Re: Reflections on the election and implications for the OVC

From: Arthur Keller <arthur_at_kellers_dot_org>
Date: Wed Nov 03 2004 - 16:21:15 CST

Dear Charlie, I appreciate the opportunity to examine these issues
with the experts on this mailing list.

In particular, I would welcome a discussion on the feasibility of
using cheap, generic PCs as electronic voting machines. Certainly
cost is a key benefit. But the difficulties of assembly, set up, and
transport are more problematic. Also, the BVA and the BRP may well
require custom hardware configuration. And the EVM requires a custom
enclosure (although that's not so expense).

Alan told me a long time ago that MIT/Caltech project had proposed
back in 2001 a system comparable to his, but they withdraw it when
Alan complained they were stealing his idea. I have been wondering
what would have happened if Alan had encouraged MIT/Caltech rather
than complaining about it. Would MIT/Caltech have built such a

Best regards,

At 1:47 PM -0800 11/3/04, charlie strauss wrote:
>Arthur I think I addressed the same issue you raise here, in
>somewhat different form, in my own simmilarly titled observations on
>the election e-mail.
>As I saw lines, electrical faliure and problems starting up in the
>morning are the issues. And OVC actually has or could have
>potential advantages in these areas.
>Lines: lines caused by the sheer number of voters (and not other
>problems) come from one source alone: Not enough polling stations
>at the precint. How OVC addresses this: there are two ways. first,
>unlike other systems using an inflexible number of expensive polling
>stations OVC uses cheap, almost discardable (give them to schools)
>stations. Thus dynamically increasing the number of polling
>stations a few months before anticipated heavy turn-out is indeed a
>possibility. Just buy more cheap PCs. Yes you have to buy more
>screens too. But the point is there's no bottle neck in supply.
>And after the election you are not stuck with more machines than you
>need on hand for most elections.
> The second way OVC addresses this is philosophically. OVC is
>inherently about counting paper ballots. While its nice that it has
>some advantages with regard to tracking ballots electronicalling in
>the end you have paper ballots to handle, count and store. These
>are the same problems you have with tradional paper ballots. Thus
>one can see that a mixed scheme of OVC and tradional paper ballots
>is simpatico. It's not as inhomogenous as DRE+paperballots where
>the lines of ballot custody are different. What I am saying is that
>OVC will play nice in counties that want to mix it with optical
>scan. One might argue that if this factor alone is considered then
>the Vogue Autromark system fits the bill even better. I would not
>disagree, but this is not the only point to consider.
>Electrical failure:
> Electrical failure can take three forms. Brief electrical outage,
>complete loss of power, and low voltage. OVC in its current
>implementation does not fair well on any of these marks. A breif
>electrical outage could be handled by UPS battery backup, but since
>OVC platforms are not designed with power miserly platforms this is
>problematic (this is one reason I gave in suggestng using something
>like a palm pilot as the platform--16 hour battery lifes). So one
>may need heavier duty solutions such as generators. And these can
>also deal with complete power loss. Low voltage is a subtle
>problem. Here in New Mexico in the last election we discovered that
>the screens on touch screens go out of calibration when the voltage
>dimms. (someone overloaded the lines in sandoval county and certain
>candidates were impossible to vote for on some machines). OVC is
>no better or worse than anyone else on that score.
> The good nesw for OVC on this score is the above simpatico
>relation with paper ballots. If you have to switch to paper ballots
>then your OVC trained poll workers are already prpared to deal with
>paper trial cusotdy issues.
>Morning start up:
>here OVC has some advantages. there are two ways to deal with
>morning startup issues in OVC. First, as mentioned above cheap ovc
>machines means you can have backups on hand. Currently In many
>places backups are in short supply, are kept in a central place and
>rushed to the scene of a probelem. But this can let perhaps 90
>minutes of critical morning voting time pass with diminished
>service. Second, Because OVC deals with paper ballots and cross
>referenceing records and voter verification, there is much less
>pressure to have pristine machines. It should be possible to
>somehow create a set of OVC protocols that allow more extensive
>machine testing following a complete software install. for exmple
>if it boots from CD, boot it from CD, verfity it works, shut it down
>and it should work the next time. But if it does fail to start you
>can restart it again and again knowing that each time thmachine is
>-----Original Message-----
>From: Arthur Keller <>
>Sent: Nov 3, 2004 12:56 PM
>Cc: Karl Auerbach <>, Dow Patten <>,
> Amit Sahai <sahai@CS.Princeton.EDU>,
> "Peter B. Maggs" <>,
> "Douglas W. Jones" <>
>Subject: Reflections on the election and
>implications for the OVC
>These are my personal observations and do not represent the official
>position of the OVC. However, I am cc'ing members of the OVC board
>for their consideration at the next board meeting.
>I'm writing this message on an airplane, so I've not read email or
>the web since about 5:45am this morning Pacific time.
>In yesterday's election, there were reports of scattered identified
>problems with electronic voting machines. Of course, since the DRE
>voting machines did not have a paper trail, it is hard to tell about
>some of the failures. I look forward to the reports from Vote Watch
>on the statistical analyses based on exit polling.
>The most prevalent failures were (1) the DRE's are slow to use and
>caused there to be long lines, (2) power failures that prevented use
>of DRE's, and (3) failures of the machines to come up properly or to
>be shut down prematurely due to machine or clerk error. In addition,
>failures of two optical scan ballot counters in Iowa delayed the
>reporting of the results from that state.
>The Dechert design, which was roughly adopted for the OVC prototype,
>does not convincingly address these three prevalent modes of failure.
>So a review (and potentially revision) of the requirements and
>implications of these requirements is in order. Here are my list of
>1. The system must involve a paper ballot.
>2. The system must allow the casting of a ballot by a visually or
>reading impaired voter.
>3. The system must have a way to prevent or at least check for
>overvotes and undervotes.
>4. The system must provide a way for the voter to verify
>independently that the ballot properly reflects the voter's intent.
>5. The system must support both automatic and manual tallying of
>ballots, including recounts.
>6. The system must support provisional ballots.
>7. The system must accommodate absentee ballots.
>8. The system must be open source.
>Here are my list of desiderata.
>9. A voter should be able to cast a ballot even if and when there is
>a power failure.
>10. The system should have a consistent way of tallying regular,
>provisional, and absentee ballots, as well as hand-marked regular
>11. It should be possible to canvas the ballots in public.
>Based on these requirements and desiderata, I draw the following conclusions.
>a. Absentee ballots are probably optically scanned, mark sense ballots.
>b. It is desirable for there to be a manual way for a voter to mark a
>ballot, if the power goes out or the lines get too long.
>c. If the system entirely uses optically scanned, mark sense ballots,
>then all ballots can be processed the same way.
>So I personally have been drifting towards this architecture.
>i. All optically scanned, mark sense ballots.
>ii. Sighted voters can mark their ballot by hand if they wish.
>iii. Voters who want a computerized interface, such as visually or
>reading impaired voters, can use a Computerized Ballot Marker.
>iv. Any voter should be able to use a Ballot Verification Station,
>which checks for overvotes and undervotes, and displays the voter's
>choices on the screen or "speaks" them through a headset.
>v. Precinct-based optical scan, mark sense tallying system that
>checks for overvotes, securely stores the paper ballots, and prints
>precinct totals for posting.
>I propose that the OVC consider building open source software (and
>designing hardware) for the Ballot Verification Station, followed by
>building open source software (and designing hardware) for the
>Computerized Ballot Marker, and then build an open source optical
>scan system. Finally, replace the county (or other jurisdiction)
>based tallying system with an open source version.
>Comments are welcome.
>Best regards,
>Arthur M. Keller, Ph.D., 3881 Corina Way, Palo Alto, CA 94303-4507
>tel +1(650)424-0202, fax +1(650)424-0424

Arthur M. Keller, Ph.D., 3881 Corina Way, Palo Alto, CA  94303-4507
tel +1(650)424-0202, fax +1(650)424-0424
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Received on Tue Nov 30 23:17:05 2004

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