Sam Reed and Unique Identifying Barcodes on Individual Voter Ballots: Video

A couple of months ago I produced a video at the public access tv station Puget Sound Access of an event organized and moderated by Jason Osgood, current candidate for Washington Secretary of State.  This was a presentation by Timothy White and Allan Rosato, plaintiffs in a suit against the auditor of San Juan Island County. That county, with the blessings of Secretary of State Sam Reed, is using unique identifiers on each voter's ballot.  Amazingly, in direct contradiction of Washington State law, the ballots can be tracked back to the individual voters. King County Elections officials attended the event that Jason organized and, soon after, King County announced that it would not be using unique identifiers on ballots.


And watch the video:

I asked Secretary Reed at a community event why he supported unique  identifiers on ballots that can link voters to their choices. He said it was ok because encryption was needed to decipher the identifiers.  That sorta blew my mind....

Link to the video: HERE

Here's an earlier Washblog story with more information: How  Your Vote Can be Tracked to you: San Juan County Ballot Tracking.

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that my wife and I voted for Zappini today :)

It's in the mail!

by Pen on Fri Aug 08, 2008 at 10:29:51 PM PST

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and neither do many good Democrats that I know.  I have been asked, 'What's the matter with Sam Reed?'

FUSE chose to endorse some folks, but Jason faces a huge field and needs endorsements to get to the general.  There are other organizations besides FUSE ...some I work with....that can't seem to get off the dime here.


by ktkeller on Sun Aug 10, 2008 at 08:06:36 PM PST

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I do computer security for money. I hope my perspective will be useful.

It's not necessarily crazy to say that the bar code is encrypted. The government is trusting encryption with its own top secret data. The questions a skeptical voter should ask are

o What encryption algorithm is being used? There are two kinds: standards that are published and tested by bright cryptographers all over the world, and homemade attempts that are invariably junk.
If someone's using the first kind they should be glad to tell you. If they try to keep it secret, it's almost certainly the second kind. Only the keys should be secret.

o Who has the keys?

o How are the keys stored? If they're on somebody's computer, they're no more secure than the computer is.

o Can the system be misused even if it's working as designed?

My understanding is that it would take collusion by adversarial parties on the canvassing board to identify a voter from the barcode.
(I am not expressing an opinion about whether that's an adequate precaution). Can that "collusion" happen with an honest canvassing board if someone bugs the canvassing board's computers? That's the kind of question to ask.

Can the system be misused even when it's working as designed? You can track your own ballot -- does that mean that someone who knows your voter info can track it themselves and find out how you voted?

My understanding is that the system mathematically  smashes together the barcodes on each batch of 100 ballots, so the most information a bad guy could get from the tracking system would be
that your ballot was somewhere in a pile with 99 others.

Here your questions as a skeptical citizen should be
o Huh? Is that even possible?
to which the answer is "yes", and
o Has anyone qualified outside of VoteHere dissected their technique for hidden flaws?

The other way this could be misused is if procedures allow scanning the non-secret information (your voter ID) and the secret information (your barcode) together. Then your ballot is linked to you
with no need to break encryption. Can that happen?

Speaking as a security person, the answers I would need, the answers to the very first questions I would ask, just are not showing up in the public discussion of this.

Speaking as a citizen, three more questions are
o Is the risk of something going wrong that breaks ballot secrecy better or worse than the risk of ballots getting lost?
o Do I want to trust something I can't evaluate for myself without learning cryptography?
o Does this add to the existing risks of mail-in ballots?

Those are the kinds of questions you should be asking at town meetings, in letters to your representatives, and even in depositions. This kind of system can be done right to
preserve privacy and protect the election process but it's easy to screw it up.

by Fred on Fri Aug 15, 2008 at 05:00:33 PM PST

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Could there be an encryption system that allows you to 'hold' the key so that you could vote and review your vote where no one else who does not hold your key could get to your vote?  I think so.  This is the kind of thing that is inherent in systems that, for example, are getting established to allow you to manage your electonic medical records.

But -- there is a fatal flaw in the whole direction of that kind of thinking.  The notion of a secret ballot is one that requires no identification attached to your vote, while at the same time demands physical oversight of the ballots.

To go further with the paradigm of fully electronic voting a la your medical records or your bank accounts, lets see:  Do you ever need to login and look at your votes to live your life now?  Is there ANYTHING in the electronic world that is not hackable?  How would counting the results be kept honest?  Would everyone need to get to a computer -- thus be of a more priviledged class -- to verify that the records properly show their vote, and only by the say so of millions saying the system is wrong, would the election be called into question?

I'm sorry, but paper that can be collected and counted, at the precinct level, with observers, is the only way to run a fair election.

Oh and PS.  I have written de-identification systems...someone somewhere has the original 'magic' numbers....

by ktkeller on Sun Aug 17, 2008 at 02:47:52 AM PST

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