Electronic Voting

Electronic Voting

 Smooth Elections?

Dr. Rubin does not think that the results were correct because he believes that there might have been potential problems, which occurred but went unnoticed because the systems used in electronic voting are not subject to auditing. He also terms the systems to be insecure as they are subject to breakdowns; thus, they are not so reliable to produce correct results.

(From Dr. Rubin’s interview: Page 1 paragraph 3)

E-voting is really dangerous and unpopular with security people, not because of how the election is likely to go in what’s perceived, but with the problems that might happen that are not perceived.

For example, if the concern is that the electronic voting machines are going to record votes incorrectly, in a way that might not be noticeable, then you can run an election and say that it appears to have gone fine, but we don’t really know. And so, given that I have the concern that we have voting machines that we can’t audit and we can’t have confidence that they got the answer right, then the answer is, “Well we think it went OK, but we don’t really know.”


The kinds of problems that we worry about are exactly the kind that don’t necessarily have a noticeable manifestation. I do think one of the risks of fully electronic voting is that a small mistake can be magnified in scale all over the place because the touch-screen e-voting machines are all the same, they’re all electronic, they all require power, and they all use computer code and a particular set of circumstances that could cause something bad to happen everywhere. I don’t usually think it’s likely to happen, and in this case, it doesn’t appear to have happened. But the concerns of security and auditability are not necessarily things that would leave any incriminating evidence of a potential problem.


Reliability and Safety

Yes. Dr. Rubin believes computerized systems can be made to work correctly and efficiently if a different philosophy and psychology is employed. Such systems if designed to be more software independent which in case of their failure, they will not have any impact on the integrity and accuracy of the voting process. Such voting systems have not yet been designed but the National Institute of Standards and Technology proposed such designs, which are yet to be implemented.

(From Dr. Rubin’s interview: Page 2 paragraph 1)

Yes, I wouldn’t want to try to build a voting system without technology. I think if you take a different psychology, a different philosophy toward building systems, where you say we’re going to use software as much as we can but we’re not going to rely on it for security, you will actually design a pretty good voting system.


The National Institute of Standards and Technology [NIST] identified what I think is a breakthrough property in an e-voting machine, which is the idea of making it software-independent. That means designing voting systems where a software failure does not have any possible impact on the accuracy and integrity of the election. This isn’t my idea. This is NIST. They published a paper where they identified that, and I said that is the killer property that you want.

The Need for an Audit Trail

By emphasizing the importance of an audit trail, Dr. Rubin meant to say that voting systems need to have tangible documents, which can be examined in order to countercheck the voting process. An audit trail is important because it allows reviewing of the voting process to determine its honesty and integrity. It will also establish whether there was data manipulation and can also identify unnecessary steps in the voting process.

From Dr. Rubin’s interview (Page 1 paragraph 2)

Let me give you an example of a system that is software-independent. You have a system where voters use a touch screen to make their selections and the touch-screen machine, when they’re done, prints out a paper ballot that they look at and has all the candidate choices that they made. The voter then takes the completed, printed ballot, and they put it into a scanner. The scanner tallies the ballots up and keeps counts of all the votes. Now if the software on that system fails, they wouldn’t get a printed-out ballot that they could then accept and approve.

Comparing Solutions

The solutions by Dr. Rubin and Open Voting Consortium are almost similar as they are directed towards an auditable voting system. Both solutions suggest paper ballots to be used in voting as they can provide backups in case of conflicts or system failures. They also seek to make the voting process open for public scrutiny during tabulation and vote counting. However, Dr. Rubin suggests cryptography for software independent systems, a solution that is not mentioned by OVC. OVC also proposes for a voting system which will be impartial and multilingual that will incorporate even handicapped and blind voters. Dr. Rubin does not note this point in his solution to electronic voting.

(From Dr. Rubin’s interview: Page 2 paragraph 1and 2, Page 3 paragraph 3)


The easiest way to achieve that is to introduce paper ballots. Another way to achieve it, that I think is still in the research phase, is through cryptography, and I think ultimately we will be able to replace paper with cryptography. Cryptography is fancy math that can be used to test certain properties, like you can do encryption, you can do signatures and verification. And there are cryptographic techniques that can be used to achieve software independence so that even if there’s a bug in the software, you’ll detect if there’s a problem. But those are not ready for prime time in my opinion.


Multi-lingual, Handicap Accessible, and Ready for Non-Traditional Voting: Unlike most voting machines and systems, the OVC system can be easily adapted for ballots in multiple languages. The OVC system also provides for the capability for sight impaired or blind voters to have their votes played back to them through headphones at the ballot box. Old voting machines and systems can’t accommodate non-traditional elections like proportional representation, but these changes could be easily accommodated with the OVC system.



Works cited

Rubin, Aviel Avi. Interview with Todd R. Weiss. ComputerWorld (2008). Web.


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