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    • Richard

      I read that West Virginia is planning on using an app for voting. Meanwhile, it's well known that in addition to their social media campaigns, Russians accessed voter registration databases in 2016, and are continuing their efforts to meddle in the coming elections. Computer professionals have been consistently saying that our elections IT infrastructure is not trustworthy. There is an easy solution--return to paper ballots. We know how to make them relatively safe and reliable. The only downside is that it requires more people and results take a bit longer to be determined. Isn't that a reasonable price to pay for election integrity? Why do we seem to be incapable of using simple solutions to dangerous problems?

      (Cartoon by xkcd)

    • yaypie

      I cringe every time I read about electronic voting systems. I'm definitely the software engineer in this comic.

      Oregon uses paper ballots and is a 100% vote-by-mail state. A few weeks before an election, every registered voter in the state receives a ballot in the mail. You can fill it out and mail it back at your convenience. Voter turnout is high and fraud is virtually nonexistent. It's absolutely fantastic and couldn't be simpler.

      Oregon Senator Ron Wyden has introduced several bills calling for a national vote by mail system similar to Oregon's, most recently in cooperation with Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer, but Republican congresspeople keep voting the bills down.

    • NikkyJ

      I hate to be cynical, but if you believe election meddling helped you and your party come to power, how much incentive would you have to fix it?

    • yaypie

      Yeah. I can respect differing political opinions, but people who try to reduce voter turnout, or who use tactics like voter purging and gerrymandering to stack the deck, are the worst kind of scum no matter what party they represent.

      Democracy and voter suppression are fundamentally incompatible ideas.

    • VR

      I can see both sides of what @NikkyJ saying about lack of incentives to fix the broken system but I agree with @yaypie on the fundamentals of making voting accessible to everyone who can vote.

      Perhaps I'm very naive, but doesn't everyone these days have a smartphone with all kinds of security features and tons of authentications built in? How amazing would it be to vote straight from your phone?

      The problem is the incompetence of the electronic systems and lack of proper funding to make it competent. With enough resources and will this problem can be solved. Just look at the industries like banking, ecommerce etc. It is in their interest to create secure and reliable systems.

    • yaypie

      Here's the problem with electronic voting systems: no matter how much funding they receive and no matter how brilliant the programmers and cryptographers are who design them, they will always have a large attack surface and they will always provide worse verifiability guarantees than paper. Even in a perfect world.

      Paper ballots, and especially vote-by-mail paper ballots, have an extremely small attack surface. To commit fraud, an attacker must create a large number of bogus paper ballots and get them into ballot boxes, or they must alter the votes on a large number of existing paper ballots, or they must somehow engage every single person responsible for counting and verifying votes in a conspiracy.

      Because of how tightly paper ballots can be controlled at in-person voting places, and because of how widely distributed vote-by-mail ballots are, it's virtually impossible to alter votes on existing ballots. It's also very hard to introduce fake ballots, because faking a ballot typically requires getting a fake voter on the roll. You may be able to do that for a handful of ballots, but a handful of votes isn't going to win an election.

      If there are questions about the legitimacy of a vote, paper ballots can be recounted and verified manually, because they're physical objects that actually exist.

      But with e-voting, if you can gain access to any of the multiple electronic systems involved anywhere in the chain, you may be able to alter votes en masse without needing to create fake voters. And there are any number of ways you could do it.

      If you can inject code into the voting software, you may be able to alter the UI so that when the voter taps the name of Candidate A the system actually logs a vote for Candidate B. Or you may be able to execute a database query that flips a random sampling of previously cast votes for Candidate A to votes for Candidate B. The possibilities are endless.

      And when electronic voting systems are tampered with, recounting and verifying votes can be difficult or impossible, because there may not be any record of votes except the electronic one that you can't trust.

      Software security is incredibly hard to get right, especially at the level required for voting systems. Even when done right, clever attackers can still find vulnerabilities that nobody previously predicted. And sadly, electronic voting systems in the US have an absolutely horrible track record. Many vendors don't even seem to make the most basic efforts to write secure software. It's shocking.

      And what's the benefit? Being able to vote from your phone is only a tiny bit more convenient than voting by mail, but it's fraught with so much more peril that it's just not worth it. Plus, not everyone has a phone, so you still have to provide an alternative.

      Voting by mail is demonstrably secure. It's simple. It's cheap. It's convenient. It's better than e-voting can ever hope to be.

    • RussP

      You guys should try voting in Australia, firstly it is compulsory and if your name is not crossed off the voters roll you get a fine $20.00 for first time ofenders then $50.00 for repeat offenders.🤔

      You do not need ID to vote!!! you simply arrive state your name and address and they cross your name off the list and hand you the ballot sheet/s.

      It's a very casual affair 🤣    

    • flei

      My town of less than 2000 people still uses paper ballots. These are then counted by volunteers on election night. I often have volunteered to do the counting along side about 30 other townspeople. It is a nice way to feel a part of a (more or less) democratic process.

    • ranjani

      Exactly my thoughts. This post made me think. Does it really help to go back to the past when technology has made us more efficient? No, i don't think so. We should come up new security systems that meet the challenge, rather than avoid it.the challenge could be an opportunity to make us more resourceful.

    • Richard

      I don't doubt that Republicans are willfully looking the other way because they think it's in their interest. But I do wonder, is Putin reliably Republican? If his agenda is to sow discord, wouldn't it make sense to favor a Democratic House this time, thus ensuring political paralysis and further weakening of the American presidency? Now I realize there's not the slightest bit of evidence to support this idea, but it doesn't seem totally outlandish. Russians are chess masters, after all.

      Regardless of the partisan consequences, the US can only be harmed by a loss of confidence in the integrity of elections. This might be a more important goal of the Russians than the outcome of any specific race. Governments fail when they are no longer seen as legitimate--that's what happened to the Soviet Union, as Putin knows. Anyone who would endanger legitimacy for partisan gain is either a revolutionary or a traitor. </rant>

    • yaypie

      I can't tell if you're being sarcastic or not, but...

      Blockchain has useful properties for validation and tamper prevention after votes are logged, but it can't prevent tampering elsewhere in the stack.

      If an attacker is able to inject malware that can change what vote gets logged (such as by modifying the UI to record a vote for Candidate B when the voter taps on Candidate A), then the vote logged in the tamper-proof blockchain will be fraudulent and the blockchain will hurt more than it will help because people will trust it more than they'll trust the voter who swears they voted for Candidate A.

      Blockchain won't help prevent side channel attacks like this, even if we assume that the blockchain voting ledger is implemented perfectly and that the electricity and time required to verify the blocks won't make it impractical to use.

    • Richard

      I saw this morning the results of an interesting experiment at DEFCON, the annual hacker convention. Fifty children between the ages of 8 and 16 were given the chance to hack replicas of state voting websites. Thirty succeeded in under half an hour. An eleven year old managed to hack a replica of Florida's site in under 10 minutes. Story here. While it isn't clear that this demonstrates that any bright kid can change election results (the devil is in the details, which I haven't seen--it could be much less significant than it sounds), it is still a confirmation of the vulnerability of our current technology. Maybe an eleven year old really isn't much of a threat, but sophisticated hackers certainly are.

      It's all well and good to try to improve security, but as several people have pointed out it's easier said than done. In the meantime, however, it makes little sense to use technology that we know is insecure, especially when there is a simple and safe alternative.

    • marchyman

      The headline in that article is incorrect and deserves to be retracted with a written apology. No results were changed. The contents of website that reports the results was changed. That is a different animal. The article even states:

      “While it is undeniable websites are vulnerable to hackers, election night reporting websites are only used to publish preliminary, unofficial results for the public and the media. The sites are not connected to vote counting equipment and could never change actual election results.”

      Edit: Paper ballots are good and possibly necessary. However, even when in use the above vulnerablity -- hacking result websites -- is still in play.

    • Richard

      Right--the devil is in the details, so it doesn't surprise me that this story was misleading. But the vulnerabilities of the overall system are well known and paper ballots are still a safer option, especially when compared to electronic systems with no audit trail.

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