[E-voting] random-sampling VVPB inadequate to prevent fraud
michael at hexmedia.com
Tue Sep 20 11:53:28 IST 2005
Catherine Ansbro wrote:
> But random sampling of VVPB is not adequate to detect fraud.
> See Bob Fleischer's paper. (link at BBV)
I meant to reply to this before now, but here goes anyway.
I think Bob Fleischer's paper is well written, and is a good summary of
the issues surrounding electronic voting, but I don't completely
agree with his conclusions (with respect to VVAT).
You have to compare the risks of electronic voting with the equivalent
risks in the existing systems.
You also have weigh up any new risks introduced by an electronic system
against the possible
benefits it may bring. The results of these comparisons vary, depending
on many factors,
such as the election system itself. Manual counting in Ireland's PR STV
system is time-consuming,
complicated, and therefore costly. It is well suited to being done
The same advantage might not be gained with other systems like first
past the post.
I think there are three basic arguments which Bob makes against VVAT
1) What he calls "innocent" tampering which would never be detected by
VVAT. For example, deliberately making machines in certain areas crash
or just run slowly in order to frustrate the voters in that district.
It is true that VVAT would not detect this, but it would be very obvious
to anyone looking on, in much the same way as if the election staff
were frustrating the voters, by working too slowly or whatever.
Basically, I argue that the most you can expect from any election system
is that threats are exposed rather than hidden. It is also
only criticise e-voting systems for problems which manual systems
2) The second point is that machines could be maliciously programmed to
only generate a small number
of errors, which will hopefully be dismissed as transient glitches
This is an important issue. In my opinion, the policy for dealing
errors has to be absolutely clear. There must be a distinction between
errors which could have resulted from human error (for which there
to be some tolerance) and errors which could only have resulted from
error (for which there is zero tolerance). For example, if there is
a discrepancy between
the record of the number of voters who voted, and the number of
ballot papers which turn
up at a count centre, then this could have been caused by a voting
machine recording a few
extra votes of its own, but it could also be caused by a (human)
counting or recording error.
(Note, this kind of discrepancy is also possible in a manual paper
On the other hand, if there is a discrepancy between the contents of
an authentic printed
ballot paper and the equivalent electronic record, then this is a
red-flag and calls into
question the entire output of the voting machine in question, which
would have to be
3) Last. If voters do not actually verify their votes at the voting
machines, then any
audit of this data is "a sham".
It is true, that VVAT depends on most voters actually checking their
votes at the machines
and this is a small added burden for voters (compared to marking a
ballot paper directly)
but it would not be true to say that 100% of voters have to verify
their votes. The voting
machines do not know which voters will check and which will not, so
they would be taking a chance
by not printing out the correct vote. The situation is similar
to bank-statements. Not everyone has to check their bank-statement
each month in order
to be protected from the bank stealing your money. Just like the
voting machines, the banks
do not know who checks their statement, and who does not. It is
true, that the size of
samples may need to be adjusted to deal with this issue but I think
it is pessimistic to argue that
VVAT is flawed for this reason.
On balance, I would say that there needs to be a realistic appraisal of
as well as the costs and risks associated with verifiable electronic
you can really know whether it is worth pursuing.
I mentioned one potential benefit arising from electronic voting in the
but having said that, there are still questions to be answered (in
Ireland) relating to
the running costs, and if an electronic system ends up costing more (or
insufficient benefits) when compared to the old system,
then there is not much point in using it.
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