Let's come up with a foolproof voting method.

The stories of voting machine irregularities are already starting in the US. A significant fraction of the public, rightly or wrongly, believes that their vote will be miscounted or not be counted at all. A new system needs to be devised to restore confidence and accurately reflect the wishes of the electorate. Punchcard ballots are out of the question, because of the infamous Florida butterfly ballot. Some people have enormous difficulty marking optically scanned ballots correctly. Computerized ballots of all types are viewed with great suspicion.
The goal is to accurately record each citizen’s vote, tally the votes at the end of the voting period, and deliver the tally to the state electoral commission. Additionally, we need a set of procedures to ensure that each person votes no more than once and that everyone with the right to vote has reasonable access. Have at it.

Paper ballots.

Do you mean that the voter would check a box next to each of their selections on a piece of paper? What happens next? Does it go into a box? How are the votes counted? How do you prevent somebody from printing up multiple ballots, marking them all and dropping them all in the box? Is the counting done by hand? How do you keep the counters from falsifying their tallies or stuffing the boxes?

There’s no such thing as a “fool proof” method for doing anything on such a large scale. Even something as simple as making a mark on a piece of paper is fraught with possible errors - what happens if the person has palsy, or if the paper gets crumpled or torn or soaked in water. There will always be the possibility of errors whenever dealing with tens of millions of documents.

The goal should be to keep the voting process as resistant to fraud and reliable as possible.

Excellent point, I should have used “Let’s come up with a voting method that is more reliable and fraud-resistant than those in use today.” Any ideas? I’m at a loss.

Well, I think the idea of computer voting that prints the actual ballot that the voter then confirms is probably a good start. Unfortunately, i don’t think that many districts are actually doing this.

In this thread I was making an argument for a universal voting system. Part of that discussion is that a single, reliable, scalable and fraud resistant method could and should be implemented universally everywhere.

I’m under no preconceptions that a flawless system could be created, but I do think that a system where the errors would not favor a single candidate are possible and probably easy.

The Butterfly ballot greatly favored one candidate. As did the clogged chads. The video touch screens tend to favor the candidate that is listed at the top because of the perspective from above.

Personally I think that a completely paperless system is a non-starter. I’m not a technophobe but there are some serious security issues with them as highlighted in the documentary Hacking an Election. I think that a electronic system is fine, but there needs to be a paper analog that goes with it for audits and recounts.

Punch Cards or Paper-and-Pen ballots are hack resistant but they seem to have issues with implementation that baffle me. Also they are easy to “accidentally” lose stacks or damage.

Seems to me that a system that combines a paper and electronic process with a randomized ballot layout would be ideal. I think a paper ballot, one that alternates the positioning of the candidates in a random fashion, that is filled out in marker and then fed into a machine for tabulation would be ideal.

The machines would do the count and forward the results quickly and electronically. Random audits could be performed on the machines to compare voter rolls, vote counts, and the machine could have error correction built into it to police improperly filled in ballots. Then the paper backups would be spot checked and stored until at which point the results are declared official. There would be 3 points at which the totals could be cross checked in order to restrict double voting.

The fact that so many places have more problematic methods than this is troubling. And the idea of using video touch screens is too stupid to fathom.

It already exists: Mechanical lever voting machines. Most notably, the AVP Printomatic.

They system has worked well in New York for a century. They are next to impossible to screw with, produce a paper tally of the votes, and are easy to count (just write down the numbers listed on the back). Fraud would require the agreements of both parties.

You pull a lever by the name of your choice; they’re set up so you can only vote for one candidate at a time (but can be changed to vote for more than one when you have to select more than one). The machine tallies your vote when you open the curtain to leave and resets everything back to the starting position.

The only issue is with some people with disabilities, who may have trouble getting to the levers. However, a redesign could easily fix these problems.

Downside, they are expensive, but they last forever. New York is still using them despite the fact they haven’t been manufactured in decades.

Other than the fixable issues of access for the disabled, I have never seen any analysis of voting methods that had anything bad to say about them.

Omniscient: I’m with you on the need for a universal system and the utter stupidity of touch screen machines. Your suggested method seems like it would require a whole lot of collusion to pull off a fraud, but I wonder if people would still insist that there was a conspiracy if their candidates don’t win.

RealityChuck: I remember those machines from when I was a kid. Any idea how they work internally?

Here in Denmark there are volunteer members of every party paired, with every pair made from members of two different parties. There will be two people handing you the ballot, two people watching the sealed box you put the ballot in and when the vote is counted it will be done by two at each table with other people watching the counting. If you had a Democrat and a Republican counting the ballots together, any cheating would probably be stopped :).
If your machines make a receipt, how do you prevent someone paying voters to vote his way? The buyers will have proof that they get value for money. I suppose even a few millions of the money used for the campaigns could buy a lot of votes.

I’m guessing that it would eliminate most of the squawking about the actual voting, assuming of course that the machines were maintained and distributed in all areas comparably. The conspiracy complaints then would shift to voter registrations and disenfranchisement. That would be a different battle.

After you confirm your vote with the receipt, the receipt is returned to the election board, to act as a backup in case the primary voting method is spoiled.

I attended a talk by Ron Rivest, a notable cryptographer, on secure voting systems earlier this year where he presented a pretty good system. However, as of his talk, there were some issues with accessibility to the visually impaired. That’s a major source of trouble that has to be considered.

The issue I see with it is that it’s needlessly complex and difficult to understand. I glanced at the document and gave up in about a minute. Sorry, voting has to pass muster for the stupid.

Around here we use an optical scan form which you mark with a pen then insert into a reader which registers the ballot & dumps it into a locked box. The overall process is pretty simple & fairly handicapped accessible.

An obvious improvement would be to add a choice to each office or question of “I don’t care”. And adjust the instructions so the voter is told to choose a candidate or “I don’t care” for each office. Likewise, they must mark Yes, No, or “I don’t care” for each ballot initiative.

Then, when you insert the ballot in the scanner, it can make an immediate check that the ballot is complete. If the person forgot to answer question 4, or forgot to vote for President, or voted for two people for dogcatcher, the machine hands back the ballot with an error message.

This won’t solve people marking yes when they meant no, or marking for Schmutz when they meant to mark for Dingleberry, but it will be a first line of defense against the most common reasons for ballot problems.

As to the rest of the entire system, it’s very hard to make it both error-proof & tamper-proof. The former requires simplicity, the latter requires complexity.

Computers with apporpriate cryptology can make ballot tampering, miscounting & stuffing impossible. Unless somebody has hacked the program to ensure the ballots are tampered & miscounted, but still look secure. etc.

In a way, the worst possible idea would be to use a single monolithic, supposedly perfect system. In other words, They only have to hack one vulnerability to steal everything. Better to have lots of different systems, each with different vulnerabilities.
Actually, we’re barking up the wrong tree altogether talking about improving counting & the rest of the downstream process. Most vote fraud in this country is by two means: Discouraging or preventing certain types of citizens from voting at all, and designing ballots in such a way that certain desired errors are much more likely than others.

There should be a single standard for ballot design. Just like all stop signs are the same. Letting the BummFuck County Board of Elections invent their own ballot design is silly. And dangerous if they are corrupt.

And elections must be designed so that citizens who have difficult work schedules or commutes can easily vote at a time & place which meets their needs.

We had an accurate system in Ohio with the punch ballots. They were idiot proof, cheap and didn’t take up much space.

Throw stones.

I like the idea of online voting.

Think of your bank account.

You can withdraw and deposit online into the bank and confirm your own transactions at will and at any time.

A system that can reasonably secure our money can reasonably secure our vote.

This got me thinking - is there anywhere in the world apart from the U.S. that doesn’t do things this way? Australia and the UK I know have paper and pencil - apparently according to this thread so does Denmark and, I kind of assume, most places in Europe. I also assume most less wealthy countries would do things by paper. That doesn’t leave many other voting-machine possibilities… Japan? Canada?

The critical difference is it is OK for your bank to know who you are and which transactions are yours.

A key design requirement for voting is that it be impossible for anyone or anything to connect you with how you voted. Some folks would argue that there is even a requirement to be unable to connect you with whether you had voted.

Providing an audit trail that you can verify but nobody else (including the “bank”) can is a tall order.