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Fri Oct 14, 2016, 11:18 AM

The computer voting revolution is already crappy, buggy, and obsolete

Six days after Memphis voters went to the polls last October to elect a mayor and other city officials, a local computer programmer named Bennie Smith sat on his couch after work to catch up on e-mail.

The vote had gone off about as well as elections usually do in Memphis, which means not well at all. The proceedings were full of the technical mishaps that have plagued Shelby County, where Memphis is the seat, since officials switched to electronic voting machines in 2006. Servers froze, and the results were hours late. But experts at the county election commission assured both candidates and voters that the problems were minor and the final tabulation wasn’t affected.

That story might have held up if Smith, a financial software developer and church organist, hadn’t been conducting an election night experiment. The precinct, No. 77-01, is a Democratic stronghold and has one of the largest concentrations of African American voters in a city known for racially fractured politics. According to the tape, 546 people had cast ballots.

When he got an e-mail a week later with Shelby County’s first breakdown of each precinct’s voting, he ran down the list to the one precinct where he knew the tally for sure. The count for Unity Christian showed only 330 votes. Forty percent of the votes had disappeared.

Shelby County uses a GEMS tabulator — for Global Election Management System — which is a personal computer installed with Diebold software that sits in a windowless room in the county’s election headquarters. There was no indication from the technician running Shelby County’s GEMS tabulator that any voting machine hadn’t checked in or that any votes had gone missing. Yet as county technicians followed up on the evidence from Smith’s poll-tape photo, they discovered more votes that never made it into the election night count, all from precincts with large concentrations of black voters.

Multiple lawsuits in Shelby County over the past 10 years have alleged that voting machines and computerized tabulators have been used to steal or suppress votes — deepening the distrust of a system some locals see as stacked against them.

For the members of Congress, who in 2002 provided almost $4 billion to modernize voting technology through the Help America Vote Act, or HAVA — Congress’s response to Bush v. Gore — this probably wasn’t the result they had in mind. But voting by computer has been a technological answer in search of a problem. Those World War II-era pull-lever voting machines may not have been the most elegant of contraptions; but they were easy to use and didn’t crash. Georgia, which in 2002 set out to be an early national model for the transition to computerized voting, shows the unintended consequences. It spent $54 million in HAVA funding to buy 20,000 touchscreen voting machines from Diebold. Today, to support the older Windows 2000 operating system, the state had to hire a contractor to custom-build 100 servers — which, of course, are more vulnerable to hacking because they can no longer get current security updates.

By 2006 every state but New York had dumped their pull-lever and punch-card machines in favor of computerized voting. The voting tech vendors rushed systems to market, often without adequate testing. California declared almost all of the electronic voting machines in the state unfit for use in 2007 for failing basic security tests. San Diego County put its decertified machines in storage and has been paying the bill to warehouse them ever since: No one wants to buy them, and county rules prohibit throwing millions of dollars’ worth of machines in the trash bin.

Mark Earley, an election official in Tallahassee during the 2000 Florida recount, says the competition solved the revenue problem by focusing less on making equipment and more on long-term contracts. It was an enhancement of the old razors-and-blades strategy: Sell the razors cheap and make money on the blades, and make even more money by making the razors so hard to use that customers pay you to give them a shave.

At: https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2016-voting-technology/

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Reply The computer voting revolution is already crappy, buggy, and obsolete (Original post)
forest444 Oct 2016 OP
TreasonousBastard Oct 2016 #1

Response to forest444 (Original post)

Fri Oct 14, 2016, 12:15 PM

1. Well, I'm in NY and have worked the polls since the lever machines...

We had problems with the lever machines and we were happy to get rid of them.

What we got, though, by being the last and learning from other mistakes, were ballot scanners. You, the voter, sign in and get a sturdy paper ballot. You fill in the little circles with the supplied felt tip pen and run it through the scanner. You get three tries in case you filled in too many circles, or otherwise make a mess of it.

We know of no bad news in this system, aside from the rare hardware failures, for which we have a backup.

The good news is that...

The machines and the little booths they use to mark the ballots are much less volume and weight than the old ones-- saving a small fortune in storage and transportation costs

The lever machines were ancient and since replacement parts aren't being made, we had a huge warehouse full of spares-- which we used. A lot.

The lever machines were not always accurate, although if off usually only by the last digit. They were also difficult to read by the four people charged with reading them, and it could take a good half hour or more per machine to agree on the totals. Recounts and spot checks back at the base were also time consuming and not necessarily accurate.

The software is not some bloated and mysterious Windows based BS, but a simple dedicated counting program-- like millions of cash registers use.

The paper ballots are secured safely for spot checks and recounts. Voting totals are on a paper cash register tape and on a chip. The tapes and chips are handled with standard security protocols.

Voting lines are shorter, since they spend their time marking paper ballots, not in the booth finding levers. Actual voting time at the machine is around 15 seconds. Sometimes less.

Total setup and shutdown times are a bit longer for the new machines, but not that long and just one person can shut it down with three others doing other things and then merely certifying the tape. We get out a little faster after a 16 hour day.

Every election, someone gripes about liking the old machines. We have a lot of curmudgeons around here.

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