Voting Machines – The 8th Deadly Sin

I haven’t banged the “electronic voting machine” drum lately, but elections are coming and it calls for scrutiny. This video (9:28) demonstrates a simple vote stealing scenario.

I honestly believe that ballotless electronic voting machines threaten the very bedrock that this nation is founded on. Not because they’ll be tampered with. Because we’ll always wonder if they were tampered with. This wondering will shake the faith of everyone, in this nation and out.

Here’s what I wrote in May of 2004 (naughty word warning):

The problem with electronic voting, especially electronic voting without a paper trail, is not that it’s insecure. I imagine, after some work, it can be made pretty tight. The problem is that we will always suspect that it’s insecure. No patches, no service packs, no little paper receipt will ever change our distrust of the machines.

“We don’t want to return to a less accurate, less accessible paper ballot system,” said Mischelle Townsend, registrar of voters for Riverside County. “It invites further complications in terms of poll-worker training and voter education.”

I’ll take those complications over loss of trust in our elections, thank-you very much. I don’t care if it takes a week to count the damn ballots. I want the ballots to contain the votes that the citizens intended to cast, and I want to know that they haven’t been fucked with.

Voting and electing government officials is FUNDAMENTAL to the American way of life. There can be no doubt about an election’s validity. If we feel doubt, our way of life is threatened. If it isn’t gone already.

I don’t think I’m overstating this. Electronic voting threatens to damage this country more than any war or scandal or recession could. Our nation, our system, can weather storms like Vietnam or Watergate or the Depression. Loss of faith in our elections, and by extension the winners of those elections, isn’t a tempest to be waited out. It’s the end of the world as we know it.

It doesn’t matter if no one ever hacks one of these things. We’ll always be afraid that someone will. We’ll always wonder if someone did.

More info on the Princeton demonstration here: (Video via Aziz at Dean’s World)


  1. I am OK with electric voting (think its pretty stupid in the 21st century we vote like its 1950) BUT there MUST BE A HARDCOPY PAPER TRAIL. When you punch in your vote on your new touch screen the printer right then should print you a paper copy like you see on screen with your vote marks on it. At that point you should check and drop into the bucket. Whola instant vote count and Cofirmation paper trail. I agree thou that anonomous electric voting with no paper trail is were the slipery slope goes over the cliff.

  2. I always thought electronic voting would make use of overly simplistic electronics. Basically, assign a candidate a letter and number. Then manually match up the letter/number with a picture, name, and party affiliation. The electronics would be on the level of a CPA’s calculator which spits out receipts. This system is then connected to a more complex electronic device which also tallys the votes. The system would make use of COTS systems, but would also be overly simplistic. It’s job is to store the vote and ID number of the candidate. The system would be SEALED and would not be able to be modified after leaving the factory. After this, you plug in a USB drive or something, and it spits the data onto it for easy reading. The technology would be too simple to hack or attack. But would also leave a significant paper trail and still be easy to use. Heck, cant the gov’t make a contest to build a voting machine that can be uniformly used across the nation. Its not so much: electronic voting, but standardizing it as well.

  3. Skrip: A) I agree…I was surprised to see how these machines worked…seemed overly complex. B) Any sort of government contest will give us the DD(X)/FCS of voting machines in seven to ten years. They’ll be so expensive that the gov’t will only be able to afford 173 of them. C) DD(X) voting machines in seven years means that I’ll have to post about not turning all the WW2 voting machines into museums until voting capability to match is available. Every time I post on it 50-100 emphatic comments will pile up, with you, James, Bram, and everyone arguing all the time. D) Then Buckethead will show up and say that we should let UAVs do the voting for us…

  4. I don’t think we should let UAVs vote, just that we could use UAVs as tools to vote. Big difference. Though, eventually, they may demand the vote. And they’ll be armed. We might want to give it to them. It occurs to me that if we’re going to switch to electronic voting, we should go whole hog. Why replicate the paper voting process? We might get a lot bigger turnout if the process of voting more closely resembled a simulation. You fly your plane, and you have a number of vote bombs. On the virtual ground ahead, there are a number of targets that look like statues of the various candidates. Drop your bomb on your desired candidate, and you’ve voted. After you’re done voting, you can loiter over the AO, and strafe the opposing candidates for shits and giggles.