Dude, What’s My Ballot?

(Part 1 of 2: What’s My Ballot?)

Having recently written about my CA primary voting experience, now is a good time to compare and contrast with some of the overseas-voter Internet voting pilots. The previous question “Where’s My Ballot?” applies just as well, but in some cases, we also have the question “What is my ballot?

Starting with a recap of my polling place experience, let’s compare based on what we have at the end of the day. After a grueling +16-hour day of community service at the fire station up on Middlefield Road, poll workers packed up ballots in two different forms. First, there is a funky little computer called the Hart JBC. Most of the ballots were bits stored on disk in the JBC, and also represented as paper trails on paper rolls that the poll workers detached from the DRE voting machines. Second, some of the ballots were hand marked paper ballots in a ballot box. (I would prefer that the paper ballots have an electronic backup representation, via polling place optical scan, so that every ballot is represented both digitally and physically.)

Now let’s compare with the end of the day result for the more common of two current Internet-based voting schemes for overseas voters — fax or email return of marked vote-by-mail ballots. For those who love to hate these schemes, say what you like about the shortcomings, but it’s clear what we have at the end of the day. For some weeks prior to election day, fax machines have been spitting out arriving faxed ballots (along with absentee voter attestation documents), and printers have been spitting out arriving email attachments (ballot and attestation). The attestations were reviewed, and for each acceptable attestation, the corresponding ballot was set separated and set aside for counting. On election day, those ballots were counted, similarly or even exactly the same as the absentee ballots that arrived via USPS or FedEx.

In fact, that set-aside pile of admissible ballots isn’t all that different than the ballot box full of hand-marked paper ballots from from the Middlefield Road fire station. It’s quite clear what the ballot is, and where it is.

Now to be fair, let me mention that fax and email ballot return schemes have notable problems that we don’t have at the fire station: secret ballot and voter anonymity are kaput, and there are loads of ways that ballots can be tampered with. There’s more to say about that, and we have already but let’s stay focused on the comparison: the what and where of the ballots are as clear as is my in-person voting experience, and perhaps even clearer for this election where I voting on DRE. That clarity and ease of understanding — both the what and where — is one reason why I believe email and fax return are as popular as they are, because familiarity and comprehension breed trust more strongly than trust is diluted by security experts pointing out risks.

Next up: In Part 2, I’ll provide a similar comparison to another form of Internet-based voting: home-based client-server Internet voting, which I like to call “voting a la surveymonkey.” Stay tuned …


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