Voting systems designed to be tamper-resistant may be missing lots of votes. New research shows that only 58 percent of ballots using new end-to-end technology were successfully cast. The systems are designed to give voters the option to both verify the system is working properly and to check that their votes have been recorded after leaving the polling place. Voting concerns such as accuracy, privacy, and bribery/coercion have prompted research and development of ways to make voting tamper-resistant and verifiable by voters. While the three systems evaluated solved many of the security problems surrounding voting with traditional methods—such as voters being able to independently confirm that a vote was counted correctly—the systems’ added complexity appeared to negatively impact their usability. “Overall, the tested systems were exceptionally difficult to use,” says Claudia Acemyan, a postdoctoral fellow at Rice University and lead author of the study that is published online in the Journal of Election Technology and Systems.
Microsoft Research has revealed a potential flaw in verifiable e-voting machines through which fraudsters could easily use discarded ballot receipts as a guide for altering votes. Fortunately, the researchers also offered a solution — linking new receipts to previous ones with cryptographic hashes — but that alone won’t make e-voting entirely secure, they cautioned.
Unlike the first generation of controversial e-voting machines, which lacked printing capabilities and suffered other back-endinsecurities, new models from such companies as Scantegrity, Prêt à Voter, VeriScan, Helios, and MarkPledge can print out receipts. Not only can voters check the printouts to confirm their votes were cast correctly, they can also later compare their receipts against published election data.
The problem with the new generation of verifiable voting machines, according to the report (PDF), is that most people are highly unlikely to retain their receipts for future vote verification. However, ill-intentioned individuals could get their hands on those receipts — by rummaging through garbage cans at voting centers, for example, or through social engineering techniques — then use insider connections to change votes to their preferred candidate.
Using the discarded receipts as a guide for changing votes would be ideal, as they would represent voters with no intention of verifying their votes later. “Suppose that it is known that 5 percent of voters are expected to verify their receipts in an election,” the report says. “With a standard design, an insider that randomly alters 10 ballots would escape detection about 60 percent of the time.”
Takoma Park voters who use an absentee ballot this November will have to mail or deliver their paper ballot because the Board of Elections (BoE) decided not to accept online voting as an alternative to for filing a paper absentee ballot. However, the BoE opted to maintain the online system to confirm a paper absentee ballot has been recorded.
At its meeting Wednesday evening, the BoE passed a resolution directing paper absentee ballots have to be cast in order for the vote to be counted. That resolution is: “That the ballot of record for absentee ballots is the paper ballot, and we will not accept only the electronic record as a ballot vote.”
The need for the resolution was the result of the language for the Internet Confirmation Guidelines for absentee voters produced by Scantegrity, a security system for optical scan voting systems that uses confirmation codes to allow a voter to ensure their ballot has not been changed and is included in the final tally, and presented to the BoE by Filip Zagorski. The confirmation guidelines for the absentee ballot are listed under the heading “Internet Confirmation.”
Takoma Park has never been a city to shy away from trying something new. The small Maryland city is a nuclear-free zone. Non-citizen legal immigrants are allowed to vote in local elections and the city operates its own compost recycling program and silo for corn-burning stoves.
It’s ready to take the plunge into voting technology as well. Takoma Park is experimenting with online voting, hoping to pave the way for use in elections. A small group of students, led by George Washington University computer science professor Poorvi Vora, spearheaded a test for online absentee voting in Takoma Park in partnership with Scantegrity and Remotegrity.
On a blistering hot day in this suburb of Washington, D.C,, 16 people participated in the trial of the system, using computers within the cool confines of the city’s Community Center.
Takoma Park may offer absentee voters the option to vote online in this falls city council and mayoral election.
The city Board of Elections is working with Scantegrity, a research group that ran the citys 2009 elections, to develop a system in which absentee voters could vote online. The city will still be conducting traditional voting at polling places, regardless of whether an online absentee system is implemented, City Clerk Jessie Carpenter said.