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A really bad idea in the history of bad ideas

By johnboy - 13 August 2008 34

The Canberra Times reports that electronic scanning is going to count the vital preferences on our ballots.

Having spent more years than I care to think of working with the results of electronic scanning I wish I could say I share their faith in machine ability to accurately read hand-writing.

Remember this is a fall-back after they arsed up electronic voting, which has now been withdrawn despite no public admission of what went wrong.

And here’s one for the conspiracy theorists. Hand-writing recognition anyone?

“Ah wait,” I hear you cry, “If the hand-writing recognition can identify voters surely it can at least count the votes right?”

Well if it can only correctly identify 20% of voters it makes a lousy vote counting system but still a massive potential intrusion and of great interest to political number crunchers.

I’m sure this is not happening now. But I’m in no way keen on opening this tempting path.

Anything that can be done often seems to be done eventually.

We can wait a few days for our election results, and we can afford to pay people to enter the data.

UPDATE: Thanks to Jonathan Reynolds who has chased up the EC and confirmed that the electronic voting will be continued, but still in an extremely limited implementation.

What’s Your opinion?


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34 Responses to
A really bad idea in the history of bad ideas
Jonathon Reynolds 10:58 am 13 Aug 08

@Johnboy:

The CT article appears contradictory..

In the 2004 election, 28,169 votes were recorded electronically. This year Mr Green is expecting 30,000.
Twenty machines at five pre-polling stations in Belconnen, Gungahlin, Civic, Woden and Tuggeranong will record electronic votes from September 29.
”Last time we put all the pre-polling votes on to the website at 10 [minutes] past six on election night.”
Mr Green said 16 of the 17 winning candidates were correctly identified.
There will be no electronic voting on polling day.

When I rang the electoral commission this morning, and yes I am anally retentive and perverse enough to do such a thing to confirm details before posting a comment, I was told categorically that the voting machines would be used in five pre-poll stations then also used on election day.

If we are referring to ABC 666, I heard that too. I have more faith in a system that provides the mechanism to be able to go back and manually count the hand scrawled votes than that of a totally electronic system. A candidate/party involved in the election can always request a recount which can be highly manually (human eye visually) scrutinised.

Harold Hird countenanced that option in 2001:
http://www.canberratimes.com.au/news/local/news/general/hird-to-ask-court-for-recount/342173.aspx

johnboy 10:42 am 13 Aug 08

Jonathon Reynolds said :

Oh and in regard to your conspiracy theory… I’d make sure you are wearing thick rubber gloves when you mark your ballot paper… you don’t want those nasty political parties working out who you are and how you voted. It is all too easy to use fingerprints from the ballot paper and track traces of your DNA these days 😛

When the taxpayers is footing the bill for the gathering of that information you’ll have a valid comparison JR.

The article clearly states that they’re withdrawing them, the EC has still made no public statement on exactly what they’re doing. Perhaps they’d like to do so.

When interviewed this morning they were talking about spitting results back to manual intervention where the OCR software was uncertain.

This still leaves the many cases where OCR is absolutely certain and completely wrong.

Jonathon Reynolds 10:35 am 13 Aug 08

@iohnboy:

Remember this is a fall-back after they arsed up electronic voting, which has now been withdrawn despite no public admission of what went wrong.

You are totally incorrect – electronic voting will be used again at the upcoming election. Give Elections ACT a call yourself on (02) 6205 0033 to confirm.

The electronic voting system remains susceptible to manipulation of votes either during the casting of an actual vote or after a vote has been cast. This is because the system continues to lack a voter verifiable paper audit trail (something that we could go back to to scrutinise the electronic vote against). You have to have blind faith that what you intended to lodge as your vote is actually what gets recorded electronically.

I have more confidence in a system that is scanning and recognising data from ballot papers as there is still the ability to scrutinise the original hard copy, manually marked ballot paper.

Oh and in regard to your conspiracy theory… I’d make sure you are wearing thick rubber gloves when you mark your ballot paper… you don’t want those nasty political parties working out who you are and how you voted. It is all too easy to use fingerprints from the ballot paper and track traces of your DNA these days 😛

VYBerlinaV8_the_one_ 10:32 am 13 Aug 08

Security through obscurity is bad as just because something is very unlikely to happen doesn’t mean it will never happen.

In some instances security through obscurity actually works against you. When evaluating new cryptographic algorithms the security community around the world is often invited to review and attack the algorithm. In such instances, the strength of the security is in it’s genuine effectiveness, thus removing reliance on maintaining secrecy.

justbands 10:32 am 13 Aug 08

Different country, different voting system….& I don’t think the AEC really had much to do with it.

Skidbladnir 10:29 am 13 Aug 08

Leave that to the AEC, they do a stand-up job.

Because blind faith in electoral commission’s decisions without public investigation into the counting machine has never caused problems or controversy in the past.

justbands 10:21 am 13 Aug 08

Common though people….handwriting recognition? Identify 20% of voters? How exactly? Where are the handwriting samples to compare with for that 20% of voters? It’s not up to me (or any of you) to minimise potential exposure. Leave that to the AEC, they do a stand-up job.

Skidbladnir 10:16 am 13 Aug 08

Security through obscurity is bad as just because something is very unlikely to happen doesn’t mean it will never happen.
It should still be a part of somebody’s risk matrices, and potential exposure to it should be minimised.

johnboy 9:45 am 13 Aug 08

Always glad to give them a giggle.

justbands 9:43 am 13 Aug 08

> Have you met many party hacks?

Plenty. I married one even. I guarantee that they’d be laughing heartily at your paranoia.

johnboy 9:38 am 13 Aug 08

Have you met many party hacks?

I guarantee there are sad enough people who will be using this data if they get the chance.

Now if you’re cool with that then that’s great, but such a major change to the mechanism of vote counting, for mine, should not have been sprung on us so late in the day.

justbands 9:35 am 13 Aug 08

Security by obscurity. Who gives a flying F*&% how people who write with loopy twos vote? Just because you could in theory find such obscure things out, it doesn’t mean anybody would actually be interested enough to bother.

johnboy 9:33 am 13 Aug 08

I’m still not sure I want anyone with the dataset on a portable HD being about to figure out the voting trends of people who write with loopy twos.

PBO 9:21 am 13 Aug 08

Graphology has some benefits, but it is too broadly inaccurate to be of any real use to the Government. So you can all settle down and take the Alfoil of your heads now.

peterh 9:07 am 13 Aug 08

oh, good.

hand writing??

after doing a count one election, hand writing is a bit of a stretch. perhaps they should give out crayons – fill in the blanks with your numbers, people – they might just keep in the squares….

seriously, though, if they are going to use the ICR technology to pick up votes, the system better be tested a few hundred times. The form scans are ok, but if they have someone who has botched the form, is too embarrassed to ask for another, and has written the info beside the boxes, it won’t get picked up by a traditional form process scan.

why don’t they just put in a series of coloured handles – push em down in sequence of your vote, punch card gets punched with the sequence, very old computer records your vote.

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