Immediately after the US presidential election, I wrote an article in which I called for computerized voting throughout the United States. As you might have guessed, the weeks between election day and today have strengthened my opinion.
I challenged readers to devise a design for implementing this process. I wasn’t looking for a software application design; rather, I wanted a design for the interface and security issues. Several readers submitted logical, interesting approaches, and I’m awarding them the prizes I promised.
Mark Stang (who has the kind of dry sense of humor I always respond to) and Robert Gross each win a copy of my book, Admin911:Windows 2000 Registry (Osborne/McGraw-Hill, 2000). Their submissions were remarkably similar, and extremely well thought out (see below for some of the design details).
John Citron wrote to describe a machine that works like an ATM. He suggested displaying a large blinking message that reads "Are You Sure?" before the voter presses that final OK button. For admitting that his mother thought of the solution, John wins a copy of a dynamite book by Roger Jennings, Admin911:Windows 2000 Group Policy (Osborne/McGraw-Hill, 2000).
I also received a lot of interesting replies on the whole subject of computers in the voting booth. Some readers talked about the success of computerized voting in their own countries—I received numerous responses from computer-voters from Canada and Brazil. Obviously, this idea is feasible. Many individual counties in the United States have moved to computerized voting, and readers who live in those counties, including some election officials, told me they were extremely pleased with the process.
Most readers approached the design of a voting system with concerns about security and ease of use. The following suggestions made almost everyone’s list.
Avoid using an Internet connection, except when necessary to upload totals. Some readers suggested copying vote totals to a 3.5" disk and physically taking the disk to the election headquarters. Nobody suggested Internet voting with good firewall protection, which I think is interesting. Is the level of trust that low? And how many people who eschew the prospect of voting on the Internet buy products from e-tailers with their credit cards?
Use a self-contained network with one server. For redundancy, the system would save data locally at each voting machine and also at the server. The server would require a secure logon for the election officials who must gather and transfer the vote totals.
Rely on an encrypted file system. Several readers specifically mentioned the need to use the Windows 2000 Encrypting File System (EFS), which works well to prevent anyone but a file’s owner from opening the file. I’d like to point out that EFS doesn’t prevent file deletion, so this solution also requires a restrictive approach to file permissions.
Use touch-screen technology. Not only are touch screens a user-friendly approach, but as several readers pointed out, touch screens avoid the need for input devices that can compromise security—it’s hard to break into a machine without an input device. Several readers went to the trouble to describe the method for designing the hardware profile that loads the input-free configuration. Election officials who need to take care of end-of-day tasks could reboot the system, select a different profile, and log on with the appropriate credentials.
Let voters highlight on-screen selections and re-touch the screen to deselect. Almost every reader I heard from said that voting procedures that require voters to ask for a new ballot if a mistake occurs are cumbersome, discouraging to voters, and ripe for fraud. In other words, give the voters the proper tools so they won't need to ask for a new ballot.
A big Start button should be the only thing on screen when the voter approaches the voting system. When the voter presses this button, the curtain will close and the system will display the ballot. A great big "Press this when done" button will appear, and the screen will clear after pressing this button. The curtain will open automatically using wireless technology, and the Start button will reappear for the next voter.
Nobody wrote to say that computerized voting was totally stupid and that I was out of my mind to suggest it. I’ve never written for Windows 2000 Magazine without at least one nasty reader response. Am I losing my touch? Thanks to all of you who took the time to share your inventive approaches.