Thursday, October 30, 2008

optical scan to dominate 2008 US election

Election Data Services provides the US November 2008 voting equipment composition (I'm tempted to say "breakdown").

I should mention that they use some confusing terminology.
To me electronic voting covers optical scan, DRE and Internet voting.
They consider electronic voting to cover only DRE (usually touchscreen) machines.

An optical mark-sense reader is an electronic device just like a touchscreen machine. It uses optical sensors to read a dot on paper, rather than to record a fingerprint. It is subject to most of the kinds of attacks that a touchscreen suffers from: you can compromise the software/firmware, there may be errors in the software/firmware, the optical sensors may be mis-aligned or malfunctioning, the paper path may jam, the power can fail, etc.

As well, if you record the order in which voters submit their ballots for scanning, you can reverse this to determine exactly who voted for whom, by going down the stack of ballots - once again the secret ballot is compromised.

It is true that IF AN ERROR IS DETECTED or IF A RECOUNT IS MANDATED, you can then hand-count the ballots (albeit going slightly crosseyed staring at tiny circles for hours).

Of course if you were a clever hacker, you would just program the scanner to distort the election by a margin smaller than that which would trigger any investigation. A similarly small error would also not be detected.

NOTE: some kind of rendering bug puts this table far down on the page.

Type% Registered Voters
Punch Cards0.10
Lever Machines6.72
Hand-Counted Paper Ballots0.17
Optically-Scanned Paper Ballots56.17
Electronic (DRE / Touchscreen) Systems32.63

from 2008 Voting Equipment Study (PDF)

According to votingmachines.procon.org the numbers previously were

2004: 1% paper, 35% optical scan, 29.5% DRE
2000: 1.5% paper, 29.5% optical scan, 12.5% DRE

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