VVPAT is a placebo

Dan Tokaji points to a recent opinion by Black Box Voting’s Bev Harris and concludes that we may be converging on the idea that VVPAT is a placebo. This is a very interesting development.

One has to be very careful when making statements like “VVPAT is a placebo,” because the folks pushing VVPAT have the best of intentions and have pointed out real and serious issues with current voting systems. I used to say and believe that “VVPAT is the best alternative we have.”

But these days, I tend to agree with Dan Tokaji. One could caricature the situation as follows. Currently, with a touch-screen machine, voting goes something like this: you walk up to the voting machine vendor and say “I want to vote for Mickey Mouse” and the vendor says “okay!” and then goes inside the voting booth and votes on your behalf. That’s what it means to vote using a piece of software written by a single vendor without source code and operational oversight (even open-source wouldn’t solve everything here.)

So what does VVPAT offer? VVPAT means the vendor also prints a piece of paper and shows it to you before going inside the voting booth to vote on your behalf. It may give you a bit more security in that you can now trust election officials to collect these extra paper audit trails…. but now you’re fully trusting the election officials to actually look at and count these paper trails.

Much can be done to increase the transparency of current voting systems, and one of the options on the table has to be cryptographic voting. There are fantastic new developments in this field, and I promised a few months ago that I would detail them. In the next few weeks, I will post copies of recent presentations I’ve given on this topic to get the ball rolling. We’re getting close to a truly usable cryptographic voting system. It’s exciting stuff.

One thought on “VVPAT is a placebo

  1. VVPAT has never been anything more than a perceived safeguard implemented for the anti-DRE, election conspiricy theorists. It was a gadget born of fear. Those who questioned the usability of VVPATs were castigated as part of the conspiricy! “Placebo” is a great word for how VVPATs will be remembered. In the end, this whole VVPAT rise and fall should be used as an example of what can go wrong when fear precipitates law.

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