mm246: “Outright election fraud:” surely I jest – NOT!

MUDGE’S Musings

We completed our last post this way:

And our increasing concerns about the dirtiest dirty tricks of all in American politics, outright election fraud, will become a great deal more compelling as Obama’s sizable contingent of young and minority voters find roadblocks to casting their ballots.

Not just MUDGE’s imagination, apparently. The barriers to enfranchisement will need to be surmounted another day.

But this morning, received confirmation that our concerns about vote count fraud are not tinfoil hat paranoia.

The felonious mischief possible with today’s electronic voting technology has been a festering ulcerous boil on U.S. democracy since the debacle of Florida’s presidential vote counting in 2000.

Do we need to give up electronic voting altogether? The states of California and Colorado seem to be about to do that.

Do we need to wring our hands in dismay? Not so fast.

Election expert William Poundstone, writing in today’s NYTimes, presents two scholars’ proposals for a uniquely simple, elegant, and statistically meaningful method to test the accuracy of vote counting, electronic or not.


A Paper Trail for Voting Machines

By William Poundstone | Published: January 7, 2008
Los Angeles
PARANOIA over electronic voting is the new American consensus. The Democrats who will vote in the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday aren’t worried that Hillary Clinton will steal the election from Barack Obama or John Edwards, but a good chunk of them would probably confess to dark fears about a Republican plot in November, even if Karl Rove won’t be involved.

Last month, Colorado’s secretary of state, Mike Coffman, a Republican, decertified the state’s electronic voting machines, after the alarming finding that one model could be disabled with a magnet and others were scandalously inaccurate. He left voters to draw their own conclusions about what this meant for the state’s most recent elections. The California secretary of state, Debra Bowen, a Democrat, took office last year after running on a don’t-trust-electronic-voting platform, and in August she pulled the plug on the state’s voting machines.

But what other options are there? Paper ballots aren’t perfect. Ballot boxes can be stuffed or lost. Indeed, because of Florida’s paper-ballot mess in 2000, electronic voting is probably here to stay,

Fortunately, there is an elegant solution that lets us use modern technology while assuaging the growing fears about voter fraud. Ronald L. Rivest, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer scientist, and Warren D. Smith, a mathematician and voting reform advocate, have proposed an ingenious method that would combine paper ballots and a Web site to achieve greater ballot security than is possible with paper or software alone.

Rivest and Smith’s method is disconcertingly simple: give as a receipt to each voter a newly chosen random copy of a cast ballot. Then, post the serial numbers and votes of each ballot cast on a special website.

This way, a concerned citizen could confirm on line that the vote for which he has a receipt (not his own that’s apparently a recipe for another kind of fraud) but a randomly printed one, has been correctly recorded.

Take a look at the details.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

A Paper Trail for Voting Machines – New York Times

Seems like a lot of (complicated, but admittedly low tech) bother, but I’m impressed that this proposal actually only requires a few busy-bodies to assure accuracy.

For instance, to have 95 percent assurance of detecting a fraud involving 6 percent of ballots, only 50 voters would have to check, and this is true no matter how large the electorate. If the margin of victory is less than 6 percent, then more people would surely check.

Ain’t statistics grand?

Let’s do this, people, so that our votes aren’t stolen from us yet again.

It’s it for now. Thanks,


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6 Responses to mm246: “Outright election fraud:” surely I jest – NOT!

  1. ROTUS says:

    All of our new paper ballot scanners were replaced by Diebold touch screens, at great expense, after 2000. I have been uncomfortable abut them from the beginning.

  2. mudge says:

    The technology we most recently used in our Illinois precinct seemed more transparent to the voter, but there is no doubt that, in the present atmosphere of distrust, our confidence in what happens to that vote once the paper tape is generated at voting time is still dependent more upon faith than fact. Thanks so much for taking the trouble to add to the dialog here. –mudge

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