[E-voting] Re: terrorism and electronic elections

Catherine Ansbro cansbro at eircom.net
Tue Jul 12 11:06:16 IST 2005


In other circumstances I would not have problem with a "statistically 
significant" sample.  (I come from a scientific family so I appreciate 
well-executed statistical analysis.)  Some of the more recent 
revelations in the USA (and I'm /not/ talking about exit polls) have led 
me to see this as offering little or no protection.


It is very easy to "fiddle" a "random" sample.  If you can compromise 
the means by which the samples are chosen--and it's not very hard for me 
to imagine this--then you've got no protection at all.  It would then 
mean that if you can control just the method for choosing the sample 
you'd be able to control the election.

Plus, you have to not only control the random sampling but you also need 
to have impeccable custody chain of ballots. (This one is pretty good in 
Ireland, though as I've mentioned there are breakdowns in the procedure 
even here.)

Events in the States have shown how very easy it is to get around these 
rules.  (And, to break the rules and yet experience no consequences.  
We're no difference here.  What about the voting machines that arrived 
with their security seals broken, and all the election officers decided 
to go ahead and use them anyways.  Same thing--break the procedures, but 
it's "not serious and can be ignored.")

Also, what do you do when there is only a "small difference" (e.g., each 
polling place is off by just a few votes--nothing that seems important 
and could just be human error)--but as has recently been shown, all you 
need is a very tiny difference in many areas to swing an election.  Yet, 
none of these differences in themselves would appear to be serious on 
their own.   (This is something like what happened in Belgium--the 
difference between the hand count & the electronic count wasn't enough 
to change the results, so they assumed the electronic count was more 
likely to be accurate (!) and then did away with all hand recounts for 
the future.)

As one person at BBV pointed out, statistics are useful in catching 
random, non-malicious errors.  But they are /not/ an effective tool for 
catching malicious errors.


Michael McMahon wrote:

>>> VVAT /plus/ mandatory hand count of all ballots would be close to 
>>> acceptable, if I felt sure that the hand count wouldn't eventually 
>>> be dispensed with.  (If you've got a mandatory hand count, why 
>>> bother with the electronics at all?  Just a huge unnecessary ongoing 
>>> expenditure that has no true intrinsic benefits and risks losing 
>>> everything.)
> Catherine,
> This assumes that hand-counting *all* the ballots is actually
> necessary. In the US they only hand check a tiny percentage of
> the old counting machines (eg. 1% of precincts in California),
> and nobody has complained about that afaik.
> I think there is a perception out there that
> checking random samples is somehow similar to
> exit or opinion polls, and is therefore based on some kind
> of flaky pseudo-science. But that's not the case.
> Sampling of the actual votes, rather than of voters
> statements about how they did or will vote, is governed
> by normal rules of mathematical probability.
> I do share your concern that the checking might eventually
> be dispensed with, but that's why the laws regulating e-voting
> need to be primarily concerned with the details of auditing
> and checking, and not with how the system itself is constructed.
> At least if auditing is mandated by law, then there is a reasonable
> chance that losing candidates will create a fuss, if the procedures
> are not completely followed.
> Personally, I believe it would be quite easy technically to add
> a printer to the voting machines, and while I do have some
> reservations about VVAT, I think it could be a viable solutio.
> IMO, the best way to find out, would be to run a pilot in
> one or two constituencies. This would help to determine:
> 1) how the public deal with the extra complication of
>    the printed ballots
> 2) how much it adds to the running costs per election.
> Michael.

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