecure - while ignoring the fact that while it was not 100% secure, it was far more secure (and convenient) than carrying cash notes in a wallet.

          1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

            The thing with Modex isn't the security issue. It's that you don't need anybody's permission to use a ten pound note, you need the card issuer's permission to use a card.

            1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

              "

              The thing with Modex isn't the security issue. It's that you don't need anybody's permission to use a ten pound note, you need the card issuer's permission to use a card.

              "

              Totally and completely incorrect. The Mondex card was generic and not issued to any individual. It was effectively a wallet, and could legitimately be used by anyone, not only the person who it was originally issued to, (ultimately the plan was to have them freely for sale just like wallets). It worked standalone and did not communicate with any bank or financial institution. Unlike a debit or credit card, the money was contained in the card's memory. You could have as many cards as you wanted just as you can have as many wallets as you want. How much money you put in each was up to you. Put £5 in the card you give to your 8 year old for their lunch money, or put £300 in the card you intend to take to the supermarket to do a week's shopping. Lose the card and, like losing a wallet, you lose the money. If the card is stolen you cannot cancel it or get the money back from a bank any more than you can cancel a £20 note that is stolen. It did however have the facility to lock it with a PIN, which made it less desirable to a thief.

          2. YetAnotherITGuy

            My wife and I went to vote during US primaries and we had to go to a specific polling station shown for our polling district on our voter registration card and show ID when we enter the polling station which was checked against the list of registered voters for that district, before we were allowed to enter a polling booth and cast our vote. I would not call that "ZERO ID".

          3. Ken 16

            Untrue. I've always been asked for ID when voting. What third rate banana republic do you live in?

            1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

              England. I just go to the voting station with the white card sent to my address, they cross my name out on their list of people on the electrol roll for that district, and hand me a voting slip. If I did not have the white card they would just ask me for my name (which it specifically states on the card). I have never had to produce any ID at all when voting for a UK election.

          4. JCitizen Bronze badge
            FAIL

            I don't know about that...

            I live in a very small town, where EVERYONE knows the other, and when I vote, I have to show my ID, and they check to make sure I'm also registered to vote - NO EXCEPTION! You would think this should not be required by one dog towns, but folks in those communities are the very ones that want the vote to be legal and fair, so they enforce the rules TO THE LETTER - no matter what!

        3. Ghostman

          The challenge is: Are you who you say you are, and are you registered to vote?

          Your state issued drivers license or photo ID card (Military ID is good too) can be used.

          If you wish to cash a check, what do you use for identification?

          If you drive, what do you have to have to drive a vehicle?

          If you wish to pawn something, which I've heard that some people do when they need ready cash, what do you present in order to complete the transaction?

          When you are called for jury duty, which uses the voter registration rolls, what do you use for ID when asked?

          So again, tell me how Voter ID is a form of voter suppression since there are a myriad of things a DL or State issued ID is used for.

          Would you think a DNA sample would be voter suppression?

          1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

            As said, I have never once been asked for proof of ID in any UK election (and I've voted in many). So long as the name I give appears on their list (taken from the electrol roll), I am handed a voting slip. I cannot see how it would be legal to demand ID before allowing a person to vote, seeing that ID cards are not (yet) mandatory in the UK.

          2. MachDiamond Silver badge

            "Would you think a DNA sample would be voter suppression?"

            The police can't even process all of the rape kits and DNA evidence collected at a crime scene. There is no way that it would be viable as an ID for voting. An argument might be made for using DNA to get an official ID, but that's pounding in a picture hook with a 10lb sledge.

            I don't see it as voter suppression, but some big medical firm angling for a massive government contract to do the testing at inflated pricing.

        4. MachDiamond Silver badge

          "it is rational to look at the actual amounts of electoral fraud taking place."

          After President Trump took office he called for states to examine their voter roles. They all said no. Most claimed that they had no fraud or so little that it wasn't worth the effort. My belief is they want to maintain the narrative that it's insignificant and if they actually look and find a bunch, they lose face. Politicians will choose reputation over honesty and integrity every time.

      2. John Robson Silver badge

        "While I agree with your post on the whole (with upvote), I want to address "onerous ID requirements".

        It appears that just about ANY requirement seems onerous to some."

        Any ID that costs anything is too onerous.

        And that cost isn't limited to financial cost. What government issued ID does everyone have?

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          >What government issued ID does everyone have?

          And is accepted?

          It says "Martin L King" on your driving license, but "Martin Luther King Jnr" on your birth certificate = you don't get to vote

        2. Ghostman

          In Georgia, USA, a Georgia State issued Voter ID is FREE and is good for 8 years.

          1. MachDiamond Silver badge

            Most states that I'm aware of will forgo the cost of an ID if a person is on assistance. An ID is needed to get welfare services.

      3. DS999 Silver badge

        The problem isn't the ID requirement per se

        Even if offered for free (which it has to be to avoid becoming a defacto "poll tax" IMHO) the requirements to prove you are who you say you are to OBTAIN the ID is where the voter suppression occurs.

        Poor people tend to move often since they always rent and never own, and sometimes don't move by choice (i.e. eviction) so stuff like birth certificates or social security cards can be lost. Poor people often don't have access to banking and lack of proof of ID is one of the reasons - that's why places like Walmart offer check cashing services. No health care means they don't have to worry about prescription meds, etc. Go look at the requirements for obtaining a voter ID and tell me how these people will meet them.

        I don't have a problem with voter ID laws, so long as the state is required to provide a way for everyone to get an ID acceptable for voting free of charge and with a process that takes into account some people may have no government issued proof of ID. Maybe allow a non related person who already has a government issued picture ID (i.e. can prove who they are) to attest to your identity under penalty of perjury.

        FWIW despite an upper middle class upbringing I never had possession of either my SS card or birth certificate. My dad was a packrat who saved everything but could find nothing. It wasn't until he died and my brother went through all the stuff in his study that my birth certificate turned up. Luckily I'd had a passport since I was 5 (probably applying for that was the last time he knew where my birth certificate was) so I was able to use that to get my driver's license the first time. If not I'm not sure how I would have got that driver's license...

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: The problem isn't the ID requirement per se

          In the USA it's generally on the lines of:

          "born in hospital with a $50K bill paid by insurance = birth certificate automatically linked to voting"

          "born at home, have to hope the local church where your birth was registered 18years ago is still there, get a copy of the birth registry notarised by a notary and submit that to the voting office.

          I can't think of anyway that this could have any racial bias

          1. ButlerInstitute

            Re: The problem isn't the ID requirement per se

            "church where your birth was registered"

            Do you mean the USA doesn't have national (or state) registration? (ie that you have to rely on a church/hospital/town council keeping records)

            The UK has had that since 1836 (actually that's England & Wales, Scotland and Ireland were a couple of decades later). A "birth certificate" in the UK is a certified copy of an entry in the register. There is nothing special, I don't think, about the original one from the time, ie the one with the actual ink from the registrar/priest/doctor. I know people like to have that one, but I don't think it is special.

      4. veti Silver badge

        As you say, it sounds easy. Yet it almost never happens. Every study, including Trump's own commission on the subject, shows that.

        Sure, you can steal your neighbour's vote. Then the neighbour tries to vote and is rejected. What happens then? Does the neighbour go home and forget it?

        Probably not. More likely, they make a complaint. The complaint goes to the police. CCTV footage is checked. You are caught. Now you've committed a serious crime, with serious penalties, for the sake of getting *one* extra vote.

        It's like robbing a bank and walking off with $11.45. Who exactly thinks that would be worth the risk?

        1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

          "Then the neighbour tries to vote and is rejected. What happens then? Does the neighbour go home and forget it?"

          In the UK system, the elector is given a "pink ballot" which they use to vote, and it is stored seperately. At the count, if there are any pink ballots that would effect the vote, the ballots are sorted to find the matched serial number of the personated ballot (a *HUGE* task at even a council election), and it is replaced with the pink ballot.

        2. MachDiamond Silver badge

          "The complaint goes to the police. CCTV footage is checked."

          In the UK there is CCTV everywhere, but not in the US. The other issue is that ballot are secret. Even if there is a CCTV camera being recorded, how do they determine who voted under what name? There could be hours and hours of footage to go through and no good way to identify each person. The simpler solution is to check ID's. If you don't have one, and you've had plenty of notice to get one, you don't get to vote. The world won't end and you won't lose an eye and you'll be better prepared the next time.

          I'm of the opinion that somebody that can't produce a basic ID to vote is not somebody I want to be voting in the first place.

      5. JulieM

        Low Tech Solution

        Universal Franchise means there is no such thing as a person who is not allowed to vote at all, just a person who has already voted. And you don't care who has or has not voted once the polls close. So this problem is easily resolved with a Sharpie.

      6. MachDiamond Silver badge

        "If they did, the false-pretense ballots could be tracked down and subtracted from the automated count."

        That's the problem. It's a secret ballot so they don't have a correlation between a name and the ballot that's deposited.

    3. Krassi

      Note to Register: please ask Mr/Ms iglethal to write for you in future.

      The basic issues are understanding and trust. Nearly everyone can understand paper ballots, there are simply understood checks and process to verify the results. Ordinary people can and do help verify paper ballot processes as election observers. For example, the political parties will often have people counting the numbers of voters entering each polling station , hence getting a check on total votes cast by area (no missing boxes); the overall count is public and witnessed by the parties and by the general public and so on. Also it is a good thing that members of the public volunteer to sit all day in the polling station or work at the counts, being an essential part of democracy. It is much healthier that participation in democracy means more than clicking.

      99% plus of us will never understand cryptographic methods in IT or be able to verify that they have worked . It is an invitation to conspiracy theories. And if you say - what about online banking: I can verify electronic banking transactions by looking at my bank balance, and I trust on-line banking that far. I can't verify if my electronic vote and everyone else's has arrived correctly.

      As Iglethal and others have noted, electronic voting doesn't address the real problems in existing electoral systems (eg in UK - first past the post vs proportional, what the 2nd chamber is for etc ). Paper balloting can even be extremely fast - in UK general elections some areas have declared a result less than 1 hour after the polling stations closing.

      1. Vikingforties

        It's a point worth expanding. The number of people who are then able to observe and check elections is vastly reduced to those with a grasp of the security involved and ways of circumventing it. This would apply to local party workers or international election observers.

        A quick exercise: Let's assume 90% of people are capable of understanding paper based voting and 0.1% of them are actually interested in having a look. My finger in the air indicates that less than 1% of people are capable of understanding electronic voting and the same proportion, 0.1%, are actually interested. That's a large difference in the pool of people you have that can bring some trust to the election result.

      2. MGJ

        Electoral System

        The electoral system used for British general elections is not FPTP, it is plurality. The candidate in the constituency with the most votes wins. No post to be first past. That is the French system, where the candidate with 50%+1 of votes cast is elected, with a second round, normally between the top two candidates, where no one got past the post in the first round. The system used in Scotland, with a mix of constituencies and regional seats balances the need to have a local MSP with broad proportionality. It was designed to prevent/make very unlikely any government being from a single party but has delivered a majority once (and on current polling will do so again next year).

        Electronic voting is a solution to a problem that doesnt really exist. Building a complicated system used once in four or five years isnt worth it. These issues were covered very well in The Stainless Steel Rat for President.

        1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

          Re: Electoral System

          Where on earth do you live? You mentioned the UK, surely you've noticed elections happen *EVERY* *YEAR* in most of the UK, at least every two years everywhere.

          1. MGJ

            Re: Electoral System

            UK parliament has elections every five years under the Fixed Term Parliament Act; last year was pretty unusual. Point remains; you dont create something incredibly expensive and unsecure, with a whole new host of problems to sort an issue of rare surge demand. Different systems for different types of elections just makes that worse.

      3. MachDiamond Silver badge

        I see the analog voting with paper ballots as difficult to hack at that level to any great extent. Physical ballots can be tallied several times by different operators in different rooms and each count check against the others. All of the counts should be exactly the same and errors can be caught right away.

        With electronic voting a hack can affect thousands of votes on a local level and millions on a state level and be uncorrectable. There is no way to hand count electronic votes if the voting terminal has been tampered with by using a paper tally. The paper tally would also be incorrect if the rouge software was good. Test runs can be detected if the terminal has a clock. Any date/time outside of when polls are open can be counted accurately.

    4. disgruntled yank Silver badge

      Also

      I would also remark that a typical US election will have a lot of offices on one ballot. In Washington, DC, this can mean council member for one's ward, two at-large council members, non-voting delegate to Congress, shadow representative to congress, advisory neighborhood commissioner, a couple of school board members.

      If anything, this is simpler than in many places, since we don't have a state legislature (bicameral everywhere but I think Nebraska) a governor, or county commissioners. All this slows down voting as well as tabulation.

      In a few places, I guess, one can still vote a straight party ticket with the same effort as voting for one office; but I've voted in three jurisdictions over forty-odd years without seeing that.

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: Also

        "I guess, one can still vote a straight party ticket with the same effort as voting for one office;"

        "Party Tickets" haven't been allowed for decades. Each office must be voted for individually other than President/Vice President.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      And there speaks someone who knows little about voting in other countries...

      One of the advantages of having multiple citizenship, I've got three, and family that lives in a whole bunch of countries, we currently cover six, is that I know exactly how the voting systems works in a whole bunch of European countries, as well as the US..

      For a start no other country, bar Switzerland, actually asks its citizens to vote on so many subjects at multiple levels of government as the US does. Dont know how it is in your state this year but on my local ballot is not only all the Federal level stuff, Prez, Congress, etc, the State stuff, Assembly etc. no Gov etc this year, City elections, School boards etc. Then we have the State propositions and local Ballot measure. Plus a whole bunch of other stuff. Pages of it.

      In the UK its a single X by a name at a general election and the same for local elections and thats pretty much it. There are STV elections every now and then (a bit more complicated, you have to order your preference). But thats it. And a referendum every now and then but they never seem to have much effect....

      There is a bit more work voting in France, Germany, Italy etc. But not that much. Just national, regional / provincial / state , municipal (commune) but still an absolute doddle compared even with a typical off year US election ballot.

      I'm confused by your comment about voter ID and limited polling places. In my neck of the woods the only time you *might* be challenged for ID is first time vote with mail in reg. Thats it. And every third or fourth block in the City and suburbs there is a polling places, in some business, or someones garage etc when no school, city building etc available. To someone very used to the exceptionally limited polling options in almost all European countries, one specified place in constituency where you are registered to vote and prepare to show photo ID and polling card and nowhere else, the lengths the US goes to enable its citizens to vote was a revelation. Americans take democracy seriously. Like the Swiss.

      Electronic voting has no place in American system (or anywhere else) for a whole bunch of reasons. Given how widespread fraud is in the currents system (motor voter, impersonation, vote harvesting etc) electronic voting would make voting fraud trivial. At least with the manual system the fraudster have to do some real work and there is at least some paper trail. Even if they do chuck the evidence in the ocean to try to hide it. Guess which city that was..

      If you had actual real world familiarity with how democracy works in other countries you might appreciate just what an amazing system the US has. No matter how imperfect it tries its best to push actual decisions down the system as much as possible for ordinary citizens to decide. Whenever I run into smug Europeans (non-Swiss) trashing the US based purely on whatever garbled partisan cliches they might think are informed opinions I always ask them - when was the last time your government asked you to vote on a tax, a bond or on a law? And would then abide by your vote? The answer is never. At least in the US the system trusts its citizens to actually run the place rather than be treated by the ruling elites in all other countries (bar Switzerland, of course) as little more than a barely tolerated nuisance

      So ever year there is a large ballot to fill out. Every second year there is a larger one. And then every fourth year is the really big one. And that's why there are only two true democracies in the world. The United States and Switzerland. Everywhere else you are basically just filling out an opinion poll which maybe once a generation might have any real impact on how your country is governed. Maybe. In the UK the last two were 1979 and 2016. All the rest were just very minor disturbances of the body politic.

      Maybe you should get out in world more, it might make you appreciate just how lucky you are. The US system aint perfect, far from it, but you should see the alternatives.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: And there speaks someone who knows little about voting in other countries...

        >I'm confused by your comment about voter ID and limited polling places. In my neck of the woods the only time you *might* be challenged for ID is first time vote with mail in reg. Thats it. And every third or fourth block in the City and suburbs there is a polling place...

        Then you should count yourself lucky. In the city of Atlanta, the number of voters-per-polling-place has jumped by 40% between 2012 and 2020. Across GA as a whole 90% of precincts simply refuse to comply with state law requiring a certain number of polling places per voter. This has enabled the state to effectively and industrially disenfranchise Black and POC communities. If you live in a significantly non-white Georgia precinct your average polling wait time is 51 minutes. If you live in a white one it is six minutes.

        You might believe the US as a whole to take democracy seriously, but the evidence to the contrary is strong and convincing. From the outside, looking in, the "right to vote" and how that is physically enacted is all to often nothing more than a tool for legal suppression of underrepresented minority groups.

        >Given how widespread fraud is in the currents system (motor voter, impersonation, vote harvesting etc)

        For those keeping track at home, the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, convened by Trump and chaired by Pence, found no evidence whatsoever of widespread fraud in the US electoral system.

        1. Ghostman

          Re: And there speaks someone who knows little about voting in other countries...

          Sorry to bust your bubble, but I'm white and it took 2 hours to vote last election. This time i voted early and it took several hours on a Monday to do so.

          What state law are you referring to? I can't find what you're posting about anywhere in Georgia law.

          It seems you have an axe to grind and don't care if what you use to portray it is true or not.

          I bet you still believe that Kemp kept 87,000 black voters from the polls in the last election. You do know that there were white, Asian, Hispanic, native Americans, and others in that group.

          That included those who were being purged from the rolls because they were dead, had not voted in over 7 years, filled out their voter applications wrong or incomplete.

          Note: Those that showed up at the polls were given a provisional ballot and given a week to provide correct information (as in: I'm not dead, I may not have voted in a while, but I'm here now) phone number address, finish filling out the form. If the information on the voter registration wasn't corrected in that time, the provisional ballot was rejected.

          Your gun grabbing friend Stacy just caused a lot of people to get pissed off because she didn't give the whole story.

          1. MachDiamond Silver badge

            Re: And there speaks someone who knows little about voting in other countries...

            "This time i voted early and it took several hours on a Monday to do so."

            Whoops, elections are not conducted on Mondays.

        2. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: And there speaks someone who knows little about voting in other countries...

          "For those keeping track at home, the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, convened by Trump and chaired by Pence, found no evidence whatsoever of widespread fraud in the US electoral system."

          No, the States refused to participate. The Federal Government does not conduct the vote. It's the responsibility of each State to conduct elections although there are some Federal Guidelines for Federal Office elections. San Fransisco thought it would be a great idea to allow illegal aliens the right to vote for city offices, but the city can't allow them to vote in State or Federal elections.

          The States were probably reluctant to audit their voter roles due to the likelihood of finding fraud, and all sorts of ineligible people on the roles. That would just make them look bad and there was nothing that required them to do the task. It would also cost a fair amount of money that would not buy them any votes in the same way as some free stuff program would.

      2. Ghostman

        Re: And there speaks someone who knows little about voting in other countries...

        Hi, I'm Jerry, and I approve this message.

    6. Jaybus

      I agree with your assessment of electronic voting, but disagree with your assessment of US election issues. For one, I suppose it might be different some places, but my experience with in-person voting in 3 different states over the past few decades doesn't support that view. I'll address some of the points that you bring up.

      I've never queued for even as long as 30 minutes, perhaps 10 minutes this year. Here, in Tennessee, we have early in-person voting for a full 2 weeks prior to and including election day, as well as solicited mail-in absentee voting. People in nursing homes vote.

      There are laws against preventing workers from going to vote. One cannot be fired for going to vote. Many (most?) states have early in-person voting for days or weeks, so there's no excuse for a worker not to vote. In most cases they can certainly vote even without missing work, but they can otherwise bring suit against the company for preventing them from voting.

      ID requirements are not so stringent as you think. A state ID can be obtained for free, otherwise any state-issued ID or a passport can be used. Seriously? Other than illegal residents, who does not have some sort of ID? If by stringent you mean that it hampers illegal residents from voting, then I suppose you are right. But do you know of any nations that do permit foreign nationals to come in and vote?

      As for the electoral college, how is it any worse than the selection of the President of the EC, which would be analogous to the US Congress selecting the US President. In fact, one faction at the Philadelphia convention advocated for just that. Another advocated for a popular vote. The popular vote was opposed by small states who feared being bullied by Philadelphia and Boston. So they ended up with a compromise. The President of the EC is not selected by popular vote for the same reason; the German and French candidates would have a distinct advantage.

    7. MachDiamond Silver badge

      "onerous ID requirements designed to suppress certain sections of the voting population"

      I heartily disagree. Showing an ID to verify you are who you say you are is not onerous. Most people have a driver's license, but States have ID's for those that don't drive. I'm having to show an ID usually several times a week. Alcohol and tobacco purchases, banking, etc. There are also less frequent times such as when getting a library card or when picking up a registered package.

      1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

        So, for whose benefit is this ID? A driving licence shows you have passed (or are in the process of taking instruction in passing) the test that gives permission for you to drive. A passport gives you the right to travel outside your country's borders*. This state ID does... what, exactly? This is the problem with State ID - there are no advantages to the individual in having one - the benefit accrues only to the State.

        *More or less - I'm not getting into the complexities here.

  4. Dave 126 Silver badge

    Tech implementation is only first step.

    You could make a technologically superb system, formally verified, open source, audited by dozens of teams and pen-tested by anyone hoping to snag a huge bug bounty.... But would these measures convince the man on the street?

    How do you overcome the belief that data bits zipping around wires are somehow ephemeral, when bits of paper seem more tangible?

    I'm not saying its impossible, but it seems at least a big a hurdle as the technical side.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Tech implementation is only first step.

      >How do you overcome the belief that data bits zipping around wires are somehow ephemeral, when bits of paper seem more tangible?

      Well you'll face something of a challenge here, given that pieces of paper are in fact tangible and bits zipping around wires are in fact ephemeral.

  5. MiguelC Silver badge

    Why it won't happen anytime soon

    You started by stating the obvious: "If the US had a single electronic voting system across the country, with access for those without the right personal technology, and it was reliable, trustworthy, and efficient, then democracy would be much better served. No wonder there's such strong pressure against it."

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why it won't happen anytime soon

      If you represent the majority then it's in your interests to hold free and fair elections and count all the votes. Otherwise its in your interests to bypass those security devices and suppress votes.

      Article's author hypothesizes a perfect system in a perfect world that simply does not exist.

      There isn't a safeguard you can make, that cannot be unmade.

      You can make a server with blockchain, and verifiable, and Kemp will have it wiped before you get to check those blockchains. His political appointee appeals court judge will declare that wipe legal, his political Secretary of State can cancel mail-in ballots because they are too auditable and sue counties for making voting easy. Your blockchain won't ever get run.

      Students don't vote for you? No problem, simply declare student id invalid for voting! Your system just makes that easier to block their votes. No legal challenge possible, because the machine rejected the chance to even vote.

      Old people vote for you? No problem, declare being old the only valid reason to get a mail-in ballot! And being young a reason to use these dodgy machines!

      Putin kills US troops in Afganistan, and Trump rushes to defend.... Putin. Well then, better block mail-in ballots from soldiers received from Afghanistan. Their ballots will arrive late, and Kavanaugh 'owes you a favor though', so he won't mind blocking those late ballots from being counted.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Why it won't happen anytime soon

        I have to disagree with your first sentence. If you represent the majority then it's in your interests to make changes to the voting system which will tend to ensure you stay in power, even when you no longer represent the majority. Or to refuse changes to the voting system which would make it less likely for you to stay in power.

        Most politicians appear to be more interested in staying in power, rather than representing the electorate.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Why it won't happen anytime soon

          I think it's now a statistical fact that in in the USA demographics mean one party should win forever.

          The other side can only win by 'strategic' use of boundaries, the electoral college and discouraging certain voters.

          1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

            Re: Why it won't happen anytime soon

            Tosh! The other side simply has to move towards the centre and split the vote of the "demographically favoured" party. It's why FPTP always results in a two-party system with a squeezed middle.

    2. DS999 Silver badge

      A single system across the whole US is a terrible idea

      From the outside, and especially this cycle with Trump doing everything he can to suppress votes and even suppress COUNTING of legal votes, our system looks stupid.

      But states acting independently is a strength, not a weakness. If the federal government was responsible for the election, that means the executive branch would be responsible for running it. There would be zero chance of voting out Trump after he installed his cronies in key positions over the past few years. Even if he was caught red handed the only way to stop it would be to impeach him. Good luck with that, republicans in the senate would never get rid of a guy who could guarantee they keep their seat as long as they want it!

      With the states all running their own election a wannabe dictator would have to corrupt enough of them to win the electoral college majority. And yes, the electoral college though archaic provides another layer of protection - you can't corrupt the results in one big state like Texas or California and "run up the score" by providing results indicating 90% of the people voted and 90% of them of voted for you that would be enough to overwhelm legitimate results from the other 49.

      If as looks likely (though still concerned enough to "believe it when I see it") Trump is voted out, it will ONLY be because of our screwed up system. There are a lot of problems with the voting system in the US, and it could do with some more uniformity of how things are conducted across the various states. But it should ALWAYS be run by the individual states. That system that everyone criticizes is the only reason the US won't become a dictatorship no matter how much Trump wishes it could be.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Unfortunately this article falls apart on one, crucial premise in the second paragraph.

    >That all sounds fine, until you look at the state of non-electronic democracy right now.

    The hugely relevant facts that are missing here are manifold. Most notably you need to be clear you're talking strictly about US democracy: there are plenty of other western democracies not plagued by industrialised, partisan voter suppression and gerrymandering that don't suffer the same consequent issues. More immediately, you must be aware that the overwhelming majority of US ballots are in fact already cast electronically. In the last presidential round near-enough 100% of votes were cast in jurisdictions using either direct-entry or optical-scan ballots. Yes these may have physical backups, but they are at their core e-Voting systems, so your whole premise is invalid unless you want to work to explore why _your_ e-Voting proposal is superior to the ones what we've got.

    Fundamentally if you replaced those half a dozen broken, shit systems we've got today a hundred, shiny, tech-bro endorsed hypersolutions, the end result would be a hundred new ways for the vote to be suppressed and hijacked. Your proposal is the worst of all worlds.

    And from there, frankly, we're off to the deep end:

    >Last time, as it usually does, the Republican party lost the popular vote and won the presidency

    In all of US partisan electoral history, this has happened exactly four times, and frankly I think you're going to struggle to be taken seriously if you think a result from 1888 should be entered into an argument concerning electronic voting. Likewise I don't see how you're connecting the dots from voting reform to fixing the electoral college. Stick to facts, not hyperbole.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I wrote a similar comment before reading yours, which is better! :)

  7. Ochib

    Relevant Tom Scott

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LkH2r-sNjQs

  8. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Advantages of hand-marked, paper ballots

    1. They are a legal document, voter-marked, expressing their intent

    2. They are visually verifiable

    3. They are robust and can be stored for years, if need be

    4. They are both machine and hand countable, as many times as necessary

    5. They are inexpensive to create

    6. They are not "hackable", at least much harder to hack

    Contrast the above with "electronic voting machines", which require maintenance, storage between elections, setup and testing, and have been shown to be less than reliable, due to all the things that happen to digital hardware. Then, there's the code that runs (or doesn't) on them. And the "now you see it, now you don't" totals (were they correct in the first place?).

    Paper ballots have a lot going for them, while the only thing going for EVMs is the bottom line of the companies that make, maintain and program them.

    I would propose that with so much riding on the outcome of elections nowadays, the KISS principle applies here. Paper ballots also have the advantage of being tangible...if you have 1000 voters, you know what the pile of ballots should look like.

    1. Fred Daggy

      Re: Advantages of hand-marked, paper ballots

      I think a hybrid system has some chance of working.

      Basically, enter your selections on a computer. Ballot is printed (works well with first past the post systems, not so much the Australian Senate Ballot paper). Printed paper is available for perusal and verification. If it checks out, punter clicks "ok" and paper ballot goes in to sealed ballot box. Pnuematic tubes and all that, clear, so it can be seen to go in by said punter.

      Upon clicking "ok", the electronic ballot is registered. Printed paper means that the there can be a recount in case of suspected fraud or tampering. There is still the possibility for manual, postal, ballots Special ballot papers for the blind and visually impaired.

      Discrepancies *should* be in the low single digits per polling place. Except for the human factor of course.

      Goddam it, if we want to then the flunkies could even organise so that each ticket has a qr code the punters could scan so that the whole lot is pre-selected, then the above mentioned steps take place.

      1. The BigYin

        Re: Advantages of hand-marked, paper ballots

        > Basically, enter your selections on a computer.

        Failed at the first hurdle. The rest is meaningless.

        1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

          Re: Advantages of hand-marked, paper ballots

          https://youtu.be/EV_c1-YTk8M?t=36

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Advantages of hand-marked, paper ballots

        Since this is a printed ballot, not a hand complete one, I can easily print off replacement ballots and swap them for the ones you printed.

        I do not need people to sit with pen and paper and fill in the ballots by hand to make them plausible, so you've made it far easier for me, the hypothetical attacker, to attack your election. One man and a printer can run off tens or hundreds of thousands of ballots, I don't need 100-1000 people included in the attack plot anymore.

        The pen and paper election system is tried and trusted and worked for decades, the electronic ones have been ridiculously backdoored.

        Look at the Kemp election, he ran his own election, oversaw his own count, oversaw his own equipment, oversaw his own servers, it had no paper trail, when the servers went to be checked, he'd already had them wiped.

        That election should have been voided, you don't destroy evidence if you have nothing to hide. Kemp clearly had something to hide.

        Electronic voting has zero benefit.

        Not even the "blind can use it" bullshit, they cannot read the screen, the braille ballot could at least be touched! They cannot read the audit paper trail either, even on machines that have one. They just add new attack vectors.

        1. Fred Daggy

          Re: Advantages of hand-marked, paper ballots

          Never said the punter has it. Can be displayed behind glass. That was the point about using clear mechanics. Often used in lottery draws to help ... transparency.

          Plenty of hard writing type fonts available, ballots can be stuffed, no matter what.

        2. DS999 Silver badge
          WTF?

          Re: Advantages of hand-marked, paper ballots

          How could you print off a ballot that has a bar code that's based partly on a unique serial number and partly on the selections made in the ballot? It is trivial to set up a system so that a fake ballot could not be printed out and added to the stack, that's not even a hard problem.

          My state uses paper ballots upon which is affixed a sticker with a unique bar code, and they obviously know which stickers they have printed/used so ballot stuffing is impossible. At worst if you duplicated the bar code on my ballot's sticker there would be two ballots and you'd wipe out my vote - but that assumes there aren't some other "secret" measures like watermarks, a second UV readable bar code on the underside of the sticker, type of glue etc. for them to tell your counterfeit from my genuine.

          While I agree that having a touchscreen that prints off a human readable ballot adds little value over just filling in the boxes yourself the idea that you could print off replacement ballots is ludicrous. You must think they hired someone from the Walmart checkout line to set up elections if you think something as stupid as that would work.

        3. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: Advantages of hand-marked, paper ballots

          "Not even the "blind can use it" bullshit, they cannot read the screen,"

          If you need assistance, you are welcome to bring somebody with you. Poll workers can't help fill out your ballot other than answer questions about how it's done.

          In the US there isn't any requirement to read and write English to gain citizenship. I always ask for my printed materials in Russian to be a PIA. Yes, I can read Russian (for a limited value of "read"). I can swear the air blue which is something you pick up readily if you have friends that came from Russia. Always a useful skill when interacting with government flunkies.

    2. My other car WAS an IAV Stryker Silver badge

      Re: Advantages of hand-marked, paper ballots

      "6. They are not "hackable", at least much harder to hack"

      As usual, the humans in the loop (voter, counters, etc.) are the easiest pieces to hack.

      Pithy comeback aside, there is one major vulnerability: absentee ballots. Ballots kept in semi-secured spaces -- clerks offices, polling places, locked storage -- are less likely to be "hacked", but one must admit that ballots that go through the mail (either/both direction(s)) have a greater risk of being stolen, tampered, etc.

      Yet despite that risk, I believe it's secure enough to use for my vote. It worked this year and I may stick with it. I'll even show ID to my mail carrier if necessary to receive the ballot (if only the USPS had Amazon's/UPS's/Fedex's tech to verify deliveries).

      1. The BigYin

        Re: Advantages of hand-marked, paper ballots

        The meatsacks are easier to "hack" one-on-one perhaps but it does not scale well at all. However if you hack the hard/software once, you can hack them all. This scales in a way that meatsack fiddling does not.

        Missing ballots, again, does not scale well. It can become obvious that things are missing and recounts/revotes taken. If you hack the hard/software no vote is missing, you simply alter it to what you want. This is much harder to spot.

        That said, mail voting is the most likely form of meat-space voting to be fiddled with; often in places of multiple occupancy where one person can collect the ballots and vote on them all. This happens in some communities more than others.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Advantages of hand-marked, paper ballots

        >As usual, the humans in the loop (voter, counters, etc.) are the easiest pieces to hack.

        This isn't even remotely true. Convincing other people to engage in illegal activity on your behalf or hoodwinking people to do so without realising it is actually really quite hard. Most people are fundamentally decent. Most people working in a public service capacity will embrace the oversight necessary to verify that they are doing their jobs correctly. Fooling everyone in that network of cross-oversight is a near-insurmountable feat of corruption.

        All it takes to compromise an electronic voting system is a couple of million dollars and some skilled APT types with the means to do so, and that scales infinitely and probably near-undetectably.

        To compromise a voting system based on people means compromising the polling place staff. And the polling place watchers. And your departments of state. And their legislative oversight. And the courts. And the press. And then doing that again and again in every jurisdiction. And at that point you don't need to hijack the election because you're already running a dictatorial state.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Advantages of hand-marked, paper ballots

          >compromising the polling place staff. And the polling place watchers. And your departments of state. And their legislative oversight. And the courts

          In the USA these are often political posts. It's hard to get your head around a system where the returning officer is a political appointment by the incumbent party.

          1. Claptrap314 Silver badge

            Re: Advantages of hand-marked, paper ballots

            Historically, we've actually gone to decent lengths to limit the impact of this weakness in the system.

            At the polling place, the judge and the alternate are from different parties. The alternate is supposed to accompany the judge as the ballots are delivered.

            Central county relies on a lot of temporary workers. The parties (and even some larger candidates) recruit heavily for these positions, and the authorities are generally required to be representative in their hiring.

            Any candidate or committee, including the parties, can register watchers, both for the polling places and at central counting.

            Nothing is 100% of course, but if the system is otherwise healthy, this part of the process is quite good.

      3. DS999 Silver badge

        Re: Advantages of hand-marked, paper ballots

        if only the USPS had Amazon's/UPS's/Fedex's tech to verify deliveries

        You mean when they toss a package onto my porch from 10 feet away and walk back to their truck Amazon is doing any sort of "verification"?

        Tampering with the mail is a federal offense. Tampering with Amazon deliveries is barely a crime, at least given what the police will tell you if someone snatches a package off your porch. Friend of mine had that happen and even with a camera getting a clear shot of his face the cops said "post it on Facebook and see if anyone recognizes him, if they do let us know".

        So given a federal felony versus something even the local cops won't care about, it is pretty clear which service should be more trusted with ballots.

      4. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: Advantages of hand-marked, paper ballots

        "if only the USPS had Amazon's/UPS's/Fedex's tech to verify deliveries"

        They do. Even Media Mail is tracked. It's a question of using something other than First Class mail. I expect that something could be set up to track ballots, but it's going to take more than a month and it's fixing a problem that's generated by the fix in the first place.

        I don't see why polls can't be open for several days instead of just one. It will cost more to do an election, but I received 4-5 full color jumbo postcards from the Secretary of State telling me my voting options for this year. They could have hired a graphic designer as they looked like a dog's breakfast, but the cost to produce and mail all of those would have been better spent having the polling locations open for a few days in places with lots of registered voters. Obviously, in a town with 100 people registered to vote, the polls can be open for one day for the 10 that will actually show up and cast their ballot.

    3. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: Advantages of hand-marked, paper ballots

      7. They are not hackable at scale

      It would be a pretty tough thing to add a stack of ballots and certainly near impossible to change a paper ballot. The ballots a precinct receives is serialized and they are grouped by precinct at the counting centers. If more complete ballots are received vs. the tally of voters, a simple check of serial numbers will show the fraud. Unused paper ballots are checked so anything with a serial number past the last ballot used will be suspect.

  9. The BigYin

    Not an argument for e-voting

    This is not an argument for e-voting, but one for reforming the USAian electoral system.

    E-voting is simply too wide-open for abuse to be used for anything serious. Electing the captain of your golf club? Fine. The ruler of your nation? No way!

    Using IT to help with the count is fine, but at the end of the day it needs to be meat-sacks and paper counts as corrupting that simply doesn't scale well and by the time you have a conspiracy large enough to affect a country, said conspiracy will collapse under its own weight.

    The author handwaves away far too many problems. For example: How does F/OSS voting software help when the hardware is crippled by an exploit in IME? How do you verify that the F/OSS software you think is running, is actually running in an unaltered state and hasn't been rootkited into oblivion? You don't, not with any certainty anyway, not unless to are prepared to disassemble the machine, check every chip, scan the drives and check every byte and only then begin the count. Rinse and repeat for every single link in the chain. That doesn't sound like an improvement to me.

    E-voting is a horrifically bad idea and should never be used as part of a serious democratic process. I really wish people would stop pushing it.

    1. onemark03 Bronze badge

      arguments for e-voting

      The only reason e-voting works in Estonia is that

      a.) people (have to) have ID cards;

      b.) the cards are designed for use in electronic voting;

      and

      c.) everyone there is honest.

      I don't know whether the smaller size of the country has anything to do with it.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: arguments for e-voting

        But does it work in Estonia?

        To verify an election, *everyone* should be able to verify *everything*.

        Anyone can verify a paper ballot.

        Anyone can follow the ballot box to the counting station and verify the transit.

        Anyone can watch and verify the counting of that ballot.

        Anyone and everyone.

        How would everyone verify all that in Estonia?

        That's the core problem with these electronic voting systems, they require you trust small numbers of people. Instead of being a large difficult to attack system, with lots of eye, you've made it a much smaller system to attack with far fewer bad actors needed to attack it.

        "everyone there is honest."

        No, the Russian laundromat runs through Estonia.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Danske_Bank_money_laundering_scandal

        "The Danske Bank money laundering scandal arose in 2017-2018 around €200 billion of suspicious transactions that flowed from Estonian, Russian, Latvian and other sources through the Estonia-based bank branch of Denmark-based Danske Bank from 2007 to 2015"

        "One of the Magnitsky's stolen Hermitage Capital Management subsidiaries, Diron Trade LLP assisted in $5.8 billion in money laundering transfers between Swedbank's Baltic subsidiaries and Danske Bank during 6 months in 2010 and 2011 according to SVT.[11] During that time, Aivars Bergers, a board member of Latvia's leading pro-Russian party Harmony and one of its largest financiers, received EUR 270,000 from Diron Trade LLP and Murova Systems LLP, a company which has a Great Britain postal box and is associated with the Azerbaijani Laundromat in which $2.9 billion was money laundered through Danske Bank's Estonia branch"

        https://newrepublic.com/article/143586/trumps-russian-laundromat-trump-tower-luxury-high-rises-dirty-money-international-crime-syndicate

      2. fajensen Silver badge

        Re: arguments for e-voting

        c.) everyone there is honest.

        ... Money Laundering is an honest business?

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: arguments for e-voting

          >Money Laundering is an honest business?

          Certainly, if you can't trust your fence - who can you trust ?

        2. onemark03 Bronze badge

          Everyone in Estonia is honest

          a.) Yeah, OK.

          Perhaps I should have said that Estonia is more honest than the USA.

          b.) As an aside, I'm almost tempted to argue in favour of a federally-issued national ID card for the US for use as a voter ID card, sort of along the lines of a social security card with a photo.

          Please don't bother down-voting this one - I know it wouldn't fly.

          1. MachDiamond Silver badge

            Re: Everyone in Estonia is honest

            "Please don't bother down-voting this one - I know it wouldn't fly."

            That's ok, I had the time.

  10. Howard Sway

    What if a safe, secure, and verifiable election could be gifted to people in authoritarian states

    It would of course be an utter irrelevance, in the same way that an authoritarian state holding an "alternative" electronic election in a western democracy would be. And safe, secure, and unverifiable elections are the norm these days in authoritarian states, you only need to control one tiny piece of the whole system to rig the whole thing.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Seriously, is that article worth reading? I stopped at "That all sounds fine, until you look at the state of non-electronic democracy right now."

    Conflating "the US" with "democracy" is silly enough for all the quirks they have there (only 2 candidates? The one with less votes can win? WTF?), it's even stupider considering how much electronics they already use there.

    My democracy is fully handcrafted, I'm free to be a small cog and participate to help counting, and the person with most votes win.

    So lay down the wide brush, and go help fix the US issues rather than inventing global problems so Google can swoop in with its "solutions".

    1. MachDiamond Silver badge

      "Conflating "the US" with "democracy" is silly enough for all the quirks they have there (only 2 candidates? The one with less votes can win? WTF?), it's even stupider considering how much electronics they already use there."

      There are far more than 2 candidates but the other parties are way off the mainstream.

      If you don't understand why the Electoral Collage exists and you are from the US, please hand in your high school diploma and try again.

  12. Mike 137 Silver badge

    "So, can online voting ever be reliable, trustworthy, and efficient?"

    Reliable if someone can find a way to write software that's not full of exploitable bugs; trustworthy is someone can find a way to define "trustworthy" and inform those who write the software. Efficient is another thing altogether. The current state of play is not inefficient - it's disastrously fragile and corruptible. Those are the faults we should be addressing. For example, it's fine to talk about blockchain to support integrity, but if the code that implements the blockchain stinks you're not gaining anything much.

    There's plenty of history (including current events) of corruption and tampering with paper ballots, but they've largely been successful because they're simple, so challenges to them tend to be obvious and therefore relatively easy to protect against. The complexity and invisible working of electronic voting systems makes protecting them much harder generically, quite apart from the appalling quality of most of the offerings to date.

  13. vtcodger Silver badge

    Counting problems

    "Fifty-two different states ..."

    Trump's election strategy revealed. He's going to create two new states by executive order. Each with 300 electoral votes.

    1. SundogUK Silver badge

      Re: Counting problems

      I think you'll find it's the Democrats talking about this. Specifically, making Washington DC and Costa Rica full States, with full voting rights.

  14. khjohansen
    Facepalm

    A single system across the US

    " ...If the US had a single electronic voting system across the country ..." Uncle Putin would only need to crack ONE password!

    1. lglethal Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: A single system across the US

      Let me guess.... 1...2...3...4. ?

      No, no, no. Thats too easy - I've got it - Maga2020. Ha Numbers and a capital! That's security!

    2. Ghostman

      Re: A single system across the US

      " ...If the US had a single electronic voting system across the country ..." Uncle Putin would only need to crack ONE password!

      That would be hard to do since there are no Federal elections. All elections are handled through state election laws, even those for president.

    3. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: A single system across the US

      I think it would be a contest between Putin and any number of Three-Letter agencies of the US.

  15. rg287 Silver badge

    I'm quite sure that there is a way of securing e-voting. As posited in the article, it probably has something to do with voting between independent platforms including an immutable blockchain for integrity and auditing, perhaps a basic database server (with lots of auditing & rate-limiting for things like big inserts or improbably fast inserts) with emerging technologies like the Privacy Pass protocol that Cloudflare is trialling, which is itself based on paper-based absentee voting. A variant could prove identity was verified and a vote cast without actually revealing the vote or identity. But this all needs to come from a supervised polling booth to prevent literal vote-buying or coerced voting by gangs of blackshirts or abusive partners.

    And if you're running polling stations anyway, you might as well use paper. Sure, e-voting might make the count quicker, but paper isn't that slow to count. In most of Europe, counting stations can deliver a result overnight. The USA has it's own bizarre problems whereby they can run weeks of early voting, yet counts can take days to return and be validated. In the meantime, candidates "Claim victory" in a way entirely foreign to the rest of the civilised world (where the returning officer damn well tells the candidates who has won, not the other way around!). In 2000 it took till December 12th for the US Election to be decided - by the Supreme Court no less.

    There is no reason States should not be able to aggregate results from local counts within 24hours and have a definitive result.

    The insane Electoral College system then of course needs scrapping so that the actual winner of the vote becomes the President.

    1. fajensen Silver badge
      Mushroom

      The insane Electoral College system then of course needs scrapping so that the actual winner of the vote becomes the President.

      1) That would mean that 90% of the Area of the USA would never, ever, have enough votes to be represented. The East and West coasts combined would have all the votes.

      2) The US president has far too much power, thus making his/her election (personal health, eating habits, personal pecadillos, crooked-ness and mental stability) almost the only thing that really matters!

      The real problem being "2". If the position of US president was a more restricted and ceremonial role, like in, say, Belgium, nobody would even remember that there was such a thing as an Electoral College involved.

      Making the president God-Emporer while all of the "Checks & Balances" sucking their thumbs, with no checking and no balancing, raises the stakes (and the requirements on the presidents super-human nature) to clearly unsustainable levels - Right Now, It just takes ONE Failure and we are Done!

      1. rg287 Silver badge

        1) That would mean that 90% of the Area of the USA would never, ever, have enough votes to be represented. The East and West coasts combined would have all the votes.

        Err, the argument could be made that it's quite the opposite.

        Given that "Republican" states like Michigan (16 electoral college votes) were split 47.27% to 47.50% in 2016, I'm not sure who is being represented there. Half the state is Democrat. The difference was 10,000 votes out of 5million. But rather than splitting out the votes proportionately (perhaps with a "bonus" vote for the winner, so 7/9 rather than 8/8) it's winner takes all. Across the nation this results in the ludicrous situation of the popular candidate not winning the election.

        Maine - with just 2 votes has a much more sensible solution of having two congressional districts. In 2016 they voted opposite ways. Nebraska likewise has 3 Districts. They all voted for Trump, but by varying degrees - they didn't have to.

        Really, the electoral college just means that candidates ignore Maine and Nebraska entirely, because why muck about with ones-and-twos when there's 16 winner-takes-all votes in Michigan and 29 in New York?

        Rural areas will always be underserved. That's life. The Electoral College doesn't help that any more than a simple popular vote would. It is however, the precise reason why Congressional districts are done on population but every State gets 2 senators regardless of population. Rhode Island or California, doesn't matter. All States are equal in the Senate.

        1. MachDiamond Silver badge

          "The difference was 10,000 votes out of 5million. But rather than splitting out the votes proportionately (perhaps with a "bonus" vote for the winner, so 7/9 rather than 8/8) it's winner takes all. "

          There would need to be a bracket. States don't audit their voter roles so it has be be assumed that there is a certain amount of graveyard voting going on. Another alternative is voters having to choose 3 candidates in order. 3 points for a number one spot, 2 for second choice and 1 for third choice. It's that third choice that could make a big difference and it would also start busting up the ingrained 2 party system. A good 3rd candidate could make a reasonable showing which isn't likely the way things are now.

    2. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      "The insane Electoral College system then of course needs scrapping"

      What you mean is: that insane system of being a federal country made of individual components needs to be scrapped.

      The US president is the president of the federation. The states are the members of the federation. The states elect the president of the federation. To change that you need to change the US to be a single unitary state, which overturns the entire foundamental foundation ethos of the entire country.

    3. MachDiamond Silver badge

      "The insane Electoral College system then of course needs scrapping so that the actual winner of the vote becomes the President."

      You overlook the reason why there is the Electoral Collage. The President would be elected by a small handful of the country's largest cities. California is a good example. It's a very big state, but the Dictator is elected by SF, LA and San Diego. All big cities with no roots in the smaller counties and large agricultural regions. The vast majority of State legislators are also from big cities as districts are based on population rather than using a grid. It would be interesting to have a representative from a grid with no official residents but they'd likely advocate for keeping the area pristine. There would be endless fighting to have a grid with exceptions.

  16. codejunky Silver badge

    Ha

    @Rupert Goodwins

    Just for the unclear can you clarify if you are leaning for or against Trump?

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Local opinion

    "all 50 state have different voting rules - these are all failures of US Politics" Not at all - this is what makes the United States special, it is States that are United, not a "one" government system.

    Frankly after 30+ years of voting, the only improvement I feel sure of that would be good is remove all Parties from the tickets. Make people run on their own merits.

    The two main parties have completely hijacked the election process, to the point no 3rd parties have any chance. (media black outs, dismissing/ Overwhelming financial manipulation) We have people that would be great presidents, but they don't have the friends in low places (the most money) to support them, also they lack the drama that US media outlets live for, so they are excluded from the TV show.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Local opinion

      Frankly after 30+ years of voting, the only improvement I feel sure of that would be good is remove all Parties from the tickets. Make people run on their own merits.

      As was the case in the UK until Tony Bliar changed the rules.

      Although that did lead to the amusing situation where someone registered as a "Literal Democrat" and took just enough votes from short-sighted "Liberal Democrat" voters to make a difference in one seat.

      1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

        Re: Local opinion

        BZZZTT!!! Party names on UK ballot papers came in in the 1970s. You can't blame Blair for the 1969 Representation of the People Act.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Local opinion

          Yeah, it was Wilson that changed the law to make it possible. Blair added the requirement that any emblems or descriptions used had to be pre-registered with the electoral commission.

    2. Claptrap314 Silver badge

      Re: Local opinion

      The stability of the two-party system is a GOOD think, however maddening.

      The corruption of the duopoly is a HORRIBLE thing, and runs exceptionally deep in the system.

      I don't think we've had a meaningful third-party since the Silver Party.

    3. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: Local opinion

      " to the point no 3rd parties have any chance."

      I looked at the platforms of the 3rd party candidates in 2016 and the word that came to mind was "whackadoodle". If I was going to "throw my vote away", I wanted to do it with integrity. In the end, I just voted against the candidate I felt was the worst.

  18. StrangerHereMyself Bronze badge

    Estonia

    I don't believe for a minute that Estonia's electronic voting system is safe. More likely no one has ever attempted or been allowed to verify its security.

    I'm more and more suspicious of anyone who proclaims that electronic voting is necessary or safe, both are simply wrong. Pencil and paper are the best voting systems and no amount of cryptography or software code will ever change that.

  19. rd232

    Trust in democracy

    The security and validity of the voting system is essential (in the truest sense of the word) to democracy. You can't improve on that with e-voting, in any way whatsoever, because any systemic problems with managing paper systems will be X times worse for e-voting.

    What e-voting could be good for is not replacing paper, but supplementing it - so we can have more democratic input, with more fine-grained feedback on specific issues. For just one example, you could have a paper ballot election that elects a government, and a parallel e-vote that tells the government what people actually liked or disliked about their manifesto (and that of other parties).

    And for anyone pointing to the problems we've had with referenda: that's as much as anything because UK democracy is too weak (in various ways), feedback too infrequent, so those referenda become about other issues than what's on the paper. Any use of e-voting should beware of running into that effect.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Low tech is best

    One hangover from apartheid in South Africa is universal adult ID. It used to be mandatory so that the government could restrict people based on skin colour, but it has proved to be really useful for elections.

    "Vote early, vote often" doesn't happen because when you vote your thumbnail gets marked with an indelible ink that also shows up under UV light.

    Incredibly simple and reliable.

    What I don't like about the post-apartheid settlement is PR by party list. That breaks the accountability link between electors and politicians. A constituency + PR-based top-up system would be a lot better.

    1. Adrian 4 Silver badge

      Re: Low tech is best

      "What I don't like about the post-apartheid settlement is PR by party list. That breaks the accountability link between electors and politicians. A constituency + PR-based top-up system would be a lot better."

      Indeed, and I'd go further. NO members should be elected without voters that are responsible for them. So no party-driven top-ups.

      The real problem with PR as usually proposed, though, is that it confirms and strengthens the Party system. Parties are what's wrong with our politics, and and solution needs to make them less, not more powerful.

      My preference is for STV or a related system, voting for a county's worth of members rather than a single individual. This could avoid the problem of 'wasted' votes whilst retaining the link between constituencies and members, and keeping the parties from choosing members (other than by 'safe seats').

      1. Claptrap314 Silver badge

        Re: Low tech is best

        Parties are a way for the politically minded who are NOT wealthy to have an impact. If you don't have parties, then the electoral process becomes a matter of cash.

    2. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: Low tech is best

      Low tech is also the easiest for just about everybody to understand. If you understand something, you are more likely to trust it. People that have lost trust usually state they don't vote.

  21. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
    Alert

    Argh, splat

    I remember reading an article about e-voting which contained the following analogy. If you talk to aeronautics engineers about airplane safety mechanisms, they can explain in great detail the many protections in place which make flying incredibly safe, despite the risk of falling out of the sky and dying. Similarly, if you talk to elevator mechanics about the safety mechanisms in elevators, they can explain to you all the different ways you are protected from plummeting to your death, which is why you never hear about tragic elevator accidents. When you talk to software engineers about e-voting, they pretty much universally turn pale and shake their heads, suggesting that the risk factors for e-voting are both huge and difficult to overcome relative to, say, making humans fly through the air like birds.

    1. Ochib

      Re: Argh, splat

      https://xkcd.com/2030/

      1. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Argh, splat

        Yes, that's it. Less "article" and more "web comic," I suppose, but, in my defense, XKCD is often both more informative and more correct than conventional technical articles.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Argh, splat

      There's a rule of thumb in aero engineering - when the weight of the paperwork equals the design take-off weight of the aircraft, the plane is safe to fly.

      And that's really the problem with software engineering - we aren't willing to design, build, test, and document to aerospace industry standards.

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: Argh, splat

        "There's a rule of thumb in aero engineering - when the weight of the paperwork equals the design take-off weight of the aircraft, the plane is safe to fly."

        It's a very good rule of thumb. The systems I have worked on with little documentation were the dodgiest things to ever leave the ground.

        Mach

        Rocket scientist

  22. Frozit
    Stop

    Online Identity Authentication

    The biggest hurdle is authentication of the voter identity.

    This has been solved in the small by entities like banks to some degree. However, how many support calls per day are made for password resets, etc?

    And remember, you have to solve this for EVERY voter. Sure, just about everyone here is savvy enough. But you know as well as I do, through the daily issues we deal with, that there exists nothing that solves for the general user.

    1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

      Re: Online Identity Authentication

      Why should any more ID be necessary to register on an online voting database and cast a vote via computer than is required to be placed on the existing electoral roll and cast a vote at a polling station?

  23. Adam Foxton

    You missed important points.

    Yes, it is technically possible to vote securely. Obviously.

    But now figure out how to vote securely, knowing that the voter is an actual voter, and giving that voter the ability to audit both their vote being recorded correctly and counted. And it has to be simple enough that old Mrs Miggins down the road can grasp it.

    Now make that system absolutely anonymous, so there's no way someone can make a list of which votes were cast by which voters. And, if the vote is incorrectly recorded, allow it to be updated- again secretly.

    Anything short of an auditable secret ballot is going to be screwed with.

  24. Claptrap314 Silver badge

    You. Are. An. Idiot.

    Did you even bother to scan (a little) the comments here from one of the recent articles on the continuing fiasco that is online voting?

    Pure paper ballots, counted by hand (twice, by opposing parties). Good luck falsifying the results of votes actually cast.

    Scantron ballots, electronically counted, randomly audited: Corrupting the count is possible, but risky. It WILL be exposed in a recount. In the US, the counting is done at the county level, which means that anything but local races are quite secure.

    Voting machines, punch cards, etc: mechanical aids to voting fraud. Limited scalability.

    Electronic voting machines: Try reading the "security" articles here for a couple of weeks before arguing that it is possible to secure these. Make sure that there is some really sad music in the background, or your face will give you away.

    Online voting: the one and only way that someone from a non-extraditing jurisdiction can take down any or all of the system from the comfort and safety of their own home. Just don't.

    1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

      Re: You. Are. An. Idiot.

      In one Hollywood film, the ballot box was swapped while en-route to the counting place, and an identical box full of bogus voting slips substituted. Just bribe (or blackmail) the driver& crew transporting the box ...

      Count those bogus slips as many times as you like, overseen by the whole World.

      1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

        Re: You. Are. An. Idiot.

        Now scale that up to enough boxes to change the final result.

        *And* get the total number of ballots in the box to match the number issued.

        *And* get the serial numbers on the ballots to match those that were issued.

      2. steviebuk Silver badge

        Re: You. Are. An. Idiot.

        The boxes are sealed. You'd need to know the correct matching seals they used. You'd need to match the security number on each ballot that is in the box with the other ballot half. And you'd have to bribe all the counters at the other end to not spot this. And you'd need to bribe the election team to find out which team will be counting your fake box so you can plant a fake counter. But you'd need the whole counting team for that section to get round it.

        A councillor has tried this before somewhere in the UK, look it up, they were caught and jailed.

        People really should volunteer (you get paid) for count day and you'd realise how secure it all actually is.

        1. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: You. Are. An. Idiot.

          "People really should volunteer (you get paid) for count day and you'd realise how secure it all actually is."

          A nominal amount of money makes it possible for people to volunteer that couldn't afford to travel to the location. Meals and drinks should be provided too as a courtesy. I expect that Coke or Pepsi, etc would sponsor or at least provide vittles at cost.

      3. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: You. Are. An. Idiot.

        "In one Hollywood film, the ballot box was swapped while en-route to the counting place, and an identical box full of bogus voting slips substituted. Just bribe (or blackmail) the driver& crew transporting the box ..."

        That substituted box would have to have the ballots serialized with the correct numbers to be valid. It would be a huge operation with lots of different people being paid. It's not impossible, but super complex and the cost per altered vote would be very high.

        With electronic voting, fewer people would be involved, the number of votes that could be altered could be extremely significant and the cost per altered vote might be very cheap.

    2. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: You. Are. An. Idiot.

      "Pure paper ballots, counted by hand (twice, by opposing parties). Good luck falsifying the results of votes actually cast."

      Party operatives should not be doing the counting. Volunteers with no official capacity in any party only. Payment is tea and cakes and a hearty lunch. People are randomly selected to work in different rooms and paper ballots are counted three times. Machines can do the actual counting with a printed audit affixed to each stack. Another group verify the audits match for each stack and anomalies are sent to a wholly different group for recount/forensics. If a counting machine is misbehaving, it's removed for the duration. If there are still issues, yet another group does a count by hand. Ballots are then archived and held someplace very secure until the vote is certified and can then be moved to a facility that is secure, but slightly less so. After a certain number of years, the individual ballots can be destroyed/recycled and summaries kept for historical archives.

      1. Claptrap314 Silver badge

        Re: You. Are. An. Idiot.

        Yeah, the world does not work like that. Counting ballots is booring, and it only happens once in a while. And if we DID have professional vote counters, how do you ensure that they are not corrupted?

        If A and B are opposed, then if A cheats, B screams. If B cheats, A screams. This really is as good has you can hope for if humans (and not angels) are doing it.

  25. Barry Rueger

    Example please!

    If you want to sell electronic voting you'll need to point to an example of a software package that works as advertised, is 100% secure, and won't be broken by the next update.

    And do it on-line.

    Next question please.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Example please!

      We could always ask the people who write flight control systems; make the ones who did the software for 737 Max...

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: Example please!

        "make the ones who did the software for 737 Max..."

        That would be the MBAs on the C-level. Every aerospace engineer I know is not satisfied with "good enough". There was a reason why the software loaded on the Space Shuttle was feature locked 18 months in advance and then tested to absurdia and back.

  26. Cynic_999 Silver badge

    Security

    I am quite certain that if a banking system can be made secure enough to support 100's of electronic transactions per account holder per month while keeping fraud to within acceptable limits, that a voting system can be made secure enough to support 1 vote per electrol roll entry every 5 years to within an acceptable level of fraud. Given that there is far more incentive for most people to get money they are not entitled to than there is to cast a vote that they are not entitled to cast.

    1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      Re: Security

      Errors in banking transactions can be reversed with little impact. There is a one-to-one match between the end points. Any interference in the transaction can be noticed and rectified, and only impacts that one transaction. It is difficult to scale it up to effect loads of transactions, you can get at Fred's account, but getting at Fred's account doesn't get you into the thousands of other accounts at Fred's bank.

  27. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    "Last time, as it usually does, the Republican party lost the popular vote and won the presidency"

    That's a feature not a bug, because - as you mentioned - the US is a federation not a unitary state. The president of the federation is the, well, president of the federation, and is elected by the members of that federation - the states - specifically *not* by the people. Just as the chief executive of the UK is chosen by the people elected to Parliament, not by the people electing the people elected to Parliament.

    "Follow Estonia's lead"

    So, change the US into a small, almost entirely urban country.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      If a few more states join the National Popular Vote Compact, then the president will *still* be elected by the member states, but it will *also* happen to be by whoever wins the most votes across the entire country. No constitutional change required.

      States with 74 more electoral college votes are needed before the compact can take effect. I recommend having a read of their website.

      https://www.nationalpopularvote.com/

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        That website is a very well-crafted piece of propaganda. Lots of colorful comic-strip banners about why this is such a wonderful idea, and listing all the things wrong with the current system, but it's almost impossible to find a clear, simple, description of how the proposed process will work. I fed the "Manner of Appointing Presidential Electors in Member States" section into a reading age checker, it reported "Reading Level: very difficult to read. Reader's Age: College graduate", not surprising when it contains gems like:

        The presidential elector certifying official of each member state shall certify the appointment in that official’s own state of the elector slate nominated in that state in association with the national popular vote winner.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Seemed pretty clear to me how it would work. They have crafted a bill that has already passed into law in 15 states and Washington DC, including large states such as California and New York. It is working its way through legislatures in several other states.

          The TL;DR version is, if enough states sign up to it so that the total number of electoral college votes cast by those states is greater than 50%, then the states in the compact will select their electors based on the total number of votes cast across the nation, instead of selecting them based on their individual state wide vote. This guarantees that the candidate with the most national votes will be elected. It doesn't matter what the remaining states do. Since it is already law in states totalling 196 college votes, they just need states with 74 more college votes to come on board.

          If you read the legislation and the accompanying explainers you will see that they have covered pretty much every base, even including what would happen in the wildly unlikely event of a tied national vote.

          Since it doesn't require a constitutional change it seems to me to be the most likely way that the US will ever elect a president based on the nationwide popular vote.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    52 states?

    When an article about US voting starts by stating there are 52 states it immediately loses any credibility. I didn't bother reading any further. I apologise if you did actually make a reasoned cogent argument, but since you are getting the most fundamental and basic facts about the country wrong I don't hold much hope.

    To put it as simply as possible, there are 50 states! The last one to joint the union was Hawaii in 1959, hence Hawaii-Five-O!

    There are some other non state jurisdictions that vote, such as Washington DC, but I will say again there are ONLY 50 states. I would ask anyone who things differently to please list all 52.

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      Re: 52 states?

      the term 52 states is often used as follows.

      50 states of the Union

      PLUS

      Washington DC (yes, there are people who live in DC and they get a vote)

      PLUS

      Puerto Rico (a state in everything but name)

      Yes, 52 is factualy wrong but many people understand what it means.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: 52 states?

        This still doesn't make any sense as Citizens in Puerto Rico can't vote for the president. If you are including territories with citizens that can't vote for the president then you also have to include Guam, American Samoa. Northern Mariana Islands and the US Virgin Islands.

        So, whichever way you look at it, the number 52 is wrong. Correct statements would be:

        50 States

        51 Jurisdictions that can vote for the president

        50 States, plus DC, plus 5 populated territories

        That is before you start counting the 9 unpopulated territories or the 2 disputed ones.

        I personally believe that people think that there were 50 states before Alaska and Hawaii joined the union, so now think there are 52.

  29. Dan 55 Silver badge

    Voting isn't the problem

    It's post-truth politics which is the problem. People cannot vote based on facts and informed debate because there is none:

    False video of Joe Biden viewed 1 million times on Twitter

    Before a Trump event in West Salem, Wisconsin, last Tuesday, a woman interviewed by CNN said Biden would not be capable of running the country due to his mental capacity. "He forgets where he's at, he forgets who he's running against, he forgets what he's running for," she said.

    Plot to kidnap Michigan’s governor grew from the militia movement’s toxic mix of constitutional falsehoods and half-truths

    On Oct. 8, the FBI arrested six men, five of them from Michigan, and charged them with conspiring to kidnap Whitmer. Shortly thereafter, state authorities charged an additional seven men with, according to the Associated Press, “allegedly seeking to storm the Michigan Capitol and seek a "civil war.”

    Until this is addressed then no changes to the voting system will improve democracy.

  30. canthinkofagoodname

    E-voting

    Posting from Down Under, where my state / territory just had an election (not federal). Also had my first exposure to something like e-voting, which I thought I would share.

    Walk into the voting centre (multiple centre's open over an extended period tanks to COVID), got my name marked off (digital register as opposed to the old school print registers) and was handed a bit of paper with a QR Code. Walked to a voting booth and scanned the code. Ballot appeared on the screen, I put in my selections, scanned the QR Code again to confirm my vote (submitted), and dropped the QR Code in the ballot box on my way out. Was actually quite pleasant, would have been better with a Democracy Sausage though ;)

    I like this solution because it modernises some of the process, but still retains some of the integrity measures the analogue method retains. For example, I do not know enough about how the e-votes are transmitted / stored / counted, but it's nice to know that the volume of e-votes can atleast be checked against the volume of QR codes used and dropped in the ballot boxes. Not perfect, but moving in a good direction.

    1. JulieM

      Re: E-voting

      And how can you be sure that the machine did not print out a receipt clearly showing you voted for candidate A, whilst recording a vote for candidate C?

  31. Ghostman

    If you think cost of a voter ID is a form of suppressing low income voting-

    What about the cost of a computer, peripherals, and internet?

  32. steviebuk Silver badge

    No no no no no

    As someone who has worked several times on election day not only supporting the IT but also seeing how all of it works back stage an electronic system is a very bad idea.

    "Take a pen as the election department can rub the pencil out".

    1. Election department doesn't give a shit if you bring your own pen

    2. The pencils provided are because pencils don't run out of ink and are the thick pencils so its fucking obvious if something was rubbed out which would "spoil" your vote. They don't count the votes, the counters do, independent people, you'd have to pay them off along with 100s of others in the count room.

    Then we have postal vote opening "Mail in voting creates lots of fraud" something that fuck whit orange one would say.

    No it doesn't! Only election team, counters and IT are allowed in the postal vote opening room. And think about it logically. If you were caught attempting voter fraud there is a prison sentence and fine. Yes, some councillors themselves have been prosecute for fraud cause its so hard to get away with. And you'd have to pay off EVERY single person in that room. It has to be a lot of money due to the possibility of jail. When a postal vote is scanned the software checks it against a signature on record. If they don't match, its rejected. The amount of parents that attempt to sign for their kid. Or old folk who say "Husband died but I know this is who he'd have voted for"...erm, he's dead he no longer has a right to vote.

    The fraud normally comes from councillors themselves or the returning officer. Never from the election system itself.

    1. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: No no no no no

      " When a postal vote is scanned the software checks it against a signature on record. If they don't match, its rejected. "

      A judge(s) have ruled that votes cannot be voided for non-matching signatures.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Donald would just love that

    It would allow him (and his henchmen) to invaidate even more votes. If the GOP hate postal ballots so much for fear of voter fraud then internet voting would play right into their hands. They'd challenge each and every vote (that wasn't for them naturally) right up to the SCOTUS which will come down on their side thanks to Trumps gerrymandering/packing of the court.

    The whole US Election system is clearly not fit for purpose. From Voter registration (and mass de-registration), to restricting where people may vote early like in Texas to one place per county right through to the dozens (if not hundreds) of legal challenges to the counting of votes.

    It is a system that can be gamed and therefor not free and fair but Donald J Trump does not like anything to do with fairness one little bit.

    Personally, I hope he spends the rest of his life surrounded by Secret Service people in Jail. There, he can write (sic) another book called 'the art of the Con' inbetween rounds of golf on the yard picth and put course.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Referendums

    Why are constant referendums madness? Surely this technology finally gives the facility for the people to continuously have their say without manipulation by "representatives". The sole argument for electronic voting in my view is to give the power back to the people who are voting and to take it away from politicians.

    1. Daedalus Silver badge

      Re: Referendums

      "The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter" - Churchill.

  35. Robert Grant Silver badge

    Last time, as it usually does, the Republican party lost the popular vote and won the presidency; it has spent much of the time since trying very hard to suppress the votes of people it doesn't like.

    3 times were in the 1800s, when Republicans were the ones against slavery.

    1. Daedalus Silver badge

      Until the Republicans took over in the southern US, it was the Southern Democrats who did most of the voter suppression. That would be around the mid-1970's.

  36. Joe Gurman

    It's the Internet that's the problem

    Do you honestly think there's a country anywhere in which all or most Internet connectivity couldn't be taken down for twelve hours?

  37. Daedalus Silver badge

    Foolproof voting systems

    The universe can always find a better fool.

    Cliches aside, the International Olympic Committee thought their drug testing regime was tamper proof until the Russians decided to do their thing. Anyone big enough and bad enough can get their way if they want, by whatever means they can conjure.

    Software is usually very badly written. The more complex the situation, the worse it gets. Anybody who has written software for a living knows this. Expose a typical software system to the wide world and you're in trouble. Most of the problems we've had have resulted from internal systems being networked unwisely for the convenience of administrators or the dictates of marketing. Hey, let's put all these drug dispensing machines on the network so we can monitor them remotely!!! What could go wrong?

  38. Daedalus Silver badge

    Voting the old way, US edition

    I have to admit, the old way was overdue for replacement.

    As a recently minted citizen of the USA, I got to see the old way give way to the new, improved, all-singing all-dancing way. This applies to New York State.

    In the beginning....

    There was a machine, one of several to many in each polling station. You walked, or in my case ducked, into its enclosure and pulled a lever that closed the curtains behind you. In front of you was the "ballot", a printed grid with offices to vote for in columns, parties with candidates in rows. Each grid square had a switch that could be up or down. Each row had a switch also. You see where this is going. Push down a switch in a square to vote for that candidate for that office. Push down a switch on a row to "vote the straight party ticket", all candidates put up by that party. You moved the lever back to its starting position, which registered your choices in counters, cleared all the switches, and opened the curtains. Next contestant please....

    Here's the good part: at the end of the voting day, somebody had to open a door in the back of each machine, read the counters, and phone the numbers up to Election Central for the City/County/State (pick one). So no paper trail, and precious little protection against one form of fraud or another. Perhaps the counts were rechecked when the machines were returned to home base.

    These machines were replaced, mostly because they were increasingly hard to repair. You can't get the wood, you know. At that, they lasted longer than most of the current replacements will.

    Today: make marks on a paper ballot, same grid layout as before, circles to fill in etc. just like your geography exam. Insert ballot into machine which scans and stores it. The early voting added a new wrinkle, as you didn't have to vote in your normal district, so they had a system where you check in, sign electronically (on an iPad!! OMG) and get a QR code printed out. Scanning the QR code on another machine got you a printed ballot with your candidates specific to your actual district (no, there wasn't a dog catcher, but there was just about everything else). After that, proceed as per the usual sequence.

    Of course, printers being involved, yes, one went down when I went to vote. Plus ca change.

    1. Claptrap314 Silver badge

      Re: Voting the old way, US edition

      Welcome, citizen by choice!

      But I must warn you, what you are calling "the old way"--voting by machine, has ALWAYS been known to be open to fraud. That is why it was implemented.

      Each non-manual system promises easy of use. What it delivers is ease of fraud. And there is a pretty-much straight-line correspondence.

  39. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

    Internet connectivity

    Not good in the USA. And many of the disenfranchised groups are the worst off. So how are you going to convince people that the new e-vote system is equitable when there are people who don't have a PC or phone* let alone a DSL line?

    *It had better be one of those fancy 5G phones Google/Apple are pushing. Because your new iVote app won't run on anything older. Never mind that even 2G is spotty in the middle of the Navajo Nation.

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