Re: Avante Releases White Papers on AVVPAT...

From: Alan Dechert <alan_at_openvotingconsortium_dot_org>
Date: Sat Jun 12 2004 - 20:09:01 CDT

Thanks for passing this along, Joe.

There is a lot of useful information in these papers. However, there are
many mistakes. There is at least one gross misrepresentation, namely, an
argument against open-source for election software.

>From a recent discussion of the use of "straw man" ...

Note #3:

> Present a misrepresentation of your
> opponent's position, refute it, and pretend
> that you have refuted your opponent's
> actual position.
This technique applies to the paper titled, "Is 'OPEN SOURCE' OR SOFTWARE

The paper would not be quite so bad if it actually showed something about
attacks not repelled by open source. But it doesn't even do that.

There are a lot of specious arguments in the paper, but this one may be the
most absurd:

> Threats from the IT staff and other staff of the
> jurisdiction that have access to the software and
> system. That is, either they can change the
> software or collaborate with outsiders or vendors
> to change the software. Normally the jurisdiction
> IT staff does not possess the source codes and
> will make sophisticated tampering a little more
> difficult. It will be relatively easy if the staff also
> possesses the source code.
The task of verifying that the certified software version claimed to have
been running on the voting machine on Election Day was the correct one has
nothing to do with open/closed source. The fact that someone could easily
change the source code is meaningless. The modified version of that
software would not pass any reasonable inspection (e.g., checksum) against
the certifed version. The argument also ignored the fact that the
architecture of the main organization promoting the open source mode for
election administration (the OVC) has adopted an architecture that has the
software burned on to a CD that becomes a permanent part of the audit trail.

So, they can't even burn a straw man.

If they did a better job of burning the straw man, it would still be
irrelevant. It's just a straw man. The real reason for open source is many
fold. Better security is just one. Open source means the voting software
can be (besides more secure),

1) Better quality
2) Less expensive
3) Amenable to standards

It's interesting they make some gestures our way claiming that would be
willing to disclose their source (then they go on to suggest a few
meaningless circumstances where they might do that), and they say,
amusingly, "AVANTE as a election management solution provider is in total
agreement with Professor Doug Jones of University of Iowa that an election
and a voting system should not depend on trusting someone."

So, they agree with the OVC! I guess.

Another amusing thing they do in other places (e.g., "A Manufacturer's View
Point On the Voter Verifiable Paper Record and Audit Trail"). They claim
"0% residual vote" by re-defining the meaning of "residual vote"! They say
there was no unintentional undervote. Well, that's just not what is meant
by residual vote.

FWIW, "residual vote" is a bad term, and I have been an outspoken critic of
its use over the past few years. As near as I can tell, the term was
invented by the CalTech/MIT voting project team. It's bad because it lumps
together all forms of undervotes, including cases where voters intended not
to vote on a contest. It implies that if machines were good enough people
would always (or nearly always) cast a vote on every contest. It glosses
over the fact that people often don't vote on something for a variety of
reasons that have nothing to do with the voting equipment. Sometimes people
just don't know enough or don't care enough about a contest to make a
selection. In other cases, they may feel a personal conflict of interest.

The CalTech/MIT folks adopted "residual vote" as the best metric of voting
system performance. They cite the difficulty in getting good information on
the different reasons for over votes and undervotes (intentional or
unintentional) so they lump them all together. This is just nuts. This
information may be difficult to obtain but it's valuable and important
information worth knowing. Doug Jones once cited a case where a voter
intentionally overvoted because he had promised his vote to two different
candidates. With electronic systems, we can prevent overvotes. But knowing
why people undervote on contests is worthy of investigation. It could tell
us a lot about how the system should be changed.

Avante avoids the whole set of issues by simply redefining the term. This
is laughable.

I may return to these "white papers."

Alan D.

> ---------- Forwarded message ----------
> From: Dennis Paull <>
> Date: Sat, 12 Jun 2004 14:31:16 -0700
> Subject: [berkeleyforum] Avante White Papers
> To:, Berkeley Forum
> <>
> Hi all,
> I commend Avante for publishing white papers addressing VVPAT and other
> security issues. I recommend that you review these files for useful
> information on this issue.
> I am not in any way associated with Avante nor am I endorsing their
> equipment. I am simply noting that they have posted on their web site
> some documents that I feel address many of the contentious issues
> concerning voting systems.
> To view these papers, surf over to:
> Dennis Paull
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Received on Wed Jun 30 23:17:14 2004

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