What can I do about touch screen voting?
September 9, 2008 3:47 PM   Subscribe

What can I do to help in regards to touch screen voting machines in my community?

So I went to vote today, and was rather surprised when I was asked if I wanted to use the touch screen or paper. I politely declined the touch screen and went with paper. Due to the problems with electronic voting, I'd like to help the community stay with paper, or improve the problems with the touch screens. My questions:
1) Is there any sort of unified effort towards this goal that could give me good resources as far as real facts? I don't want to base anything on hype.
2) Are all touch screens fraught with the problems that the Diebold Premier Election Solutions machines have? I couldn't get a good look at the machine, so I have no idea what brand it is.
3) I'm planning on writing a letter or two once I have all of my information together. Is there anything else I should be doing?
posted by niles to Law & Government (8 answers total)
Best answer: Black Box Voting will have a lot of information for you.
posted by milkrate at 3:54 PM on September 9, 2008

Response by poster: Oh great. Black Box Voting has a "Just In" headline for Wisconsin. (which, incidentally, is where I'm from, if it's relevant)
posted by niles at 4:06 PM on September 9, 2008

Best answer: from what i understand, the newer machines have paper printouts that are reviewable by the votor before casting one's vote. It's on a small hooded window to the bottom right of the screen. the ones with a paper backup are supposed to be more secure.

the paper you used was probaby optically scanned. just like a touchscreen, the optical scanner can be hacked, too. it's just that the paper ballots, which don't get thrown away, make a more convenient record if they suspect a problem with the software.

3--become an election judge. during the last election, no one used the touchscreen machine we had--mainly because us election judges didn't want to mess with the extra hassle. it is, btw, the accepted handicapped voting booth, so i don't see it going away at this time. however, since none of us judges suggested it to voters, no one used it.
posted by lester at 4:13 PM on September 9, 2008

from what i understand, the newer machines have paper printouts that are reviewable by the votor before casting one's vote. It's on a small hooded window to the bottom right of the screen. the ones with a paper backup are supposed to be more secure.

I was a poll judge back in 2006 in Ohio and this is what we had, yes - a viewable paper trail with the results as well as a record of each vote. IIRC, before the (locked) machine was opened again and everything was to be sent away to be counted, the paper entered a secure canister that had to be opened with a key and had some additional tamper-proof stuff going on.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 4:36 PM on September 9, 2008

This guy has some background that might help with your letters, and discussions you have with your friends and neighbors.

Most likely, the links already provided would lead you to the tinkerer and his hijinks, but I wanted to vote for him.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 5:10 PM on September 9, 2008

Am I being naive that it's better to vote absentee? I'm Wisconsinese and live abroad, so I'll vote absentee anyway, but I'm wondering if it's a good idea to have people vote ahead of time.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 6:05 PM on September 9, 2008

Best answer: A few quick things:

1) Everyone has the right in America to vote on a paper ballot, but sometimes that paper ballot is what's called a 'provisional' ballot. These are also given to people who show up to vote and are not found on the voter rolls on election day. These ballots are usually not counted in many states so when you ask for a paper ballot, keep in mind they could be offering you a 'provisional' ballot.

2) All elections can be rigged in one form or another. A good friend of mine is a lobbyist in DC for Diebold among many other firms. He tells me that if someone is skilled enough to hack into a machine to alter the software to tamper with votes, then that person is also skilled enough to make the machine print out a paper record for the voter that doesn't give away the fact that the votes were not counted or counted towards something different. Now, he's paid to say that, but he also doesn't bull-shit with me, so this was his experience and knowledge working in the industry talking. So a paper trail isn't 100% effective.

3) Paper ballots are prone to human error. See Palm Beach county circa November/December 2000. The optical scans could be hacked as well. So there is no tamper proof system.

Because there is no perfect system, you're really only left with one choice if you want to prevent election fraud and that is to follow lester's suggestion and become a precinct judge or election officer. Or volunteer for your county party or campaign as an elections monitor if such a program exists.

Good luck and thanks for sticking up for democracy. I'm sorry to piss all over the paper ballot is essential to democracy theory. A lot of people disagree with me. And I also think that there's ample opportunity for voter fraud through electronic ballots, don't get me wrong. But as an individual I think your best bet would be to assist in oversight of the process.
posted by willie11 at 9:36 PM on September 10, 2008

Response by poster: milkrate: Thanks. That site looks like it'll be a big help.

lester: Good call on the paper backup. It turns out the our touch screen here does have that.

willie11: Point 2 makes sense to me as well. I guess I'm concerned about the demonstrated ease that most of the touch screens can be modified (see Lesser Shrew's comment), but it's a good point about the paper trail and paper ballots.

Thanks for all of the info, everyone. This gives me a good starting point (in Wisconsin, no less, where we seem to be having all sorts of election fun)
posted by niles at 7:39 PM on September 11, 2008

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