General Question

jamms's avatar

Why don't voting machines work?

Asked by jamms (609points) April 8th, 2008 from iPhone

The year is 2008, computers are an essential part of all governments. In the United States, one of the most computerized states, we cannot design a machine to safely and accurately count voted. This seems like a very easy device to build. Why can’t we vote using computers yet?

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10 Answers

jrpowell's avatar

They could work. But they don’t when you get shit like this.


Randy's avatar

Basically it would be to hard for things to go wrong, and then an election couldnt be “given” away.

bpeoples's avatar

The problem is that votes need to be trustworthy, accountable, AND anonymous. This is why ATMs work, but voting machines don’t. If something goes wrong with an ATM transaction, there is a paper trail leading to a specific person and account. If your vote gets tallied wrong (and the machine can manage to determine that something went wrong) it can’t find the person whose vote needs to be recounted due to the requirement for anonymity.

Perchik's avatar

The machine itself would be extremely easy to build, so the machine would in essence “work.” The problem is as bpeople stated, there is no paper trail.
The other major problem is that it would be extremely easy to slip some line of code that misrepresents the number of votes. Essentially the only way for a voting machine to become normal would if there was a massive serious of checks and balances involved. One solution that I see would be to have many companies participate, without one being able to do anything that effects the outcome. eg, one company to record which button is pushed, one company to verify that the person has not already voted, one company to inject the vote into the database, one company to maintain the database, one company to encrypt the database,etc. The kicker is that each company would have to be oblivious to who the other companies are [and in some cases they would need to be oblivious to the nature of the work.] Of course there has to be some kind of government oversight to pull all this together. Not only is this impossible, but it also seems nearly improbable.

If one company developed all voting machines the election would be in their hands, available to the highest bidder. Even if there were multiple companies developing entire systems, those companies would be vulnerable to the same kind of corruption.

gorillapaws's avatar

The other possibility would be to have multiple versions of independently written software that register each vote and then when there is a discrepancy, you could compare the results against the various programs to check to see which is defective. Also the whole thing begs the question why this isn’t being solved by open-source code seeing as how making a project like this as transparent as possible to the public would seem to be the safest way to keep public confidence in our voting system.

cwilbur's avatar

Voting machines could, in theory work.

One problem is that the people who have the power to make them work correctly stand to gain considerably making them work incorrectly. This means that they need considerable oversight and verification, which annoys the people making them because it suggests they’re untrustworthy. They may or may not be trustworthy; the key is, the entire process needs to be completely above suspicion.

And then when there’s no paper trail, and it’s discovered that anyone with physical access to the machine (such as when it’s in a voting booth being used) can alter the vote tallies—well, that tends to make the whole process suspicious.

It’s also a real problem that local boards of elections and election volunteers, who have years of experience supervising paper ballots, have no way of judging the reliability and trustworthiness of electronic voting machines and no way of detecting fraud even if it should happen right under their noses.

gooch's avatar

In my state we vote on a computer located at the precinct. It is touch screen and it works fine. Maybe your state will catch up in a few years.

cwilbur's avatar

How do you know that the machine you’re using is accurately recording your votes? How do you know that there isn’t a flaw in it so that someone who knows what he’s doing can’t alter your vote?

Answer: you don’t know it’s accurately recording your votes, and as the voting machine manufacturers have claimed trade secret protection for their software and have fought every attempt to get it independently reviewed, nobody knows that it’s accurately recording your votes. And it has been found that certain Diebold machines are vulnerable to someone with a standard USB memory stick, the right software, and a little bit of knowhow altering their vote counts.

That’s why people say electronic voting machines don’t work.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

Here’s the problem as I see it:
From FOX News
From CNN News
A real-world example
This is more common than you might think

The company Diebold makes these machines and invariably financially backs Republican candidates in every election. I don’t think we have to worry about outside hackers. I think Diebold is sharp enough to steal elections all by themselves.

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