[ExI] elections again; was [Time Magazine: Person of the Year: Putin(!),my vote instead:Anna Politkovskaja]

spike spike66 at att.net
Fri Dec 28 23:12:27 UTC 2007

Earlier I suggested:

> 1. Verify the votes to convince everyone that the election was fair and
> square.
> 2. Avoid running up huge bills in the verification; (minimize labor by
> election workers.)
> 3. Minimize cost of the necessary machines.
> 4. Verify one's own vote was recorded as intended.
> 5. Insure against anyone buying votes, either by bribery or threats.
> 6. Insure that everyone gets a secret ballot.
> 7. Eliminate voting by those not eligible, such as dead people.
> 8. Prevent ballot box stuffing.
> 9. Prevent news agencies from influencing the outcome of the election by
> the act of reporting the outcome before the polls close.
> 10. Allow all practical voting conveniences, such as absentee balloting.
> spike

Various commentators opined:

> Pretending to register for a party that one doesn't really believe in, 
> and then sabotaging the other party's vote is dishonest (or misleading 
> at best).  Harvey

Noted.  The system I will propose doesn't fix this, but helps reduce the
problem for it reduces the significance of the whole primary election
two-party system.

> As a meta-comment, "fair elections" as most people would describe them 
> are generally a hard problem, even if every vote is always counted 
> correctly.  J. Andrew Rogers

Noted.  The system I will propose doesn't fix this either, but may help
reduce the problem.  Do stand by.

> Frankly, I'm getting very tired of voting for a least objectionable 
> candidate. I'd like to be positively inclined toward a candidate.  
> Instead I find myself often voting *against* a candidate.  MB

Noted.  The system I will propose may help reduce the problem.  Stand by.

> Yes, people suck.  Eugene

Noted.  Do supply names and phone numbers if such persons are female and

{8^D  Kidding bygones.

> ... the *state* one lives in has removed the party of ones choice
> from the ballot?  There's a two-party-only setup in my area unless one can
> show (subject to those two party's approval) sufficient voters and *money*
> to get back on the ballot.  MB

Noted.  We are seeing an artifact of the inherent limitations of the old
mechanical punch-holes-in-paper-card systems.  See if the following
proposals may help.

> n.  Verify that verifications in steps n-k (where 0 < k < n-1) are
> performed correctly.  n+1. Verify that step n was performed correctly.

Noted.  I will toss all verifiability issues in with criterion 1 above.

My freedom-loving extropian friends, look at what has happened in election
practice, especially in the last approximately fourteen years, since the web
showed up.  The web is a tool which would theoretically enable us to repair
the election system, a process that has been broken for a long time, indeed
since always.  Suddenly in 1994, we as a society were handed the tools to
make elections fair, transparent and verifiable, and to meet all ten goals
listed above.

In those fourteen years, we have spent a ton of money to revolutionize the
election process.  Governments bought paperless computerized voting
machines.  What we got for all that money is a system which is less
transparent and verifiable (so for all that investment we gained nothing but
we lost ground on criterion 1 above.)  We bought a system with enables the
mainstream press to start reporting the winner before the polls even open in
Taxifornia (so for all that investment we gained nothing but we lost ground
on criterion 9 above.)  We have lost ground in the legitimacy of elections.
Democracy itself is seriously threatened, without a single shot having yet
been fired.

Here is my idea:  Arrange all voting machines as extremely simple stand
alone devices, just a standard computer with a printer, no LAN or modem.
The software is so simple we could use recycled 8086 computers, or any
computer, and any screen including those old CRTs that currently have
negative value (we cannot legally toss them in the trash in Taxifornia, but
rather we must pay actual money to legally dispose of them).

The software merely goes down the list, asking: 

President?  You type in a name, any name, no party affiliation necessary.

Vice President?  In my proposed system one may split parties, choosing an
unmatched president and veep for instance, for at one time in the states the
second place winner of the president election automatically became VP.  We
can go back to that if necessary.  This helps reduce the importance of

And so on all the way down the list.  Just as one may type in any name, one
can type in any honorary office, even if one doesn't exist, and type in any
nominee.  The winners of such can be listed on a website for exactly no cost
to the people, but perhaps would be a gimmick to attract voters, adding
still more legitimacy to the election process.  We could, for instance, type
in Harvey Newstrom for Prime Minister, Eugene Leitl for Grand Poobah of
ExiChat Moderation, spike Jones for Vice Chucklemeister, and so on.  These
positions, having no actual power, protect the officeholders from

Here is the critical part.  Each machine is connected to only a printer or
bar-code generating device.  (Printers are cheap, many are obsolete but
still perfectly useful for this purpose.)  When you are finished voting, the
screen displays all your choices, which you verify.  The machine then
generates two pieces of paper, a ballot and a nearly identical receipt
(ordinary, cheap, common 8x11 copy paper) with a bar code, not human
readable but machine readable (criterion 6) on both pages.  The machine
generates a random code, which you can later use for verification that your
vote was counted and recorded correctly (criterion 1) which I will describe
in greater detail, and which is printed on the ballot but not printed on the
receipt.  The voter remembers or writes it down.  

The paper ballots go into a box which is watched constantly by arbitrarily
many observers from arbitrarily many parties (criteria 2, 3, 4, 6, and 7).

The final question, after all the voting is finished, is used to bust vote
buying (criterion 5).  It is a question that was inspired by the Red Cross.
(I am a three gallon blood donor to the Red Cross.  After the 23 July 2006
ambulance incident, I would not donate to the Red Cross my dirty toenail
clippings, but the following idea is still good.)  The Red Cross recognizes
that people may give blood for the wrong reasons, such as to schmooze with
the boss, (even after a night out with the boys when one awoke draped over
the back of the sofa naked from the waist down and unable to recall what
exactly happened.)  Clearly, such blood can pose a risk to the recipients.
The Red Cross is cool about such things, and has designed a question that is
something like "Do you have any reason to recommend the Red Cross not use
this blood?"  The yes or no answer is then bar coded in a machine readable
(but not human readable) form on the labels, which allows the "no" donations
to be discarded while maintaining the appearance of donation to impress the

We could do the same trick with the ballots.  Consider the case where your
boss, Mr. Burns, threatens to fire you unless you vote for Dingledork,
Carbunkle and Phartz.  But the comely Lureleen Rottencrotch offers to reward
you nicely if you vote for Buhtphuk, Hosenose and Bluster.  But you favor
Himmeroid, Shleezbucket and McBarf.  (Let us call these ballots DCP, BHB,
and HSM for short.)  

The last question asks you to identify whether this ballot is your true
choices or a mere Burns/Rottencrotch decoy.  For each answer it gives you a
randomly generated verification code (for instance, yes-count on DCP is
K3NF6 and no-count is UB8A4.)  This code shows up on the screen and on the
actual ballot but not the receipt printout.  You may submit as many ballots
as you want, but only the one yes-count is counted.  If you submit two or
more yes-counts, all are rejected.  The no-counts go on the website, but
show as no-counts if you have the secret code, and show as yes-counts if one
enters a false yes-code.

You print out receipts for your true ballot plus the decoys, and write down
the yes-count and no-count codes.  You show the DCP yes-code to Burn, thus
keeping your job, and the BHB yes-code to Lureleen, thus collecting your
reward, then you go home, get on the web and verify that your HSM vote was
counted as a yes-count, and the other two were not counted, using the true
yes-count code that only you know.  

Here is the part that must be carefully understood: if you identify to the
election board that the ballot as a decoy, only the true yes-coded ballot
gives you the code necessary to verify the true yes-code.  The others are
phony, and allow you (only) to verify that your single yes-count coded
ballot counted and the others didn't.  From an outsider's perspective, who
cannot verify the codes on your screen or your ballot, the website will show
the decoys as a yes-count when that ballot was actually a no-count.  So the
vote-threateners and vote buyers can no longer verify that their people
actually voted as directed, whereas the actual voter can verify.  This makes
the buying of votes a pointless exercise.  This gets criterion 5.

To prevent ballot stuffing, the voter is assigned a randomly generated code
when she registers for voting privileges (which is done before the
election.)  The poll worker enters the random code when the voter submits
her completed ballot (and all decoys).  The voting machine would read the
voter number on each ballot, and toss the ballots if no voter number is
entered or if two are found with the same number (criterion 6, 8 and 10.)
No registration number, no count.

Keep the absentee balloting similar to the current system, but all absentee
ballots must be received before the election and must be kept secret
(criteria 9 and 10).

Specifically disallow all voting machines that count votes real-time, or
that contain any external communication devices such as modems (criterion
9.)  Remove the plastic case so that any inspector can verify no radio
communications gear or LAN is present.  Specifically disallow any ballots to
be fed to the feeder/readers until the last ballot closes in Alaska and
Hawaii (by which time it is now near dawn in Maine).  Given enough automatic
feeder/readers, the election results could be announced simultaneously
before the second cup of coffee is devoured on the US east coast.  Within a
day, a central website has links to the fifty states, which lists everyone's
votes, ready to verify (criterion 1).

If the news agencies set up exit polling stations, educate the proles that
such pollsters are lower than telemarketers, therefore this is one
circumstance in which it is perfectly legitimate and acceptable to say
something delightfully rude.  Such as "What part of SECRET BALLOT do you not
understand you [fill in favorite insult, such as "cowardly
terrorist-sympathizing ultra-(choose direction)-wing throwback entropic
totalitarian phone-spamming commu-nazi pollster.  It is none of your dam
business who I voted for."]  This hits criterion 9 with a pleasantly
satisfying thump.

This system satisfies every one of the ten criteria above, while reducing
the significance of the absurd primary system (we allow our candidates to be
first chosen by Iowa.  Iowa!)  It isn't technically difficult or expensive
(criterion 2) being as it requires a random collection of stand-alone and
probably obsolete cast-off computers and printers, prints everything on
standard copy paper and uses only current bar code reading and paper
handling technology, along with a very simple web site.  If such a thing
isn't implemented, I am suspicious as hell.  I would recommend an election
strategy of voting against the incumbent. 

When in doubt, toss em out.  When not in doubt, toss em out anyway.



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