Hugh Winkler holding forth on computing and the Web

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Electronic Vote Fraud

I think I know how we can use electronic voting to increase our confidence in vote counts -- as opposed to what we have.

What we have is a mad world where you can construct the most extreme hypotheses about what is happening to your vote, and they could be true. You can't prove they're not.

When I complete my vote, I want to receive a printed receipt with a) my vote in clear text, b) a hash of my identity, and c) my digital signature of the above, for non-repudiation.

I should be able to log onto the county's web site, and verify that my vote was recorded for my candidate:


Anybody can look at this table and count the votes for McCain and Obama ,and confirm that they match the announced totals. They can confirm, too, that their own vote was counted for the proper candidate.

My voting receipt matches one row of the table. The voting machine prints it out, and I review it. I should be able to confirm the hash of my identity by some public algorithm. It could be a hash of my voter registration number plus some secret password I make up.

My receipt also has a digital signature that I apply only after I review its accuracy. Yep, I voted for that guy. I insert the paper into the machine and it prints a string that's the digital signature of my identity and my vote. That way, I can't claim the machine got my vote wrong -- I reviewed the clear text vote, and signed it.

Voting this way would be lots more verifiable than paper ballots and hanging chads. You'd be able to verify your vote was counted.

Since early voting began Tuesday in Travis County, Texas, the email chain below has grown virally (local news story). And how can you prove these fears are wrong?

From: redacted
Date: October 22, 2008 11:48:50 PM CDT
To: redacted
Subject: DOUBLE CHECK YOUR BALLOT before pushing VOTE

no matter who you are voting for:
A friend of a friend of mine has this horror story about voting this morning
in Austin, TX.

He voted at Fiesta Mart on 38th and IH-35.

He voted a straight Democratic ticket.

When he was reading the 'voted for' listing at the end of his
ballot, all of those listed were Democratic candidates EXCEPT FOR
PRESIDENT. The list showed that he had voted for John McCain!!!

And he voted the straight Democratic ticket.k

He reported it to the election official and that person was as
shocked by it as my friend. They corrected the vote BEFORE he hit
the CAST BALLOT button.

My friend said the experience made him sick to his stomach. He said
he was the youngest person in the voting area and all he could
think is that the older people around him may not proofread their
ballot before pressing the CAST VOTE button. They may believe that
they voted for Obama but the voting machine may have registered a
vote for McCain.

He called the Travis County voting office and they said they would
look into this. When he called me I gave him the telephone number
for the Democratic Party and he then called them to report what had
happened and they said they would look into it, also.

Please PROOFREAD your ballot choices BEFORE hitting the CAST BALLOT
button. This is vitally important. (For EVERYONE who votes,
whichever way you vote.)

Friday, October 10, 2008


Dear Lazyweb,

1. In 1929, how many Wall Streeters actually did leap to their deaths from their office windows? I'd be surprised if it were as many as 10. Growing up during the sixties, I had the impression it was raining stockbrokers on Black Tuesday; but now I find it hard to believe.

2. They had names. Who were they?

3. Why did they kill themselves? In 1929, was there a greater sense of personal responsibility for the margin calls they wouldn't be able to make? A greater fear of the shame that would attach to them personally?

4. Has any Wall Streeter killed himself or herself during the current financial crisis?

5. Have any of the current super wealthy attempted to guarantee the system using their personal wealth, as Rockefeller did in 1907?

I pray the answer to 4 is no.... yet I wonder about what level of personal responsibility we should expect, and why it's different than 1929 and earlier.