[E-voting] Submissions to the Commission

Patrick O'Beirne mail2 at sysmod.com
Fri Mar 12 19:13:30 GMT 2004

I've been looking for analogies to make the point clear to non-techies.
Has anybody got improvements on these:


http://vote.nist.gov/speeches/2%20-%20Security%20Panel/ dill-nist.pdf
The Man Behind the Curtain
Suppose voting booth has a man behind a curtain
– Voter is anonymous
– Voter dictates votes to scribe.
– Voter never sees ballot.
There is no accountability in this system!(analogy due to Dan Wallach and 
Drew Dean)


Imagine the following election procedure:

Paper ballots are marked, in secret and deposited by the voters in sealed 
ballot boxes. (So far, so good).

The ballot boxes are then delivered to the offices of a private firm, which 
is publicly known to be a supporter of and contributor to one of

the political parties.

Upon receipt of the ballot boxes, the doors are locked and no one other 
than employees of that firm is allowed to inspect and validate the


The ballots are then destroyed, after which the results are announced.

The firm's favorite candidate is declared the winner. The final results 
vary radically from pre-election polls.
Sounds like a Soviet "election," doesn't it?  Like something that a 
dictator might dream up to assure himself a lifetime office.  But
surely, such a "fix" is too transparently and shamelessly obvious for 
anyone to think he could get away with it.

And yet this scenario is an exact analogy, in all relevant respects, to the 
"computer touch screen" voting system that has been rushed into
use, following the fiasco of the 2000 presidential election.



DOBBS: A lot of talk, a lot of concern about electronic voting as simply 
being moved into our electoral process much too early to assure
security, reliability, even verifying -- the ability to verify the results.

What is your take?

DILL: Well, I'd like an analogy. Suppose you had a bank, and your bank told 
you that it was going to reduce costs by getting rid of records
of transactions. And in particular, they were going to have more efficient 
audits by just printing out the account balances when anyone
wanted to see what was happening inside the bank.
People wouldn't have confidence in a bank like that, because they've lost 
accountability. We're pretty much doing the same thing for our
election system.
For a couple of hundred years we've been able to do manual recounts to 
audit the system and when we went to computers, there was paper
involved, so that we could go back and check that the computer did the 
right thing.


5. Aeroplane analogy made

     It was suggested that the blind trust asked of voters was no more than
   the blind trust asked of airline passengers.  Of course, the aviation
   industry has learned (the hard way) to treat its operations as a large,
   complex, critical system, with detailed backups and exhaustive training
   for all involved personnel.  Even the modern fly-by-wire Airbus planes
   have a plan for total avionics failure: the magnetic compass, rudder,
   and engine throttles are all mechanical, so the pilots can continue to
   fly safely (but not necessarily efficiently) even if everything shuts
   down.  The evoting industry hasn't reached that level of maturity yet,
   and it shows.

  Patrick O'Beirne,     Systems Modelling Ltd.
  Gorey, Co. Wexford, Ireland. +353 55 22294
  www.sysmod.com  I.S. management consulting

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