Voting Project Needs Python People

Alan Dechert adechert at
Tue Jul 22 01:04:47 CEST 2003

"Harry George" < at> wrote in message
news:xqx7k6b36r8.fsf at
> Here is a possible scenario:
> 1. Software chooses 1% of votes to change (big enough to have an
>    effect, small enough to maybe go unnoticed).
I don't think this is a possible scenario.  However, it brings up an
interesting test for our full blown study (keep in mind, we're trying to
focus on getting the demo done even though people want to jump ahead to
speculate on every possible detail).

The question you raise here has to do with the chance of x% votes being
recorded differently on paper without y number of voters noticing.  I think
it would also depend on the contest that was changed.  That is, it's
probably more likely that the voter would remember his or her choice for
president than, say, county supervisor.  This also points out some
difficulty with trying to test this with a mock election.  The voter may not
take the selections serious enough to care about remembering exactly how
they voted.

But taking your number, if you changed 1% of the votes in CA, you're talking
about on the order of 100,000 ballots (assuming you're talking about
changing only one contest... if you're talking about all the votes cast on
all races, then that's going to mean many times more ballots altered --
probably over one million).  I think it's likely that some sizable fraction
*would* notice (again, depending somewhat on the contest).  Say it's only
one tenth.  That's 10,000 voters that will be complaining that the computer
changed the vote.  That many complaints would set off fire alarms big time.

> 2. Paper is correct.  Visual monitor is correct.  Electronic storage
>    is changed.  Voter leaves happy.
Okay, but now the electronic record doesn't match.  With our system, the
paper is the authentic vote.  There is no crisis because the paper ballots
are available for recount.

> 3. Results are posted based on electronic storage.
But it will be caught.  There will be checks in place (in CA we already hand
verify 1% of the ballots at random after the election).  And with
standardized laser printed output, automated scanning should be much faster
and more accurate than scanning hand marked ballots.  Depending on how
elections are administered with this new equipment, it might be possible for
initial results to be posted incorrectly, but virtually impossible that the
tally would stand unchallenged.  A guard against inital bad results would
entail some sampling before the results are announced. We can use some
statistics -- cumulative binomial distribution -- to get a pretty good
confidence level of correctness with a small sample.

> 4. Only if enough people suspect trouble do we go to the paper trail.
>    At 1%, that may not happen.  Yet a 2% swing is pretty big in many
>    settings.
I don't think your arguement is very substantial, but certainly these are
some issues a large scale study of new voting technology should investigate.

Still, has nothing to do with the demo I am talking about.

Alan Dechert

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