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.)


Anonymous said...

I like 95% of this solution.
My only concern is that your solution makes it POSSIBLE for someone to prove who they voted for. If someone can prove who they voted for it opens the door for all sorts of influence.
Maybe I setup shop outside the polling place buying receipts for a McCain vote at $5 each. If you can prove you voted for McCain I'll give you $5. Thats not much of a stretch from what ACORN is doing today.
Or maybe some my scary friends and I go door-to-door before the election and warn folks that if they can't produce a receipt for an Obama vote I'm burning down their house. They deserve it anyway, the people who don't vote for Obama are obvious racists.

Anyway, good thinking. If people don't trust the results of elections it undermines the democracy.

Gavin said...

Any voting system that lets you prove to someone else who you voted for is doomed to fail. As "Anonymous" points out, if you can prove who you voted for you can be paid, and coerced into voting for someone. And that doesn't have to be by someone from one of the campaigns. It can very easily be a member of your family. One of the central tenants of a safe and fair voting system is the INability for anyone to be able to tell who voted for who.