Turning failure into apparent success, and carrying on: e-voting in Jalisco

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 06/18/2012 - 18:02

I will sound monothematic, but I have been devoting quite a bit of work to this topic lately: Trying to stop the advance of e-voting in Mexico, Latin America and the world.

Why trying to stop it? Isn't technology supposed to help us, to get trustable processes? Yes, it's supposed to... but it just cannot achieve it, no matter how hard it is tried — I won't get into explanations in this blog post, but there is plenty of information. Feel free to ask me for further details.

Anyway — Yesterday (Sunday, 2012-06-17) was the fifth simulated voting that will lead to the first wide-scale deployment of electronic voting booths in my country: About 10% of the population of the state of Jalisco (that means, ~500,000 people) will cast their votes on July 1st electronically.

This particular case illustrates how simulated votings can be used to forge a lie: Pounce Consulting, the company that won the e-voting project for IEPC (Jalisco's voting authority), delivered their booths over 40 days late, just before the deadline for the project to be canceled. Oh, and by the way, it's the same company that just failed to deliver on time for another planned local authority (10% of the booths in the Federal District, where I live, where fortunately 100% of the votes will be cast on traditional, auditable and cheap paper).

After this delay, five voting simulations were programmed, to get the local population acquinted with them. The first ones just failed to get the population's interest and had close to 40% failure rates (mainly regarding transmission). Several other "minor details" were reported, including mechanical details that allowed subsequent voters to see the vote of who had just left.

Anyway, making long story short: The fifth and last simulation was held yesterday. Officially, it was finally successful (about time). As these booths include the "facilities" to communicate the results via the cellular network, but the populations where they are to be deployed do not yet have cellular coverage, 10% of the booths will have to be carried back to the Districtal Header (that can be a ~10hr trip) to be counted. Also, in all places, traditional paper stationery and paraphernalia will be printed just in case it is needed (and when will they now? When half of the votes are cast and lost?)

Anyway... e-voting is still in its first stage in Mexico. Right now, I'm sure, no attempts to rig the election will be made (centrally). But every effort will be made (as it has been made) to dismiss the obviously big and nontrivial ways it has failed and will fail, and any problems will be labeled as "minor". And probably by 2018 we will be facing many more states (even nationwide) deployments.

But propaganda fails to see the obvious: E-voting is more expensive, more complicated, leads to more possible failure states. E-voting should not be deployed in large-scale (i.e. more than a couple of hundred voters) elections. Electronic voting is insecure, violates secrecy, allows for fraud. No matter how many locks are put into it.

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Jimmy Kaplowitz's picture

What about Debian etc?

Very good points about the really scary voting tests in Mexico. My elections recently switched from a satisfying purely mechanical lever machine with no voter-verifiable paper trail to a less fun but voter-verifiable scannable physical ballot that I feed into a reader. I can mark my ballot with a provided pen or with an electronic touchscreen machine. Either way, the physical ballot can be audited later, and they automatically check a 3% random sample of them. If you're going to involve electronics, that's the way to do it. You've said more than enough about the Jalisco elections to make me distrustful of them.

But do you restrict your comments to elections for real-world governmental offices, or other elections with similar vested interests and similar voters? If you're going to include all elections and state that "E-voting should not be deployed in [elections of] more than a couple hundred voters [...] No matter how many locks are put into it," I think Debian's DPL elections are a good counterexample.

gwolf's picture

Do I trust Debian's elections?

Very good point you make, Jimmy. Yes, I take part in Debian's elections (IIRC I have not missed a vote since I was accepted, back in 2003). Votes are purely electronic. Why don't I extend my lack of trust to Debian?

Mainly because of trust in the individuals, on the lack of motivation to rig the votes, and (most important!) becase the Debian elections don't require voter anonimity.

We have two types of election: The public-vote and the obscured-vote ones. And we can see the relevant tally sheets: It is public that both you and me voted in favor of the recent diversity statement, as the tally sheet is made public. On the other hand, as it involves real people and inter-personal relationships, the DPL voter tally is obscured — I can verify my vote was considered (and so can you, in case you voted), but in theory nobody else can. And even so, a voter disclosure bug was recently reported in Devotee — In an open election, no way for an external person to verify your vote should be allowed. If I get a token that can prove I voted in a specific way, it opens the door for corruption (for somebody to pay me or extort me to vote for a specific option).

Traditional paper voting does not give any way to know for whom I casted my vote.

gwolf's picture

Pointer to Wouter

e-learning guru's picture

Could not have said it better myself.

This horrible idea has been implemented in the U.S. on a wide scale. There is a lot of propaganda being pumped into the minds of the voter. This is being done intentionally. Remember, Stalin said, "Those who count the votes decide everything."