Tagged election

Why Publish Ballots?

I’d like to thank Eric Rescorla for making an excellent and pithy point about the purpose of publishing images of  marked ballots.  But first, thanks (again) to Mitch Trachtenberg of the Humboldt Transparency Project for publishing a hand-picked set of ballot images that provide a great example of the difficult borderline cases of interpreting hard-marked paper ballots — whether it is a human or some software doing the interpreting.  Ballot publication can show how much of a given election result actually depended on these borderline cases.

Eric made a broader point that is so widely misunderstood that it truly merits repetition:

The main point of publishing ballot images  is to allow people to independently verify that the images published correspond to the votes recorded for those images.

True, but verification requires more than ballot images – it requires that each image is published along with information about how that ballot’s marks were interpreted as votes that were counted.  I cringe every time somebody talks about ballot image publication as though it were just posting some JPEGs on a Web site.

By viewing the images plus these “cast ballot records“, members of the public can look at a ballot image and decide for themselves whether they think its votes were interpreted correctly — and if not, whether the putative mistakes are enough to effect the outcome of a race.

And just as important, consider the cases where an election official is involved in deciding an ambiguous mark – particularly at large scales such as with vote-by-mail.  As a result, broader transparency requires that the election process maintain audit records of these decisions, in case they need to be re-visited.

So, sure, the publication of images alone is helpful for transparency, but Mitch’s examples show how much interpretive leeway there can be. And in close elections, that leeway can influence whether a recount is required, or even influence an election result. So it’s just as important to maintain and publish cast-ballot records, audit records, and the like.

But that is a lot of work!

And often is not feasible with current voting systems and election management technology. It’s actually quite a job to maintain and publish all this information in a form useful to members of the public – a job that we’re working on at the TrustTheVote Project of course, by building all of our election technology system components with the “Save Everything” principle.


End-to-end election in Tacoma Park

Check Dan Wallach’s post: Tacoma Park: first ever e2e binding election (from ACCURATE) which describes an actual real-world election using a so-called “end-to-end” vote casting and counting technology.

This is a fascinating scenario: allowing voters to actually verify, by true mathematical proof, that their vote actually got included in the total. This is unique and seems very welcome and a great trust-enhancer in fair elections.

But the mathematics behind it are far over the head of 99.99999% of the voters. So if it adds trust and confidence, why does it? And does it actually have to work in order to add trust and confidence?

For example, does it matter that my airline seat can double as a flotation device, and that it will actually work, or does it give me confidence no matter what?

Or, on the other hand, does it remind me that the plane actually may crash, and hence reduce my trust and confidence? On the third hand, the mathematics (and physics, and aerodynamics) that keep the plane aloft, are also way over the most of our heads.

One more worthwhile factoid:  in the Tacoma Park election, the end-to-end cryptography are complemented by vanilla paper ballots which offer a familiar and understood safety valve:

From the “Takoma Park: first ever e2e binding election” post:

“It’s important to note that, for this particular election technology, the votes are being cast on traditional paper ballots that could always be counted, recounted, or otherwise inspected manually.

That’s not strictly necessary for election security — our own VoteBox system works more like a paperless electronic voting system and has the same security guarantees as Scantegrity — but it’s essential when rolling out a new technology where a real election with real politicians’ careers is at stake. We need to know that real elections can be really verified, and we need a fallback position if the crypto somehow goes wrong. ” (from: Tacoma Park: first ever e2e binding election)

Exciting stuff!