No Privacy on KC's Touchscreens

It is trivial to determine the votes of anyone who used King County's new Diebold AccuVote TSx touchscreens. I realized this during the Poll Inspector's training. I asked around, apparently our officials have known this, too. There's even an emergency rule to address a similar vulnerability during performance audits.

Below is the explanation...

Reverse Engineering Touchscreen Ballots

If you have a poll site's Inspector's List, Poll Books, AVU Encoding Slips, and the Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT), you can determine how everyone using the touchscreen voted.  ("AVU" stands for accessible voting unit, the pleasant name KCE has given the notorious Diebold AccuVote TSx touchscreen electronic voting machines.)

The Inspector's List tells you who voted in each precinct and in what order they voted.

Each precinct's Poll Book, where each voter signs for their ballot, tells you who voted and what kind of ballot was issued. Any voter using the touchscreen has an "AVU" written in the "ballot stub issued" field next to their name.

The AVU Encoding Slip tells you who voted using the touchscreen electronic voting machine. The slip includes fields for denoting "canceled" and "abandoned" ballots.

The VVPAT shows the precinct code (precinct number plus number given to the split) and all the votes. The VVPAT is simply a roll of thermal paper, just like the cashier's tape at the store. The stated (and unrealized) purpose of the VVPAT is to allow voters to verify their ballots. All of the ballots are recorded in sequential order.

Once you have these four public documents, you start with the VVPAT and work backwards towards the Inspector's List.

#1 - Scan the VVPAT for all ballots from a single precinct (or precinct code where their or splits).

#2 - Use precinct's Poll Book to create list of all the voters who used the touchscreen.

#3 - Remove voters who canceled or abandoned their ballots.

#4 - Determine the order of the voters from the Inspector's List.

Why This Works

King County currently has a single Diebold AccuVote TSx touchscreen per poll site.   When you drop your poll ballot into the ballot box, the order gets shuffled. To shuffle the virtual ballots cast on a touchscreen, the number of touchscreens per poll site would need to be increased.

A further measure would be to increase the number of ballots cast on the touchscreens. This is a precaution advocated by Tim Borders. I doubt very much that will happen. KCE is stampeding everyone towards forced mail voting. Very few disabled voters will continue using mail ballots. (Did anyone tell the disability advocates that their "independence day" came at the expense of everyone's secret ballot?)

Most of the thousands of provisional (paper) ballots are issued to absentee voters who lost their mail ballots. Fortunately, at this time, the touchscreens in King County cannot be used to vote provisionally.

(Thought experiment: How do you remove a disqualified provisional ballot from an electronic voting machine? And yet, we're told forced mail voting is "less complicated" than our "hybrid" voting system.)


I had intended to request all the public documents needed to show the world how I voted during the primary.

I was reminded that Tim Borders is very concerned above voter privacy and the secret ballot. So I made sure to share my idea with him. He immediately caught on to what I was explaining. Of course, he shares my concerns.

Tim Borders warned me that determining how someone voted is a crime: RCW 29A.84.420 Unauthorized examination of ballots, election materials -- Revealing information. I then asked an elections expert, who believes that revealing my own vote isn't a crime. (But I want a to be certain before I proceed.)

Saturday, Oct 7th, Goldy reveals how (he thinks) Tim Borders voted during our recent primary. Clearly, an antagonistic stunt intended to offend someone who works to defend voter privacy.

Which kind of proves Tim's original point.

Ironic, no?


Our democracy has worked as well as it has because of private voting and public counting. Anything that undermines either the secret ballot or public vote count also undermines democracy.

It's as simple as that.

These individual arcane and wonkish items that we election integrity activists get worked up about often don't seem to amount to much. But, believe me, it all adds up. Take away a little here, a little there, and pretty soon there's nothing left to call a democracy.

As a screaming liberal, I'd thunk my brethen would understand this point with clarity.

< And to the republic for which it stands | Stephen Johnson and BIAW Team up to Reshape Washington's Supreme Court >
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A few points:

  • Goldy didn't reveal a damn thing about Borders.  He noted that Borders received zero votes for Republican PCO in his precinct.  If, in fact, Borders voted in the primary, he therefore failed to vote for himself.  Goldy did misinterpret the "10% rule" for PCO voting -- because he was on the ballot, it would have taken just one vote to be elected no matter how large the Republican vote had been -- but it's inescapable that Borders failed to vote for himself.
  • I find it highly amusing that Tim Borders, whose lawsuit against the gubernatorial results included numerous attempts by the GOP to coerce voters to reveal their choices in that race, is so "concerned" about voter privacy.  During the contest lawsuit, I recall wondering how the GOP could be so cavalier in demanding that ex-felons, widows, et al. reveal who they (or their late spouses) had voted for.  Had I somehow been challenged by Tim Borders's lawyers, I would have laughed in their faces if they had tried to get me to tell them what was shown on my secret ballot.
  • OTOH, I do agree with you that it would be easy to ascertain how specific AVU users voted, if anyone really cared to connect the various pieces of the audit trail.  But what's the alternative?  It's absurd to believe that tampering with the AVU votes would be a tactic to fix an election ... they're such a vanishingly small percentage of the count that it would be neither cost-effective nor meaningful to the outcome.
  • Back to Borders -- do you (or does he) agree with me that, based on the results of the September primary, precinct 43-2064 does not have an elected Republican PCO?  Which means that (if the Republicans operate like the Democrats) Tim Borders cannot participate in the district reorganization, cannot serve as district chair, and cannot be elected to the state committee.

You're only young once, but you can be immature forever -- Larry Andersen
Blogging at Peace Tree Farm

by N in Seattle on Mon Oct 09, 2006 at 11:45:02 AM PST

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People should know this...  That we have lost a good measure of privacy in voting -- as well as security and integrity.

The HorsesAss post on Tim Borders also contained  info of public interest -- though not the level of importance that yours does here.

Tim Borders is a public figure who does advocacy work that has impact on our lives.  I want to know this kind of info that Goldy posted. I see it as relevant.

by noemie maxwell on Mon Oct 09, 2006 at 01:42:52 PM PST

* 2 5.00 2 *

  • Thanks by zappini, 10/10/2006 07:47:20 AM PST (5.00 / 1)
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