Re: draft of text for new OVC-sponsored bill

From: Ronald Crane <voting_at_lastland_dot_net>
Date: Tue Jan 20 2009 - 15:37:56 CST
Voters who need an assistive device to vote independently should have one, though, for security, we should prefer non-computational ones. That not always being possible, I think OVC's system is a reasonable assistive device. For security reasons, I don't think it's a reasonable device for the general voting population to use. In other words, disabled voters get a lot of benefit to go with their risk; the general population doesn't get as much benefit, and takes a far greater cumulative risk.


Jim Tobias wrote:
Also please keep in mind that hand-marked ballots cannot be accessible to people with disabilities; accessibility is required by law and common sense.  Even a large print ballot (unless it is used by all voters) will impose an additional design and tabulation burden.
The number of people who cannot effectively and conveniently complete a paper ballot by hand due to visual or dexterity impairments is well above 10 million, and that number is growing.

Jim Tobias
Inclusive Technologies
+1.908.907.2387 v/sms
skype jimtobias


From: Alan Dechert []
Sent: Tuesday, January 20, 2009 4:12 PM
To: Open Voting Consortium discussion list
Subject: Re: [OVC-discuss] draft of text for new OVC-sponsored bill

Ron, we've been around and around on this one for ages.  Hand-counted hand-marked paper ballots (HCPB) are simply not an option for the kind of election system we have in the US -- especially in urban areas where 80 percent of the population lives.
You ought to review some of the discussion at on this.
I always challenge HCPB advocates to come up with numbers.  Rarely do they give numbers.  Shiela Parks actually did give some reasonable estimates, as far as she went.  When you look at it more carefully, HCPB would be very expensive in order to make it secure.  According to her numbers, 100,000 people would be needed in Los Angeles to count ballots on election night.  Using volunteers for this is absolutely inconceivable.  You'd have to hire them.  Think about all the infrastructure you have to have in place to do all the hiring, screening, and coordination. 
Even if you committed the resources to do this, it still has huge security risks.  After a few cycles, and gamers learn the system, how do you ensure the people you are hiring are not part of some ring organized to steal votes for their side? 
HCPB advocates, including you, Ron, cannot be taken seriously until you have a detailed plan for how you are going to conduct elections in urban areas with 40 - 50 contests on a ballot -- sometimes over 100 candidates appearing on a single ballot.  All I ever get are hand-waves -- like we do this all the time, organizing huge numbers of people.  Sure, the military does this, but the military has a $500 billion budget. 
Even if you can budget for all the hiring and screening and overhead, hand marked ballots have voter intent problems. 
The problem with HCPB advocacy is always the same: they point to where HCPB has been used successfully.  Unfortunately, the examples they always use are irrelevant (like countries where they have one thing or a very few things on the ballot).  The real history of HCPB is rife with political machinery that takes over the counting and rigs the elections.  Read about Tammany Hall and many other examples.  You need people to show up and count ballots?  Sure, they'll send you some people. 
There were quite a few HCPB advocates that started threads on  None of them were able to get more than about 100 votes.  If 100,000 people were showing up to vote for HCPB, I might actually think you could get some volunteers.  But you can't.  There are very very few people willing to show up for it -- especially in urban areas where people are very busy and used to using technology to get things done. 
Secure HCPB -- in urban US -- is a pure fantasy.
----- Original Message -----
From: Ronald Crane
To: Open Voting Consortium discussion list
Sent: Tuesday, January 20, 2009 12:23 PM
Subject: Re: [OVC-discuss] draft of text for new OVC-sponsored bill

Probably everyone but Diebold, et al, agrees that open-source computational voting systems are likely to be more secure than closed-source computational voting systems. But are they safer than hand-filled paper ballot systems? I don't think so, because of the attacks I mentioned, and other attacks (e.g., on "voter verification").

I think that we should use computational ballot presentation and recording devices only to assist disabled voters to vote independently. I believe that their advantages (e.g., definiteness of ballot markings and overvote/undervote checking) are heavily outweighed by their security risks when used by the general voting population.


laird popkin wrote:
Keep in mind that security isn't an absolute, but is a matter of
presenting sufficient costs and risks around an attack that the attack
is deterred.

So, while in an absolute sense any software system has the same issue
(you cannot 100% prove that all of the machines are running the
correct software), open software is (IMO) significantly more open to
validation because every step in the process can be open to
inspection, while a proprietary voting system relies on hiding the
code to protect the vendor's IP.

For example, you can validate that the software is correct by
independently compiling your own copy and comparing the binaries,
proving that the vendor's compiler didn't sneak code in, and that the
source wasn't modified. You could distribute the executable and data
files on CD's, with witnesses validating the duplication,
distribution, etc., and boot the PC's from CD to run the election.

Given such an approach there are still possible attacks, such as BIOS
hacking, or threatening to shoot voters unless you can watch them vote
"properly", but in terms of the specific issue of software validation,
open source software is (IMO) certainly safer than running a vendor
loading modified software in "black box" voting machines. :-)

- LP

On Tue, Jan 20, 2009 at 2:51 PM, Ronald Crane <> wrote:
cls wrote:

I'm especially alarmed at sweeping that nagging image verification
problem under the rug.  It's the Achilles Heel of this whole approach.
Nobody has yet described to me how I can convince an electronic voting
skeptic that the image he just voted on was built from the exact sources
his expert inspected on the Registrar's web site last week.

Ja, not to mention firmware-based attacks that instrument the image, so that
an attacker can cheat even if we somehow verify that the correct image has
been loaded into every machine.

I'm leaning towards admitting it's intractible during the time frame
of interest, and insisting on a design that *doesn't care* about
any particular software installation.  Open source is important, but
not for solving this particular security problem.  I want a solution
that can blow the doors off the hand-marked, hand-counted, no-computers-
in-the-whole-chain luddite bandwagon.  I can't do that if my solution
depends on being able to verify and authenticate CD images.
The cryptographic strength and verifiability of those paper ballots,
(and the simplicity and verifiability of their custody protocol)
has to do it alone.

Crypto (or "end-to-end" (E2E)) voting systems are still vulnerable to a
variety of attacks, particularly if they use a computational device to
present the ballot or to collect the voter's selections. There are at least
three kinds of attacks:

1. DoS. The machines selectively can impede, delay, or prevent voters from
voting. This attack can range from the heavy-handed (e.g., repeatedly
crashing and rebooting; locking up) to the subtle (e.g., making voting take
longer by making the GUI laggy, or by lengthening the time to reinitialize
for a new voter). Or, officials can simply cheat by manipulating machine
allocations, as seems to have happened in Ohio's 2004 Presidential race. .

2. Presentation attack. The machines can selectively omit candidates from
the ballot, reorder it, change the race headings to de-emphasize certain
races, or make it easier or more difficult to select certain candidates.
This attack could be very effective; in 2006, there was a massive (13%)
undervote in Florida CD 13 (Sarasota), which quite possibly flipped the
result. Officials attributed it to incorrect race headings.
. There's no reason that a presentation attack on race headings couldn't
produce a similar effect.

3. Social engineering attack on E2E protocol. E2E can provide strong
security guarantees, but they're valid only if the user and machine follow
the correct protocol. An attacker can program the machine to guide the user
to perform an incorrect protocol, thus voiding the guarantees. Since E2E
protocols (e.g., VHTI) are unintuitive, most voters won't realize that
something has gone wrong. And even if a voter notices a problem, officials
are almost certain to attribute it to "voter error" or "a glitch".

That said, it's still possible to wage these attacks on hand-filled paper
ballot systems, including ones that use E2E (e.g., ThreeBallot), but it's
more difficult. A DoS attack is obvious (Where are the ballots?), while
presentation attacks can be caught by randomly auditing the ballots. It's
not quite so clear that ballot audits could catch social engineering attacks
on E2E, though correct instruction posters in the polling place could help a

Computers are wonderfully powerful tools, but they are not necessarily
suitable for every purpose.

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