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Frequently Asked Questions - Voter Protections

10. What about the “Florida problem,” where voters thought they were voting for one candidate but ended up voting for another?
Current systems in which voters mark paper directly with pens, or even by punching out pre-perforated chad, employ criteria that varies between jurisdictions and is often subjective, ill-defined, and sometimes even changed after elections. With Punchscan, unlike current scan, voters are shown the machine’s interpretation of the marks right on a scanned image screen at the polling place before they cast their ballot. Touchscreen voting does show voters how their votes have been recognized by the machine, and sometimes how they are recorded on paper, but not more. Punchscan, however, goes the full distance, after confirming the recognition of the marks on the receipt, which locks in the votes, it lets voters see online that these same marks are actually properly included in the final tally.
11. Isn’t it difficult or time consuming for those marking a ballot to find the letter through the hole that matches the letter next to the desired candidate?
Though it requires some more effort, judging by the lack of complaints in our mock elections, voters seem to easily adapt to this new style of voting. We plan to move to ballots where matching bullet/symbol pairs are uniquely colored, hopefully making finding the hole to daub almost automatic. More systematic user studies are of course needed. In any case, its is easier to mark a punchscan ballot than to use a bent paperclip to punch tiny numbered chad out from a pre-perforated punch card ballot according to the numbers from a sample ballot, as in absentee voting in many large counties. What punchscan might lose compared to touchscreen in raw speed, it makes up for in shorter lines at the polls—because of the low cost per booth. And after all, human interfaces for voting should not encourage haphazard choices, reportedly made by some voters, but rather a considered and deliberate vote.
12. What if voters are paid or coerced to mark their receipts in particular ways?
If a vote-buyer or coercer tells the voter where to mark before the voter enters the polling place, then those marks will correspond to random votes. This is because only in the booth can the voter see what vote corresponds to what mark on the receipt (as mentioned in question 2). So paying for such marks is actually paying for random votes, which is substantially the same as paying someone not to vote at all. But paying people not to vote can be achieved more directly (and even online), since who votes in US elections is generally visible and in practice a matter of public record. Influencing voters not to vote on certain contests, while allowing them to vote their choice on others, is essentially a waste of the influencer’s efforts, which would be more effective if the voter were kept from voting altogether. Observing how long people spend in booths has been used in improper influence schemes, and lever machines even make a distinctive sound for each contest voted. Nevertheless, an “overvote” position (inherent in many other paper-based voting systems) combined with a mark per contest requirement, lets a punchscan receipt hide even which contests were voted.
13. What if those operating a polling place were corrupt and could locally learn how people vote and thereby help enforce vote buying or coercion schemes?
Unlike conventional paper ballots, with or without scanners in the polling place, or electronic voting machines, how a voter voted with punchscan is apparent neither from anything placed in a ballot box, from what any electronic equipment at the polling place sees, nor even from electromagnetic emanations. For poll-workers to check on punchscan voters (without colluding with enough of those holding the central keys) they would need information on the unvoted ballot forms. However, batches of forms should be distributed sealed in security envelopes that are opened in front of voters.
14. Can’t the secret keys of those running the election be used centrally to spy on how people voted?
Not really. In current paper ballot systems, voter fingerprints remain on ballots and could be captured on a mass basis (e.g., using iodine vapor and scanners). In typical systems with electronic equipment at the polling place, especially when so-called electronic poll-books are included, current systems can know who voted which way based on timing. Also some new systems log readable votes in order, on a roll of paper, also compromising privacy. In Punchscan, the keys are split into individually useless parts that can only be used when enough parts are re-combined. But even a sufficient collusion of those holding system keys would only be able centrally to trace votes to serial numbers, not to voters.
15. Can’t voters sell votes by allowing their votes to be identified through voting for a pre-arranged pattern of down-ballot candidates or issues?
This is a problem with all current systems, because whole ballots or ballot images are preserved. (Although ballot images are generally not published, those running elections have access to them.) By contrast, Punchscan has the option to divide a single physical ballot digitally into parts during processing, so that the correlations between parts are perfectly hidden by the cryptography and only the correlations and totals within each part are revealed. For optimal privacy and protection of groups, each contest is in its own part and only separate totals per contest are revealed. Where a “yes” vote on one question (such as should there be a recall), however, is required in order to be allowed to vote on a second question (like who should replace the recalled officeholder), both contests would be in the same part.
16. What if a ballot were to be smuggled out of the polling place and then used in a chain scheme, where each voter casts a pre-marked ballot provided to them before they go inside the polling place and then brings out the unmarked fresh one they were given inside so that it can be used as the next link in the chain?
Such schemes are a known problem with paper ballot systems generally. Other related schemes apply to almost all voting systems, such as non-voters mingling with voters, voters exchanging/transferring ballots (or machine unlocking cards/codes), or voters exiting without casting a ballot that is then cast by someone else. Known countermeasures, such as initialing or checking of serial numbers by poll workers, even though seldom used, are ineffective or invasive of privacy. Punchscan avoids this whole class of problems by using its own innovative technique of issuing voters that sign-in with large, uniquely-colored clipboards that physically lock ballots and receipt sheet choice. Clipboards are unlocked only when ballots are cast and an unlocked clipboard is handed over at the exit.
17. What if the same ballot serial number is given to more than one voter?
This can be considered a form of potential cheating by the system, since only one ballot is supposed to be printed per serial number. The more serial numbers are used more than once, the more likely such system cheating is to be detected. The reason is because some voters receiving the same serial number (even if they voted the same way) would likely choose to keep the top sheet and others the bottom sheet; but since only one sheet can be posted online, when some check they would see mismatched sheets.