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Computer systems can only produce a paper facsimile of the vote cast – and thus it must be checked, immediately, by the voter to verify that their intentions were recorded and reflected. Further, that paper record must itself be capable of being re-read/re-counted by different hardware easily so that the (invisible) tally of votes can be verified. In the end, you need to essentially produce a paper ballot but you burden the voter with having to check it after already having voted in a different medium. Anything short of that means that electronic votes are ripe for tampering.

Paper ballots as the canonical record can always be: a) recounted on demand while being able to verify original voter intent (to a greater extent than digital or mechanical systems) and b) digitized for redundant storage and securely encrypted.

Therefore, IMHO, if you want to ensure democracy, ballots must: show tampering, be easy to complete, easy to count (and re-count) and quickly deployable/scalable. Scannable paper is the only option that really does all of that well.

From an operations perspective (MBA/Designer here), the bottleneck in the process is the filling out of the ballot, not the scanning/recording (with any electronic/scanning system), so why not make that part scale/parallelize really easily without requiring thousands of dollars of heavy, breakable hardware? Paper is better, all around.

Read the link in tokenadult's post about Minnesota. Paper is hardly easy to count when you get to the dolts who don't know how to mark a ballot. What does it mean when the guy marks a vote for every question but also writes "LIZARD PEOPLE" in every write-in ballot spot?

Lots of people really don't like the fact that the senator is chosen based on how 3 people sit down and decide what that means, or whether this chad was punched out "enough."

Computer touch-screen voting systems, like all other voting, have flaws, but one thing they don't have is any ambiguity how you count each ballot.

(There are, of course, other ways to handle this. For example, you could fill out a paper ballot and have it read by a test machine that is very conservative in what it accepts, and alerts you to errors. I'm sure this has trade-offs, too.)


>Computer touch-screen voting systems, like all other voting, have flaws, but one thing they don't have is any ambiguity how you count each ballot.

As someone who has designed questionnaires and computer interfaces, I think you miss a huge point here – electronic systems make vote counting easy because they constrain choice... but there's a lot less ability to verify that an electronic system actually captured the intention of the voter – just as this story shows.

So, how do you do that? 3 parts:

1) Use paper ballots, as I've argued for, above.

2) Count/scan each ballot immediately, before the voter leaves. Reject ones that do not process properly (i.e. the one you described above would be rejected if there were conflicting indicators). I thought I remembered MN doing that (I lived/voted there ~a decade ago), for example, and I'm pretty sure my poling place here in Illinois did that last time as well (haven't been there yet today). It's not an impossible task to enforce the same constraints on a paper ballot, doing so with the voter present and able to clarify/fix their ballot.

3)You try really, really hard to design easy to understand and use paper ballots (for all the reasons I said above, you need paper for an audit trail). Good communication design (i.e.: how you design/layout the ballot forms) matters a lot and most of them are terrible.

That, however, is no excuse for accepting an electronic system which gives up any ability to audit the count in a reliable way (and, unless the voter verifies a physical printout, no electronic system can be reliable, as discussed above).


There's no ambiguity about a spoiled ballot. It's a legitimate protest with a clear outcome - the vote is not counted. A simple system of slips of paper marked by hand and counted by hand works better than anything involving chads, touch screens or electronic counting.

Paper ballots are really the best solution we have at present and I'd argue the involvement of as many people as possible in counting and supervision is a good thing. With clear evidence like this video of probable fraud and at the very least incompetetence the current touch screen voting machines should be removed at least until they are properly vetted and verified.


I have been a candidate (in Scotland/UK). Here all rejected ballot papers are shown to all the candidates and their agents and if a paper is technically invalid (in the UK that means any mark other than a cross) but where the intent is clear (ie yes in the box against Mrs McGinty) are counted as if they were valid votes.

Very rarely is there disagreement about what is a valid vote - but they can be very ambiguous. The paper is only approved if there is a high level of unambiguity about it - any doubt it goes out.


So what is to stop you making a deal with me, that if somebody writes "ARF" in your box on the ballot paper, that you will pay me £1000? It will obviously be disputed, so it will be shown to you as a candidate, and it is unusual enough that you can identify the vote as mine with >=90% confidence, but you have a good chance that if you show it to your opponents, they will agree that my "intention was clear."

I was under the impression that (in the UK) all ballot papers containing anything other than "X" in one box were always rejected for that reason.


Nothing, but to make that a practical vote buying scheme I would need to purchase 1,000 votes and maintain a list of the secret codes and then go to the count with this list.

Then, in the presence of all the other candidates and agents, I would have go through my list and check off my secret codes.

Guess what? It would kick off big style and suddenly consent to include my magic ballots would be withdrawn by everybody else - the Returning Officer would make a decision and probably have a word with the polis - who are present at, and supervise the ballot boxes.

Protecting the integrity of the ballot is like securing a computer system. Identify the core vectors of attack and lock them down. So it is about "what is the rate of postal votes?" "are the postal vote samples inline with the end-result?" "what is the turnout? relative to last time and other similar constituencies?" "what is the churn in voter registration?" "is the final turnout consistent with the reported turnout?" "is it easy to buy votes?" "is it easy to register fake voters?".

The core point is not to make fraud hard but to make it visible. Of course the basic 'don't make it easy' steps need to be taken - but after that it is all about 'don't let anybody get away with it'.

The problem on HN is that nobody coming up with suggestions on how to improve the ballot is doing any 'customer discovery' - going out to talk to actual people who stand for election and run elections and who are trying to ensure that the vote is fair. The computer pixie dust being scattered around is fixing non-problems.

BTW it isn't an X it is a St Andrew's cross - St Andrew being the patron saint of truth telling - it means 'I swear by St Andrew that this is my true intent'. The 'kiss' on a letter likewise meaning 'I swear by St Andrew that my love is true'. One of the perks of being Scottish is that our flag stands for truth, love and democracy :)


What if the bubble isn't fully filled in? What if it's 50% filled in? What if it there is a stray mark in another bubble?

I'm not trying to play Loki's Wager -- there really have been incredibly close elections where you have puzzle out just what the voter intended and it's just not clear. Nor can you make the boundary be "well if it's not clear throw it away," because you can't tell when it doesn't become clear. This isn't the most worst thing ever, but it's part of a legitimate design to want to limit this[1].

Computer-voting systems do have problems, but they don't have that one. And it at least gives the voter a chance to fix it if they are paying attention.

(Yes, I'm a fan of paper, but it's not strictly better than computer voting.)

[1] http://blog.joeware.net/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/hangingCh...


To be clear, I was responding to your suggestion that a deliberately spoiled ballot with nonsense candidates written in would be somehow ambiguous - it's not, it will clearly be counted as spoiled (by a human counter at least). For accidentally spoiled ballots, the vote won't be counted if it is not clear - that should be decided by humans, it's more reliable than having machines do it, and frankly it probably only accounts for a very small percentage of votes; it's not a huge problem, and if it becomes statistically significant, the paper ballots can be recounted and verified later.

Your picture of a someone inspecting a punch-card is not relevant to most paper voting systems - punch cards are like touch screen machines, they are unreliable technology, and should not have been introduced when the previous system worked perfectly well but just required manpower for counting (which can be mostly volunteers). Even the counting could be automated on paper ballots, but you need humans involved for the ambiguous cases, and I'm not sure automated counting is necessary if you have enough volunteers.

Simple paper ballots with a mark inside a square or circle are a tested solution which works well, and leaves an indisputable paper trail in case of recounts. Anything else we've tried just doesn't work as well, though no doubt it has made some companies fabulously rich in suppling the necessary machinery and constantly updating it when it proves to be unreliable.

So I'd contend that paper ballots, as used in the UK for example, are better than the computer voting machines available at present. I'm sure one day we'll come up with better machines, but they'd have to be open source, secure, verifiable and incredibly reliable - the antithesis of the machine in the video.


>What if the bubble isn't fully filled in? What if it's 50% filled in? What if it there is a stray mark in another bubble?

Count it before the voter leaves, reject any ambiguous ballots with feedback about what's wrong and have the voter fix it before they leave. Repeat until it's accepted.


Just to be absolutely clear, you are advocating for people to have their votes approved prior to them being allowed to be cast?


No, I believe they are advocating that the ballot be counted/approved or rejected in the presence of the voter. This way people will have an opportunity to fix any mistakes with the ballot itself. This wouldn't have anything to do with the votes, rather it would ensure that the intention of the voter was correctly captured.

This is the way it worked when I lived in Indiana. We had paper/optical ballots that were scanned immediately after we turned them in. We watched them get scanned, and could verify that the counter on the scanner incremented (not vote tallies, just a +1 for total ballots cast).


Exactly. Tally votes with an electronic scanner in real time allowing the voter to fix any issues discovered by the electronic system. This is already done in some municipalities.


One of the core principles of the US system is that no one knows how a specific individual voted. This system (if I understand you correctly) requires the voter to confirm his vote to another human, which breaks the anonymity.


I think you misunderstand. You have a machine that scans ballots, counts votes, and then stores the ballots for later hand-verification. The ballots are fed into this machine in front of the voter. That's how it's done presently in many places (including the polling place I visited today).

The suggestion is that, when the machine is scanning the ballot, if it finds something ambiguous it immediately rejects the ballot, returns it, and doesn't count anything, the voter gets it back, fixes the issue (or returns the ballot as spoiled and gets a fresh one they can mark correctly), and you repeat.

Nowhere in that does anyone else see the person's votes (except potentially on returning a spoiled ballot, but that's no more true under this system than the existing one if someone notices they mis-marked something, and they can always just mark more to obscure their original intent before handing it back).


My polling place does this. The voter stands by as the machine scans their bubble sheet and reports success or failure on a little display.

The downside of all this is that the machine is still free to slant results if its software has been tampered with.


You can tell when it does become unclear. If the machine reading the ballot cannot provide a single valid answer per each question based on what's in the ballot, then it should be thrown away.

How close elections are is orthogonal to this issue.


Paper ballots are a must, I agree, because they can be counted by hand, but they don't have to be, at least not at first. Electronic counting/scanning of paper ballots can be trusted – it's not that difficult to verify the counting for a small (known) set of test ballots and use the machine to count the rest. If there's doubt, then hand-count... but hand-counts are fallible too – mainly because the human is the weak link, of course (we make mistakes, even when we try not to) =)


Yes that's true, machine counting would be just as good if the ballots are kept and can be verified later.


(1) A vote that cannot be understood should be considered informal and not counted.

(2) Electronic voting machines are stupid.

(3) Chads are stupid.

The immediate solution to (2) and (3) is to use a pen and paper.


>> What does it mean when the guy marks a vote for every question but also writes "LIZARD PEOPLE" in every write-in ballot spot?

Spoiled ballot. Vote not counted. What else would it mean?


If they don't check 'other' then it shouldn't matter what they put in the write-in spot. I would have accepted it as a perfectly valid ballot.

Even if there is no checkbox next to the write-in spot you could reasonably argue that it still shouldn't matter what's written there unless none of the candidates have checks.


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