Risks - Software Reliability


Electronic Voting


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Study Guide

Electronic Voting has been given a rather broad definition. For the purpose of this study guide we will limit it to people casting votes using computerized voting equipment. While most conceive of a future when polling places are far more up-to-date, the idea of making a vote on a computer raises a number of ethical problems that must be solved before any such endeavor can take place. Voting in America long ago became mechanized; is it time to take make it computerized? If so, what standards should be used and what are some possible ramifications?

1. Fundamental requirements

Here is a list of the fundamental requirements for electronic voting systems listed in decreasing order of importance as stated by Michael Ian Shamos in his article Electronic Voting - Evaluating the Threat


                I.      Thou shalt keep each voter's choices an inviolable secret.

             II.      Thou shalt allow each eligible voter to vote only once, and only for those offices for which she is authorized to cast a vote.

           III.      Thou shalt not permit tampering with thy voting system, nor the exchange of gold for votes.

          IV.      Thou shalt report all votes accurately.

             V.      Thy voting system shall remain operable throughout each election.

          VI.      Thou shalt keep an audit trail to detect sins against Commandments II-IV, but thy audit trail shall not violate Commandment I.

2. Security

On thing that plagues the minds of most analysts are the security risks that would accompany converting the voting process from a physical medium and subjecting it to the perils of computers.

  • Could crackers change the outcome of an election? Would an electronic election pose a tantalizing target for any vandal? Could a "voting network" be hacked like the Internet? Are we willing to expose the voting process to this risk?
  • Could a rival government cause a disruption in an electronic election more easily than a paper-based election?
  • Would security, tight enough to alleviate the threat of outside influences, make it prohibitively difficult to cast your vote? Does such security even exist?
  • What would ensure security more: Open source code for everyone to see or private so that hackers can't find holes in the security as easily?


3. Reliability and Standards


Another question on the minds of many concerned voters is how reliable are these new electronic voting systems and who determines the standards of reliability.  Even though it may be extremely difficult and time consuming to count the paper ballots of today’s systems it is at least comforting to know that there is reliable hard evidence to prove the results of an election if a problem occurs.


  • What would happen if the electronic voting machine “crashed” during operation within an election?  Would there be a reliable way to retrieve the information within the machine.  Would it be possible under any circumstance to loose the machines results?
  • If there was a power outage could the election continue on schedule? 


4. Equal voting opportunity


Clearly, not everyone has had equal opportunity to achieve proficiency on computing systems. This gap in knowledge has been dubbed The Digital Divide and poses tough questions for the future of voting on computers.

  • Would these new electronic voting machines be easy enough for everyone to use regardless of their computer experience? Could non computer proficient voters claim discrimination if they felt that the electronic systems were too complicated?
  • Would the ease of electronic voting unfairly over represent the opinions of those communities that could afford the electronic systems?
  • Is it ethical to have different voting systems (some decrepit) in different communities?


5. Problems with the status quo


Many see the events and confusion surrounding the 2000 Presidential election in Florida as proof that a change in the way we vote is necessary.   A careful examination of the current system should help us decide if an update to these new electronic systems is needed.

  • Is the current system fair? If not, is it feasible to make it fair?
  • Does the current system discriminate against segments of the population (the handicapped, minorities, the poor, etc)?
  • Would electronic voting alleviate these problems or compound them?
  • Are we blowing the whole thing out of proportion? Will there always be a minority that claims any system is unfair to some group of people?  Can a voting system ever please everyone?

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