26

Can American citizens verify that their vote was tallied correctly in the public/published results that determine an election?

More generally, do there exist any systems that can simultaneously guarantee anonymity while still providing some assurance that one's vote is actually tallied in the final election results?

  • 9
    More generally, is there any way to verify that election results actually reflect the votes that were cast? The idea is that electoral votes are secret (and you should be thankful of that). How are you supposed to know which is your vote? The integrity of the system is checked by independent supervision from representatives of the political parties (and maybe independents) of the recounting process. – SJuan76 Oct 17 '15 at 19:30
  • The actual method of voting varies depending on where you are in the country. At least with paper voting, you are typically present as the vote is deposited, and in the case of a recount, all votes would have a record. Though as SJuan76 points out, it's not directly tied to you directly. – user1530 Oct 17 '15 at 19:53
  • @SJuan76 Secrecy mitigates some problems, but is not the only consideration when it comes to voter/election fraud. I'm asking what verification the public for cast votes - individual or en total - this is quite different than the supervision of a(n unelected) recount committee. – anon01 Oct 17 '15 at 20:34
  • In my country, polling stations are managed by a) people chosen at random and b) people apointed by the parties disputing the election and c) almost anybody who ask to. While c) are rare, a) is mandatory and b) almost always complete, so to commit fraud you need both random citizens and your political opponents representatives to agree (if you think that is workable in any meaningful scale, you are being rather optimistic). And the votes themselves are stored to allow recount (although, if there is fraud, one would assume they would do it right and send the votes that match the listings) – SJuan76 Oct 17 '15 at 21:15
  • 2
    @SJuan76 I don't know if it's in use anywhere, but it's certainly possible to design such a system which protects election secrecy. To make it useful you have to accept the fact that who has voted at all to be public. What one then could do is to accept a "secret key" on the ballot. By publishing who has voted and the content of each ballot (including the secret key) one could verify: 1) that your ballot is there and that the vote is as intended, 2) that the number of votes is equals the number of voters, 3) that the vote count is correct given the ballots. – skyking Dec 13 '16 at 8:58
21

It is impossible to have a secret ballot AND traceability of the actual votes. At a certain point you have to trust that the system for counting ballots cast is secure or get involved in that process yourself to become sure, but the security of the process becomes a paramount concern - with any changes to process generally heavily vetted by all participating Party's, and democratic oversight groups.

Now Elections in the US are done at the state level, so there is no single mechanism in play, but having done several contracts with Elections Canada and been overseas to audit two elections in emerging democracies, here is a general statement on the mechanics.

Generally speaking, elections are run by a non-partisan agency that operates at arm's length from the government itself and is responsible for the general operation of the polls and maintaining master lists of eligible voters. Any additional help hired by the agency to work voting day must not have a record of working directly for the political parties themselves, and if challenged as biased by any of the running parties, those workers are removed. Finally, all of the Party's with candidates running in a given electoral district have members there to oversee all aspects of the operation of the poll. Including checking voter registration, the general operation of the polling station, the security of the boxes into which ballots are deposited, and - especially - the counting of the ballots.

Should any one over these overseers note irregularites or question a ballot count, corrective measures kick in and - in the event of a complaint over how a count was conducted - an immediate recount with even more stringent oversight takes place.

This ensures that there is oversight by competing interested parties of the process, including the John Q Publics hired to run the voting stations, and that the federal entity running the process keeps a check on the party's operatives at the same time to look for voter interference.

In Canada, a detailed list of everything that a party operative (called a scrutineer) is expected to do in Canada is here: http://www.wikihow.com/Scrutineer-in-an-Election-in-Canada. This is fairly common in all western democracy's showing the extent to which each party ensures that it did not get cheated of votes. Some jurisdictions also allow independant oversight by non-affiliated democratic oversight groups like Jimmy CArter has done through the UN. And having a non-partisan arms length entity running the system with such oversight keeps a balance between all competing interests.

Having multi-partisan (including non-partisan) oversight ensures that any irregularities (Or, as they like to say in Florida - any dangling chads) don't go unchallenged. In order for the system to be widely corrupted would take massive collusion, unlikely to go uncovered.

  • 12
    It is impossible to have a secret ballot AND traceability of the actual votes. It's not impossible, especially not with the kind of technology we have today. When you cast a vote, you could be given a randomly generated GUID which can identify your vote, but cannot be reversed engineered to identify you, unless you tell someone else what your vote GUID is. – Sam I am Jun 6 '16 at 18:42
  • 8
    It is impossible to have a secret ballot AND traceability of the actual votes. INCORRECT. Look at the blockchain – Rhys Bradbury Jun 24 '16 at 12:06
  • 5
    @SamIam: And now your employer demands to see your vote GUID before they deposit your next paycheck... Having a way to view an individual vote after the fact, no matter how identified, breaks privacy guarantees, because if proof of voting in a certain way exists, someone will find a way to compel it. – Ben Voigt Jun 24 '16 at 21:49
  • 5
    -1 It is impossible to have a secret ballot AND traceability of the actual votes. it is entirely possible using encryption algorithms and some form of voter identification – lowtech Oct 18 '16 at 20:43
  • 3
    Despite being highly upvoted, and maybe intuitive, this answer is false. As many have pointed out in the comments, One can't state as fact "It is impossible to have a secret ballot AND traceability of the actual votes", only that they don't know how or if it can be done; indeed, clever people have found ways of doing just that. – anon01 Jun 17 '17 at 7:56
2

In the United States the electoral college system is what is used to elect the President. So technically speaking, your vote is not counted toward the candidate but is a vote for your electors. It's actually quite complicated and I don't necessarily agree with the process. I am also not completely studied up on it so maybe my disagreement is unfounded.

Here is a link (with many other links) that explains it pretty well.

http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/about.html

Also, voting is anonymous so they know you voted but not who you voted for, hence no service provided for checking that your vote was already counted. (To answer your question. :)

Also, A number of states have enacted requirements for mandatory manual audits. Here is a link to information and an interactive map to view specific information on different states.

https://www.verifiedvoting.org/resources/post-election-audits/

The United States does not have a national Election Code that governs the tabulation and publication of all election results, although general provisions of the U.S. Constitution apply and, in limited circumstances, so do a few federal laws.

In practice, elections for local, state, and federal office are conducted primarily by local election officials in the nation's counties, parishes, and independent cities or townships. These local election officials, in most states, exercise broad authority. Despite their relative autonomy, these local election officials are bound by their respective state statutes regarding the conduct of elections. These statutes include the manner in which votes are to be counted. At a minimum, the county’s obligation to count and report the vote accurately, and in an objective and impartial manner, is implicit if not explicit in law.

Full Document Here ...

http://www.eac.gov/assets/1/Documents/Tabulating.Election.Results.doc.4.12.12-rbw-edits.pdf

  • this is very nice information, but in no way answers the question. – anon01 Jun 24 '16 at 19:26
2

As other answers indicate, a certain amount of safety can be assured when paper voting is used, since the collection and counting procedures can be observed at every level (although this is quire restricted in the US, as far as I know.) On the other hand: if you are unlucky enough that election computers are used, this is no longer possible to exclude election fraud since computers are way too complex to be verified and there are many ways to attack them.

https://www.eff.org/de/issues/e-voting

  • 4
    @ConfusinglyCuriousTheThird I don't see this. You cannot sign the hardware, signing the software doesn't protect you against (even deliberate) bugs nor hardware modifications, signing the votes / data doesn't ensure the correct data is signed. – Hans-Peter Störr Jun 30 '16 at 15:47
  • 5
    @ConfusinglyCuriousTheThird Well, even if you ignore the bad quality of real voting computers - even the best software wouldn't help you since you can't make sure that it is executed unmodified and in it's entirety. Today you can hide a computer in a keyboard and display plug. So, even if it did run unmodified - you can't even make sure that the voter has seen the output unmodified and that it got the actual input of the user. 8-/ Why risk this when manually counted voting is cheap and can be observed and verified at every step? – Hans-Peter Störr Oct 18 '16 at 5:40
  • 2
    @lowtech I wouldn't mind such delusions of computer security if they weren't that dangerous. By the way: I'm a software developer who uses Linux. – Hans-Peter Störr Oct 19 '16 at 5:33
  • 4
    @lowtech On the contrary: If you follow a proper vote counting process (which is not done in the US, as far as I know), you'll have independent observers at every level from the voting, counting and calculating the results, making fraud really hard. I thought a while ago about the problem, but I do not see nor find a computer supported way that lets you verify that your vote was registered and counted properly, and satisfies the basic requirements for a voting process. If you do know something - please share. Sorry, but just naively trusting computer security is not satisfactory. ;-) – Hans-Peter Störr Oct 20 '16 at 4:08
  • 2
    @lowtech Some requirements that are in conflict are: You want to verify that your vote was properly registered and counted. (That would be the point making the risk using computers worthwhile.) The voting has to be anonymous, so that noone can pressure you for whom to vote. It must be impossible to sell your vote - you must not be able to go to someone else, show him your voting receipt and get some money that you voted for him. It must be impossible to slip fake votes into the counting. – Hans-Peter Störr Oct 20 '16 at 4:12
2

An accurate answer to this question is not as obvious as some answers have suggested.

The narrowest answer to the title question: in nearly all elections in the U.S., there exists no way of directly verifying that published election results are an accurate reflection of the tallied votes. At least one local election in the United States has utilized a method of post-election ballot verification, although this remains uncommon.

Speaking to the more general question "are there methods for vote verification that do not violate voter privacy?": Yes, such voting systems do exist, and are an active topic of study by information theorists and cryptologists.

The widespread notion that "verifiable voting systems necessarily compromise the fidelity of a secret ballot, therefore increasing the risk of vote buying, voter intimidation/coercion" is a misconception that does not hold under closer inspection. Although a secret ballot is a simple method to reduce these sources of election fraud, it is not the only alternative to a public ballot (in which all information is known by all parties, before and after voting has taken place.)

Consider a simple example to convince yourself that transparency does not necessitate identifying voters with votes:

  1. At the ballot, you are given a slip of paper with a randomly generated ballot ID/token

  2. You cast your ballot at your polling place, which is recorded in association with the random ballot ID (not your identity)

  3. A full list of ballot IDs and votes are published publicly, (again, with no association to your identity).

  4. With your (private) knowledge of your ballot ID, you can now verify that your vote Was tallied correctly on the publicly visible registry.

  5. Your friends, who have also done the same, can also verify that their ballot was correctly tallied on the public registry, increasing your confidence that the public registry is a truthful representation of the total election results.

Systems like this example exist now, developed with open source code.

Other more complex schemes exist as well, that also increase transparency without sacrifice of voter anonymity - such as blockchain (most widely known for its use in Bitcoin). Blockchain based platforms are currently being developed to support such anonymous verifiable voting applications, as well as stand-alone blockchain based voting projects.

TLDR: For the vast majority of elections in the U.S., as with the majority of elections worldwide, there is currently no good way to determine whether or not "your vote was counted". It is, however, untrue that transparency/verifiability is fundamentally at odds with voter privacy/anonymity; voting systems that integrate both of these features are beginning to be developed and may be adopted more widely in future elections.

  • 1
    Your proposed system still allows the mob to "encourage" you to show your ballot ID, allowing them to check whether you voted the way they told you to. – Sjoerd Jun 18 '17 at 0:07
  • 1
    @Sjoerd I have provided a toy example for brevity; there are ways to prevent that issue. For example, your ballot ID could be digitally displayed in the booth, for you to record at your leisure; the vote buyer in this case has scarcely better evidence that it was your ballot ID than if you simply "promised to vote" for a given candidate. There are many more details not addressed here - think of the example as a sketch to motivate that a verifiable and anonymous voting system is possible in principle. – anon01 Jun 18 '17 at 5:13
2

There seems to be no such system in use today. Several have been suggested. One system can be found described at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ThreeBallot and was invented by Ron Rivest, one of the three inventors of RSA (Rivest is the R of RSA).

This system doesn't use any cryptography at all. The trick is that the voter fills out three ballots, that need to be counted together. For example if there are five candidates and you prefer candidate D, your three ballots (1) (2) and (3) contain a total of one vote for each candidate, except D gets two votes. For example your three ballots might be AD, BC, and DE with two votes for D and one vote for everyone else. Obviously when 1,000,000 people vote everyone gets 1,000,000 votes which are immediately subtracted.

The voter submits all three ballots, prints out one and destroys the two others (verified by a voting machine). You can't know from the printout how the voter voted. All ballots are put into a database. I can show 100 people that my ballot #3 was DE, for example. But no matter who you voted for, you could have a ballot containing DE, so this gives no information. If there is systematic voting fraud then it will be detected. One or two votes could be changed without detection, but not ten or hundreds.

This system also has the advantage that voters cannot lie about voter fraud. You don't have to believe me if I say how I voted (and that my vote was miscounted), I have actual evidence.

  • Hi gnasher... feel free to add any of this to the answer I posted the other day - and nice info! – anon01 Jun 17 '17 at 19:49
  • Interesting! This is the first system I see that tries to give the voter some possibility to check their vote was counted while not causing immediate vulnerability of the voter against coercion. Still, it would be good to point out that flaws have been found that suggest this can be used only in a restricted range of election types and that it is rather vulnerable for "DoS" attacks e.g. if someone submits a slip that was made invalid after the validity check the sums don't match any more and it should not be possible to reconstruct which other 2 slips belong to the invalid one. If it can be... – cbeleites Nov 15 '18 at 14:48
  • ... reconstructed, the 3ballot was misused in a situation where it should not have been used. So one practical joker can mess up the whole election for the whole vote counting district - and sufficiently large counting districts are required for voter anonymity and thus secrecy. – cbeleites Nov 15 '18 at 14:50
  • Still, I'm not sure it's better than traditional paper voting which in my country comes with transparency requirements: everyone is allowed to observe any election without need to register. You're simply allowed to be in the polling place (just not in a way that would disturb the election, e.g. not in a place where you can see the actual marking of the ballot), but you can be present when the urn is set up to make sure it's empty, see that every voter is alone in their booth, see that noone slips in things into the urn who shouldn't, and you can observe and note down the counting of votes. – cbeleites Nov 15 '18 at 14:57
0

To those saying the vote couldn't be anonymous and traceable, it's false even on paper. It could be both if they give a receipt at the time of voting that contains a random key common for the receipt and the ballot. You could use that official paper/number to verify for which party that random number counted for afterwards. A complete anonymous and traceable online voting system would be possible in a similar manner, but would require the servers not to keep any data from the user other than necessary. Some secure online communication services work on that principle.

  • 4
    Not anonymous, because you can show someone else your receipt which indicates for whom you voted. It's only anonymous in that they can't get from the ballot to you, only from the ballot to the receipt or the receipt to the ballot. But a receipt to ballot link is in and of itself a problem for corruption. – Brythan Jan 24 '17 at 5:01
  • 1
    I'm trying to find details, but a few years ago one of the inventors of RSA (Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir, and Leonard Adleman) demonstrated a system that achieves verifiability with a receipt that the voter can verify but nobody else. If you show me your receipt, I cannot verify how you voted, but I can actually verify that your vote was counted correctly. You can show your receipt to 100 people and then 100 people can verify that your vote was counted correctly. – gnasher729 Jun 16 '17 at 11:25
  • 1
  • As Brythan pointed out, any system that allows to prove how any given vote was counted afterwards would be considered to break the required secrecy in my country: while secrecy is mostly discussed as a right, as a voter you do not have the right to give up secrecy as that would compromise the secrecy of the other voters. The vote <-> voter relationship needs to be disconnected in both directions, not just in one. – cbeleites Nov 15 '18 at 15:49
-1

There is no way to see if someone counted each of your ballot selections correctly, changed it, or ignored it. The best they can do (in my state) is show you the years in which they have a record that you voted. In my case, they show I voted in less than half the elections here in California. In other words, they didn't count my votes in those elections, even though I did actually vote. Yes, voting fraud is VERY real.

  • 1
    Welcome to Politics.SE! What you said may be true, but it is essentially an anecdotal evidence. The objective of Politics.SE is to provide authoritative answers. Consider checking how other answerers explain/prove their claims. You can always edit your answer to improve it accordingly. – bytebuster Oct 15 '16 at 3:35
-2

Block chain cryptography is definitely the way to go at this time.

For those who believe it would be "naive" to trust your vote to computers, I put it to you this way; you already trust computers with your taxes, banking and finance, property, healthcare and most aspects of your life either directly or indirectly. Your vote is already input into a computer in some way. That's how you can see those cool graphics from your local government website that shows how your precinct or ward voted. I just want to ensure my vote was cast and cast the way I intended. This can be accomplished and still maintain at least as much privacy as my vote gets already. Think absentee ballots, for example.

The nature of blockchain cryptography in fact was designed for the purpose of anonymity. "Certain" government agencies have voiced concern that the technology is so secure they would have great difficulty, if at all possible, to break it for their own purposes. A technology like this would drastically reduce, if not eliminate, voter and election fraud and corruption and substantially increase voter confidence in our democracy.

Ok, I will get off my soap box now. Thanks for considering this.

  • 1
    Do you have a link to how you would implement block chain to maintain privacy and ensure votes cast are processed correctly? Block chain as a technology is very broad. For example, you could replace 'block chain' with 'the internet' in your answer and it would read the same, though we don't know any specifics about the implementation. – JJJ Nov 11 '18 at 3:20
  • The question is "how do we know currently". I'm not sure a hypothetical solution really answers that. – F1Krazy Nov 11 '18 at 10:13
  • Welcome to Politics Stack Exchange. Please note that this is a website about answering questions about current day politics. We are not here to discuss how politics and political processes could work in the future. – Philipp Nov 14 '18 at 19:04
-4

There is no way with the current voting processes that anyone can verify that their vote was counted correctly in the final tabulation. The emphasis on "secret ballots" in construct of those processes prevents that.

As the stand up comic has joked, "Someone asked me who did I vote for? I said I don't know. Our voting system is so secret, even I don't know for sure who I voted for!"

It should be no laughing matter that with our current processes, you will Never be able to know for sure "who you voted for".

While technology has been applied to try to improve accuracy, that accuracy remains in doubt because the government and interested PACs are still focused on "secrecy" - instead of "privacy". But, only the private individual voter can truly verify the accuracy of their vote, and thus the integrity of voting.

Meanwhile, because of technology, your ballot is Not truly "secret". There are already ways the government and the election agencies could find out - if they really wanted to - how you marked your ballot: a) matching your finger prints - which are on any paper ballot you've submitted, b) same for any touch screen computer based ballot - your finger prints could be matched to your vote, c) matching epithelials on a ballot to your DNA, d) any sequencing process that correlates ballots with voters at a precinct. Remember, where you are registered to vote, and whether you've voted in the past are already matters of public record. The precinct size drastically limits the "search population" for anyone looking to see how you voted in a precinct. Thus it is not impossible for a determined "someone" in the government or election agency to figure out who you voted for.

Secrecy, or Privacy is the issue some people will howl about whenever someone says they want to know if their ballot was counted correctly in the final, official tabulation. But as anyone knows, "Secrecy" and "Privacy" are not the same. We can have Private Ballots in this country where you could verify who you voted for. So far our elected officials and government agencies show no sustained interest in constructing such a system.

And yet we implement systems that maintain Privacy in other important aspects of our lives in America. Consider your individual financial Privacy...

We go to great lengths many areas of American life to protect financial privacy. We've constructed amazingly accurate and hack-proof systems to ensure privacy. You must verify your annual income with the IRS to the very penny every year, and it is private between you and the IRS. No politician, PAC, ... nor your boss at work can look at your tax forms you've submitted to the IRS. Then, with one or more your chosen private financial institutions, you can verify your account balance and transaction amounts to the very penny every day for every transaction you conduct within your private account. The integrity and privacy of the supporting systems is far greater than our voting systems. You, not your senator or boss, know your private account number, your user name, and your private PIN or password, which unless you've posted all this on Facebook or Twitter, it's usable by only you. Millions of private transactions are conducted daily, accurate to the penny and verifiable. While hackers allegedly try daily, and once in a while have succeeded in obtaining credit card numbers - usually from retailers, it's not the same as your brokerage, cash savings or checking accounts which have tighter security. And unlike with voting, you will know if a money account of yours has been compromised, used without your consent, and you will have it restored its correct balance. Banks and brokerages that fail to do this for you can be brought up on criminal charges... If you are not happy with the level of privacy and security at one financial institution, you can choose to close your account and go elsewhere.

A system that tallies votes like we count money that is accurate and private for each vote and verifiable by each voter is obviously possible. Other posts here have noted how the use of private "accounts" and private "keys" will pave the way for this.
"We" just haven't been willing to invest in such a system.

So the way things are now in America is this: You, the individual are required by law to annually submit a completely accurate to the penny account of your income to the IRS, under various penalties for falsifying data including fines and jail time.

But when it comes to the very reasonable and simple request for the government to show you how your vote was counted in the final tabulation of any election, the bottom line is the government must only tell you, "Trust me"...

  • 2
    You should try to back up some of your claims with references. At least one of your claims are entirely false: taxes are not accurate to the penny. – indigochild Mar 5 '17 at 23:27
  • 1
    This is not a forum for ranting. Your opinion on the matter, as well as taxation policy, have no relevance in an answer here. – anon01 Mar 7 '17 at 19:57

protected by Philipp Nov 14 '18 at 19:03

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.