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Ink, Trust and the Electronic Vote


It probably passed unnoticed by most, but an editorial in yesterday’s New York Times contained this phrase:

Electronic voting machines that do not produce a paper record of every vote cast cannot be trusted.

The Times stated its support for Representative Rush Holt’s Bill which would ban paperless electronic voting in all federal elections. Of course, it’s the combination of ink and paper that supplies the level of documentation for which the congressman is looking. It is asserted that a physical manifestation of the vote is required to establish trust. A mark upon a ballot that can be plainly seen by anyone in the broad daylight of a town square.

While the documentation of voter suppression can be digitally captured and distributed via the real-time news network, the act of voting itself, apparently, cannot be trusted to the digital. The low cost of change damages the digital’s credibility here. It seems too easy to hack the vote.  And yet, we trust our finances to purely digital systems— and our medical records will soon move from ink and paper to databases.

What would electronic voting have to be in order for it to enjoy the level of trust accorded to voting through the medium of ink and paper?  And what change would that level of trust signal?

Published in culture digital identity network user data


  1. A screenshot with a time stamp? A photo of you voting while holding up today's edition of the NY Times? Or is it really just a copy of your vote sent to an archive under your control?

  2. some sort of real-time record of what I did at that moment that can be matched against the archive later…at least, that's my gut response. I can produce a hard copy receipt now that can be matched to my ballot put in the ballot box. That creates an audit trail that cements and links my vote to me. An electronic version of that would be 'digital cement'.

  3. The word “cemented” seems to be key. What does digital cement look like?

  4. What it lacks right now is a clear tie to an unique voter identity. Note that I am not saying the identity has to identify the person. But there isn't a way right now (or at least, a way that is immediately apparent) for my vote cast on an electronic voting machine to be recorded as MY VOTE and cemented.

    We've seen hacks to websites and other electronic media change the character, intent and nature of the site. Intentionally. That is my primary concern with electronic voting — that my stated vote will be changed by someone and there will be no clear audit trail back to my original intent.

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