Does Mitt Romney control it all?

Another conspiracy story claiming that Romney through several levels of company, controls a company that makes a type of voting machine that is used in many parts of the country:

“Through a closely held equity fund called Solamere, Mitt Romney and his wife, son and brother are major investors in an investment firm called H.I.G. Capital. H.I.G. in turn holds a majority share and three out of five board members in Hart Intercivic, a company that owns the notoriously faulty electronic voting machines that will count the ballots in swing state Ohio November 7. Hart machines will also be used elsewhere in the United States. (from “Does the Romney Family Own Your e-Vote?

I haven’t checked into this to determine if it’s true.

And even if it is, it’s a bit of a stretch to believe that this indirect corporate ‘control’ leads to high odds that the vote would be manipulated.

Vote Buying measures and countermeasures

An interesting question, and an expert answer from a friend of mine. If you are interested in elections and voting and how they can and cannot be bought, you might find this intriguing. By the way, this scheme would never work in the US as we have many mechanisms that would prevent that, but these might apply in other countries that are not as sophisticated. 

Scenario:

Say a bad guy made an offer secretly to the population that he would give each voter $100 for a vote cast for himself. Say they are using optical scan ballots. Say that cell phone cameras are easily snuck into the polling booth.

If you were the bad guy, what proof would you ask for so that people couldn’t trick you and collect lots of $100 for votes that they really didn’t cast. And if you were the government or an activist, what would you tell people about how to trick the bad guy and collect a bunch of $100 bills?:

Here’s the analysis:

Before the Australian ballot, it was easy! Anybody can print a ballot, lots of straight party ballots printed. You go to your party boss in your polling place, he gives you a ballot, you put in the box, simple. When the party bosses were excluded, well, you had to get your ballot from him, and minions could observe you not getting a different. With some slight of hand you could trick them, but still very effective b/c most people won’t attempt the slight of hand under threat of kneecapping. The almost as soon as Australian ballot was adopted (you might get a blank ballot from a government official in the polling place and mark it in the polling place), chain voting was invented.

Now, today, chain voting is too pesky and low throughput, how about we use the voter’s digital camera in the polling booth! The can take a picture of the ballot that they marked as instructed by the boss. You show the boss a picture on your camera, he gives you money and/or spares your kneecaps. But wait! The digital photo can be faked? Hmmm.

I think that is the stage you’ve set. There are two main questions. What methods can the boss put in place to increase the difficulty of faked photos? What measures can election officials take to make it more difficult for real photos to be produced?

A separate question, new to me: if you were the government or an activist, what would you tell people about how to trick the bad guy and collect a bunch of $100 bills? You bear in mind that it is not just money. The deal might be this: you show me you voted right and I’ll give you money; you don’t show me, and my goons bust your kneecaps.

Well, if I were the gov’t, I would be forbidding the use of cameras or cellphones or any kind of recording device in polling places, rather than telling people it is OK. Allowing recording devices in the voting booth is creating the opportunity for vote intimidation. You never want that.

So let me go back to the two main questions. I would suggest to election officials that ballot marking be done in three sided carrels made of translucent plastic that will mask a view of the ballot being marked, but allow a view of the use of recording devices.

There would need to be lots of training both of voters — we really don’t want you to using recording devices! — and poll workers to intervene by asking a voter to please mark a ballot again, because this one you marked and then did some weird stuff in the carrel that looked like taking a photo.

The boss has a harder time. Clearly a photo of a properly marked ballot won’t do, b/c anybody can make one of those. The photo would need to include something that showed the ballot and me, together. So probably it should include my hand as something that should be unique and distinguishing. Maybe the boss could stamp my wrist with a unique number, in ink that takes days to wear off. Even so, I could prepare a photo combining a properly marked ballot, and my hand, but not the ballot that I cast! If pre-printed ballots are freely available, then I can prepare a photo that the boss expects, but still vote a real secret ballot in the polling place. I could even make a fake picture in the voting booth, using a pre-made ballot, but then marking a real blank ballot and casting that. From there you are in a spy vs spy sort of games with more boss requirements on the photo, making it more difficult to fake, but also more difficult get away with in the real voting booth.

[ELECTIONS] Continuing debate on hand vs. machine counting

Just from today’s New York Times:

“Voters in New York State use a vote-scanning system that can tally votes swiftly and, in most cases, correctly. Not New York City. The city’s Board of Elections uses a creaky system of counting by hand that is prone to embarrassing errors on election night.” (from Why Can’t NYC Count Votes?)

Elections: Hand counts are NOT the gold standard

There is always a good deal of controversy surrounding elections and in particular, whether an election is ‘fair’ or not. As I have been working on a project with the Open Source Digital Voting Foundation I’ve been exposed to this from time to time.

This controversy arises in many different guises. There is a group that is absolutely against using computers in any way shape or form to run elections. Given that we need to count the votes of some 200 Million people in this country alone, it seems far fetched to try to do that without a computer involved anywhere.

Others say that the act of looking at a ballot and determining the votes cast should only done by people, working in well organized teams with carefully designed procedures. They refer to this as the ‘gold standard’ of counting, the only way to be really sure that we are counting votes correctly.

That is not quite as far fetched. But also not self evident. Here comes a study that tries to rigorously measure the error rates of hand counted ballots. They say:

‘”It is probably impossible to completely eliminate errors in hand counting of ballots,” Byrne said. “However, there are new auditing methods that capitalize on advanced statistical procedures that can help ensure that final election results better match what is actually on the ballots. It is important that we become aware of the limitations of current methods and develop alternative ways to improve the accuracy of election results.”‘ (from Rice University)

The bottom line result that they found was that “Hand counting of votes in post election audit or recount procedures can result in error rates of up to 2 percent.” You can easily recall recent elections that were decided by less than 2 percent, right?

Bruce Schneier (a highly respected cryptography and security expert) says:

“All voting systems have nonzero error rates. This doesn’t surprise technologists, but does surprise the general public. There’s a myth out there that elections are perfectly accurate, down to the single vote. They’re not. If the vote is within a few percentage points, they’re likely a statistical tie. (The problem, of course, is that elections must produce a single winner.)” (see Bruce Schneier’s Blog)

Sudafed and Voting

A theme that I have followed in this blog is the question of whether it’s a good idea to require a picture ID of some kind before permitting a citizen to vote. In another article in the New York Times called “Republican Legislators Push to TIghten Voting Rules”, Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina had this quote:

“If you have to show a picture ID to buy Sudafed, if you have to show a picture ID to get on an airplane, you should show a picture ID when you vote,”

Which is pretty convincing comment, on the face of it, isn’t it? Except:

  1. Voting is far more important than buying a Sudafed. It’s far more serious injustice to be prevented from voting than from buying a Sudafed.
  2. Not all flavors of Sudafed require Picture ID
  3. It’s legal to have someone buy a Sudafed for me, it’s illegal to have someone vote for me.
  4. Voting is restricted to happening on one specific day. You can always come back tomorrow to buy your Sudafed if you need it
  5. Coincidentally there’s a good correlation between people (poor people, elderly people) who don’t have a picture ID. These people also happen to skew strongly Democratic.
  6. Coincidentally there’s no such correlation between people who want or need to fly

 

Why don’t they ask you for identification before letting you vote?

Every time there’s an election it seems like someone brings up the odd fact that you are not asked for ID here in Massachusetts before being allowed to cast your ballot. It seems to me that this is especially surprising to people from other countries. Here’s a good article that explores some of the reasons and arguments for and against requiring identification at the polling place.

The gist of it is here:

“In many states, an ID is required to vote. The ostensible purpose is to prevent people from casting a ballot for someone else – dead or alive. Historically, it was also used to prevent poor and minority voters, who are less likely to have government IDs, from voting.

No one would (publicly) admit to the second goal today, so the first is always the declared purpose. But does it work?

In my experience as a pollworker in Virginia, the answer is clearly “no”. There are two basic problems – the rules for acceptable IDs are so broad (so as to avoid disenfranchisement) as to be useless, and pollworkers are given no training as to how to verify an ID.” (from Do Photo IDs help prevent vote fraud?)

Interesting, eh?