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Monday, October 18, 2004

Technology for Voting

Electronic voting machine used in Brazilian el...Image via Wikipedia

About electronic voting. It seems to me that technology should only be applied (at first, anyway) to the aspects of traditional voting that have proved problematic.

One area is in the balloting process, in which the voters record their wishes on paper or cardboard ballots.

A machine could present the options to the voter, allows the voter to specify his other choices and then records those choices on the ballot. All of the various rules could be enforced in the software. A ballot would not be released to the voter until it qualified to be counted. A unique ballot code based upon the name and social security number of the voter and the date could be encoded onto the ballot as well.

Once a ballot is released to the voter, along with a receipt bearing the unique ballot code, he or she should be able to take the paper ballot over to a completely different machine, perhaps even manufactured by a different company, and confirm what was encoded on the ballot. This is an unnecessary step, really, but would build confidence in the system.

Then the ballot could be given to the poll workers as is ordinarily the case or it could be placed by the voter into a machine that would transmit it to the central office. The paper ballot would be retained in case there is a need to recount the ballots.

Sampling could be done with these retained ballots to confirm the accuracy of the electronic transmission of each ballot.

Another area where technology might be useful is in allowing voters to verify that their ballots where counted and were not modified.

At any time, the voter should be able to check over the Internet that the ballot was counted using the unique ballot code. Not how the voter voted, but that the voter's vote was counted.

At any time, the voter should be able to go to the central office and view an electronic representation of the ballot by presenting the unique ballot code and identification. The name of the user and their social security number can be used to validate that individual is authorized to see the ballot.

Other than the date, no data should be stored with the ballot at the central office. A system at the office could use the voter information and the date to regenerate the code. If it matches the code recorded for the ballot, the voter would be allowed to view the ballot.

These mechanisms for confirming that one's vote was counted and for being able to view one's vote should go a long way towards increasing confidence in the system, while still protecting voter privacy.

I also think it would be useful if there were one publicly funded open source project for software AND hardware for such a system. This would keep things transparent and avoid duplication of efforts. Open source is working in the private sector; with some adaptation, it can work in the public sector as well.
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