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TinotopiaLog → How a ballot-receipt shouldn’t look (10 Nov 2004)
Wednesday 10 November 2004

How a ballot-receipt shouldn’t look

Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing gushes with praise for one of Wired’s found objects from the future: a voting-machine receipt. The BB headline is ‘How a ballot-receipt should look’.

Er, except that it identifies the voter, and that it gives the voter’s ‘lifetime electoral win/loss ratio’, thus strongly suggesting that in Wired’s future, secret ballots are a thing of the past: you can’t calculate that batting average without maintaining a database, accessible to the voting machine, of how you’ve voted in the past.


And on top of that, the receipt doesn’t even directly show how you voted: there’s just a tracking number for each of your votes, and a note that you can ‘securely verify your votes online’ — which means that we would be right back where we started.

It’s an interesting thing, but if Doctorow really thinks that this is how the receipt should look, he should have his head examined. My guess is that he didn’t look too closely at the thing.

Posted by tino at 18:48 10.11.04
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The October 2004 issue of IEEE Spectrum has a good article that explains why this cannot be done:

Voting systems must never link an individual to his or her vote, or else it would be possible for the voter to sell a vote or a politico to coerce one. In short, voting machines need to produce transactions that are auditable. Officials need to be able to recount ballots, trace problems, and eliminate errors. All the while, they must never be able to identify who created which ballot. This problem has engaged some of the brightest minds in computer science and mathematics for a few years now, with no agreement yet about how it can best be solved.

Posted by: Patrick Fitzgerald at November 10, 2004 03:26 PM

Most of my receipts of the thermal-printed type fade in a couple of months to the point you can’t even read them. Chris

Posted by: chris at November 10, 2004 03:29 PM

I can hear the echoes of Boss Tweed’s laughter booming through the rafters of Tammany Hall.

For a good explanation of the theory of voting, I suggest this essay by a computer scientist and the nation’s foremost expert on voting systems (electronic AND paper)


Be sure to read all of his website, it will explain in more detail why this “ideal ballot receipt” is ideally bad.


Posted by: Charles at November 10, 2004 07:09 PM