Localised e-voting

"Votes For Women" Canvas Bag, ca. 1920 by Cornell University Library
Really? Them too?

I was having a discussion with @tompoline about how I wouldn’t have had to stay up so late on election night if only someone would introduce e-voting. Now, being a gnarly sysad, the first thing Tom did was to jump on the security aspect of that particular remark.

I think you’ll find that someone will work out a way to hack it, and that would be the end of e-voting.

So, we started discussing why we need evoting and it boils down to not having to count thousands of crosses on thousands of bits of paper, then re-count them all when some grey twat in a suit decides that he should’t have lost his seat, or someone admits to not knowing whether they’d counted 304 votes or 305 and everyone throws their arms in the air and demands a recount.

Aaaaanyway, we decided that the best way to do it and NOT get hacked would be localised e-voting. Imagine, if you will, walking into your polling station, handing the dour old lady the card you had delivered through the post some weeks ago, she reads out your name, someone else crosses it off and hands you a polling card and you step into a booth. See, this is all very familiar, as it’s pretty much what you do now, except the dour old lady and her accomplice didn’t give you a polling card, they just ushered you toward a booth…

… which has a row of large, coloured buttons, each having a label on stating the name and party of each of the candidates in your ward and you PRESS one of the buttons and step out of the booth. Job done. You walk away, proud to have taken part in democracy.

However, behind the scenes, your press of the button has stored your vote on a local computer, stored somewhere in the polling station connected to the buttons by USB, or perhaps Cat-5 or something. There isn’t any way to remote into the box as it’s not on any network (except perhaps the network you had linking all the buttons together). So, to hack this box, someone would have to be on the premises and that is a risk that isn’t particular to e-voting, this can also happen with existing paper ballots.

Anyway, this seems like the ideal method; just as secure as the current method, but a winner could be derived very shortly after the polling stations closed and myself and David Dimbleby could get an early night.

“But what if there’s a fire?” I hear you cry, “or a powercut? Or the machine corrupts itself half way though? WHAT MAN WOULD WE DO THEN?”

voting instructions by muffel
Read this, then ignore

Well, calm yourself. This is where we had an excellent idea. Every time you push the button and the machine digitally stores your vote it also does something slightly more analogue. Once you push the button, a hole punching machine attached to the computer puts a hole in a ream of paper. Or, the computer is hooked to another machine which spits little plastics tokens into candidate corresponding buckets (with secured lids). That way, if the computer becomes unusable, the polling station can fall back to more traditional methods of capturing votes. Either counting platic chips in a bucket, or counting holes on a ream of paper. Both of which would be easier that counting crosses on paper. I mean, they could do this AS WELL as the e-voting, it would still be quicker.

The conversation then degenerated into how you could use iPod touches instead of buttons and make the whole process a bit more interactive, or fun if you will. Pressing on the blue button marked “Conservative Candidate” would have the iDevice ask you a series of questions to ascertain whether you are sober enough to vote. “Are you sure you want to vote Tory? Are you REALLY sure?”.

You could also have the voter answer a series of questions similar to the “Find out who you should vote for!” online quizzes, which ask you a series of questions based on current policies, and at the end say “Your answers indicate your ideals are closest matched to the Liberal Democrat candidate” then, even if you don’t watch the news or read up on the party manifestos, you’re still making an informed decision on who to vote for and not just voting for someone because you like the cut of their jib.

So, technology can help with the democratic process, clearly. Is it just me, or does anyone else think that making a pencil mark next to a name on a piece of paper, before posting it in a back box is a little, well, archaic?

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One thought on “Localised e-voting

  1. All sounds good for speed of counting and making sure you keep up on your beauty sleep mate but I’ve been rather gutted to find that most of the folk I’ve been speaking to haven’t voted either because they aren’t (for whatever reason) on the electoral role (and it seems can’t be bothered to get off their backsides to sort this out), are too lazy to go to a polling station, are on holiday/business etc and didnt get a postal vote in on time or most depressingly ‘don’t see the point’.

    I’m in networking, deal with security threats all day and have ethical hacking training and won’t even trust online banking due to the things I have seen but it does unfortunately seem that to get a greater percentage of folks voting then some kind of online system is going to have to take place in the future…

    …as well as culling those who can’t be bothered, lol ;o)

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