Campaigns/Elections

Not-So-Secret-Voting in Ohio

|

Reason contributor and CNET News columnist Declan McCullagh has a stunning story about how

Two Ohio activists have discovered that e-voting machines made by Election Systems and Software and used across the country produce time-stamped paper trails that permit the reconstruction of an election's results–including allowing voter names to be matched to their actual votes.

Here's how it works:

Ohio law permits anyone to walk into a county election office and obtain two crucial documents: a list of voters in the order they voted, and a time-stamped list of the actual votes. "We simply take the two pieces of paper together, merge them, and then we have which voter voted and in which way," said James Moyer, a longtime privacy activist and poll worker who lives in Columbus, Ohio….

Moyer and fellow activist Jim Cropcho tested this by dropping by the election office of Delaware County, about 20 miles north of Columbus, and reviewing the results for a May 2006 vote to extend a property tax to fund mental retardation services (PDF). Their results indicate who voted "yes" and who voted "no"–and show that local couples (the Bennets, for instance) didn't always see eye-to-eye on the tax.

The same machines are used in more than three dozen states and four other states have similar disclosure rules to Ohio's.

More here.

Hat tip: Yury Tsukerman

Advertisement

NEXT: (Cough, Cough) Thanks, FEMA!

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Hmm, maybe we can find out who’s voting for anti-war candidates and arrest them for embolding the enemy.

  2. Ohio law permits anyone to walk into a county election office and obtain two crucial documents: a list of voters in the order they voted, and a time-stamped list of the actual votes. “We simply take the two pieces of paper together, merge them, and then we have which voter voted and in which way,” said James Moyer

    Of course, a single error on either of the documents (or a single error incurred while merging) makes the whole thing useless. And there’s no way to verify that there aren’t any errors on either of the documents…

  3. What’s the problem? Are Ohioans ashamed of their votes?

  4. C’mon, Dan. When have there ever been errors in our election system?

  5. Dan is correct. Or if one of the voters stopped and chatted to a poll worker for a minute or two and someone else just zipped right through, everything is now one off (if I am getting the gist of how this works correctly).

    If a machine had its date/time set wrong, then it’s all also off. So this is not a reliable method, but it doesn’t change the fact that it is possible.

  6. Their results indicate who voted “yes” and who voted “no”–and show that local couples (the Bennets, for instance) didn’t always see eye-to-eye on the tax.

    Story of my life. My wife and I are almost at the point of giving up going to the polls, because we usually just cancel each other out.

  7. Hey Dan T., if you don’t like the way they conduct elections you can always move!

  8. “Of course, a single error on either of the documents (or a single error incurred while merging) makes the whole thing useless.”

    But a double error puts it back on track. Nobody in gov’t screws up just once.

  9. Dan is correct. Or if one of the voters stopped and chatted to a poll worker for a minute or two and someone else just zipped right through, everything is now one off (if I am getting the gist of how this works correctly).

    Actually, it would only make those two wrong.

    If persons A – Z all voted in that order, but the list has person C voting after person D due to zipping ahead or some other reason, the results for persons A, B and E-Z are all still accurate.

  10. If persons A – Z all voted in that order, but the list has person C voting after person D due to zipping ahead or some other reason, the results for persons A, B and E-Z are all still accurate.

    Doesn’t matter. Since it can happen, all associations are suspect.

  11. one could look back through other election results to see if an entry for a specific person is consistent with the way that they usually vote.

  12. You could also use known votes as a check.

  13. My comment appears to mimic the one above it. I meant that if you know how a person voted THIS time, you can use that to check the data.

  14. In my (admittedly somewhat limited) experience with polling places (yay Oregon vote-by-mail!), the vast majority of people don’t interact with the poll workers or swap places with the people behind them in line – if they’re going to do the latter, they do it well before they get to the sign-in point.

    So even if 1 in 200 voters pulls the ol’ switcheroo, the matchings will still tend to be overwhelmingly correct. Maybe not good enough for a conviction in a court of law (though I wouldn’t put any money on that, actually), but plenty good enough for, say, political groups to go through and send out blanket registration challenges.

  15. As I recall, in the early days of the American Republic, there were no secret ballots (no women voting, either). And yet, the country was less encumbered by statism in those days
    (sliding downhill ever since according to most libertarians.) Curious correlation?

  16. Do you even need the timestamp? The way it is when we have a “paper trail”, it was a continuous roll of cash-register paper that just collected inside the machine. The order is the order — timestamp or not.

    This is yet another reason that electronic voting should be turned into electronic assisted voting. You get your ballot from the poll worker. You may elect to mark or punch the ballot yourself and put it in the ballot box. Alternatively, you may insert the ballot into an electronic machine that does all the things that people value electronic machines for. When you press “Done”, the electronic machine marks or punches the ballot and gives it back to you. You may check it or not before you put it in the ballot box.

    Just because you can accumulate and count votes inside an electronic machine does not mean you should. In fact, it may mean exactly the opposite.

  17. Boycott the two-party system in 2008. Vote for the Mickey Maus Party candidate of your choice (Ru Paul, Zog, Darth Vader, etc., ad infinitum) and demand to see your vote in print after the elections. Help verify the statistical accuracy of the new voting machines, while sending a clear message of discontent to media outlets. Vote Mickey Maus ’08. Pass it on.

  18. America Jones-

    I wrote-in Thomas Jefferson for President and James Madison for Vice President in 2004.

  19. I’d totally vote for a Jefferson-Madison ticket. Even if they were only Jefferson-Madison zombies.

  20. Even if they weren’t zombies. Mouldering corpses aren’t known for their drive to seize power.

    Except for Cheney.

  21. What do the people of Ohio have to hide, are they terrorists?

  22. In our local polling places there are 3 lines (for sections of the alphabet) where you get a authorization code for the voting booth. Then there are 6 or so voting booths.

    There’s no way you’d be able to match the two unless you happened to vote when no one else was there.

  23. I, the Amazing Criswell, predict that ‘Vote in Sunshine’, an organization obsessed with paper trails, will denounce this post facto paper trail. Because in the future you will be living in the future.

  24. What a curious creature the outraged voter activist is. He wants secret votes, verification of votes, accurate recounts, and instant results. A demonstration of how to manipulate software causes them to rend their garments in horror, but utter simplicity of manipulating paper ballots never crosses their minds. In fact, they would prefer that MORE biased and agenda-driven activists be present during man

  25. Jefferson/Madison has the problem of both being from the same state, so even if they ran together, the electors in the EC would have to choose someone else to vote for in one of the slots.

    Unless, of course, we get Madison to move back to Wyoming right before the election.

  26. I stand behind my call for six-sigma voting procedures.

  27. Jefferson/Madison has the problem of both being from the same state, so even if they ran together, the electors in the EC would have to choose someone else to vote for in one of the slots.

    Ah, shit, I forgot about that. How about Jefferson/Franklin?

  28. “Since it can happen, all associations are suspect.”

    Or no associations are suspect because the results are official.

  29. Even if there are mistakes, there can still be harrassment of voters.

    Who would a harasser believe, a hard copy paper record of the vote or someone saying, “no, it’s wrong, I really DID vote for the guy that won. Please award me that contract/building permit/business license, etc”

  30. This is good, but sloppy and imprecise as there are probably about a thousand ways the voting records could get out of sync. It would be much better to simply make voting a matter of public record, with the clear understanding that anybody can see who exactly voted for whom.

    For starters, this would largely eliminate a lot of vote fraud. It’d be totally much easier to track. More importantly, it would answer Lysander Spooner’s classic argument that “democracy” is just a euphemism for banditry.

    all voting is secret (by secret ballot), and as all secret governments are necessarily only secret bands of robbers, tyrants, and murderers, the general fact that our government is practically carried on by means of such voting, only proves that there is among us a secret band of robbers, tyrants, and murderers, whose purpose is to rob, enslave, and, so far as necessary to accomplish their purposes, murder, the rest of the people.

    So in short, if’n people want to vote to tax the bejesus out of me so they can get free stuff, they ought to be standing up publicly so we know which of our neighbors are doing what to us.

  31. As one half of the the team being discussed, I’d like to invite you to our blog, The Public Ballot. Here you can track developments as they occur.

    I’d also suggest checking out my post on two common misconceptions if you have doubts about the methodology.

  32. Brandybuck,

    “Instant results” is one of the ways electronic voting advocates justify the use of unverifiable electronic systems. Also, a lot of advocates for verifiable voting are all too willing to jettison the secret ballot.

    Stealing an election one ballot box at a time requires conspirators and tangible evidence in proportion to the number of votes, constraints which do not apply to direct-electronic systems. Furthermore, with a physical record and mandatory sampling, an electronic-assisted system would be more secure than either paper or electronics alone.

    Finally, yes, having a bunch of people with opposing agendas oversee the process is a good way to prevent any of them from getting away with anything. It’s the same principle behind voting a gridlock ticket. Also, the more people involved, the harder it is to intimidate, bribe, or escape the notice of them all.

  33. In response to the critics, no it’s not 100% accurate in picking out individual voters. But if one voter goes out of line a few spaces, it pretty quickly returns to being accurate.
    Unless someone *actually leaves the facility* without casting a ballot, you’ll be correct the vast majority of the time. It’s easy to throw up contradictory hypotheticals, but the vast majority of voters probably move in an assembly-line type fashion.

    That’s good enough to be of major worth to marketers from political parties (“Thanks for your 2004 vote for George Bush! You might like Rudy Giuliani!”), as well as to cast doubt on the security and confidentiality of the process.

  34. Personally I like the idea of open to the public ballots. I have won’t screw anybody over and I would like to know who is screwing me.

  35. “I wrote-in Thomas Jefferson for President and James Madison for Vice President in 2004”

    Christ, they’re dead, man. I thought you said you were a history major. You must have gone to the same graduate school as joe.

    I’m being sarcastic.

  36. I hope to god some national Democrats raise a stink about this so we can call them hypocrites for supporting open balloting during union elections.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.