Just a Theory

By David E. Wheeler

Posts about Elections

How Does One Protect Online Ballot Box Stuffing?

I need to set up an online voting system. It needs to be more robust than a simple polling system, in order, primarily, to prevent ballot box stuffing. Of course I realize that it’s impossible to prevent ballot box stuffing by a determined individual, but what I want to prevent is scripted attacks and denial of service attacks. The features I’ve come up with so far to prevent attacks are:

  • Require site registration. You must be a registered user of the site in order to vote in an election, and of course, you can vote only once.
  • Ignore votes when cookies are disabled, although make it look like a successful submission.
  • Update result statistics periodically, rather than after every vote. This will make it difficult for an exploiter to tell if his votes are being counted.
  • Use a CAPTCHA to prevent scripted voting.
  • Send a new digest hidden in every request that must be sent back and checked against a server-side session in order to prevent “curl” attacks.
  • Log IP addresses for all votes. These can be checked later if ballot box stuffing is suspected (though we’ll have to ignore it if many users are behind a proxy server).

Of course someone behind a well-known proxy server who wants to repeatedly create a new user account using different email addresses and deleting his cookies before every vote could do some ballot box stuffing, but I think that the above features will minimize the risk. But I’m sure I’m forgetting things. What other steps should I take?

Leave a comment to let me know.

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Howard Fineman's “Analysis”

My father-in-law, Steven, sent me this link to a Newsweek column by Howard Fineman. Like Steven, I thought it very interesting that a conservative columnist would be basically saying that the election is all but over for Bush, given the past week’s news. But the funny thing is, I didn’t know that Fineman was conservative until I read that column. What gave it away?

It was this snippet:

On one level, Kerry’s “position” is a contradictory bundle of confusion. He says the war was a mistake, but he’s the guy calling for a gung-ho strategy in Fallujah to root out terrorist nests. As the president has pointed out, Kerry is claiming he can win the support of allies even as he dismisses the contributions of existing ones and calls the entire war a diversion–and even as France and Germany already have said that they aren’t going to rally to our side if Kerry wins. But if the situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate, Kerry’s “vision”–or lack of it–matters less.

This seems typical of conservative commentary–it’s a very selective description of Kerry’s position. Yes, Kerry says that the war was a mistake, but now that we’re in it, we need to do it right, including getting tough on rooting out the terrorists (who, by the way, only came into the country after the war started). Kerry has not dismissed the contributions of existing allies, but has pointed out that, unlike Desert Storm, this coalition is far from evenly divided. As Edwards repeatedly said during the Veep debate, the US bears 90% of the cost among the coalition members, both in terms of dollars and in terms of lives. There is no contradiction in these statements. The contradiction only comes up if they’re used selectively and outside of appropriate contexts.

I am so sick of this hypocrisy! I keep telling people, I can’t wait to be disappointed in Kerry’s presidency, as I was with Clinton’s. I’ll take disappointment over being offended by the President and his apologists any day!

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Bush Uses Radio Receiver During Debate?

HOLY SHIT!

According to a story in Salon.com, it appears that George W. Bush may well have been wearing a radio transmitter during the first debate. This would be so that he could get prompts from someone more knowledgeable (Dick Cheney?).

Current Electoral Vote Predictor (which currently shows Kerry leading 280 to 239!) has confirmed the presence of “the bulge” with this image, using Red Hawk image intensification software.

My favorite phrase from the Salon.com article: the “Milli Vanilli president.”

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Portland Kerry Rally

Julie and I just got back from the Kerry rally at the Tom McCall Waterfront Park in Portland, OR. According to the Kerry Blog, there were ca. 60,000 people at the rally. Julie and I waited till the last minute to go, and for a while there thought we wouldn’t get in. But we did, and heard the second half of Kerry’s speech. As we made our way through the city afterward, we overheard some other folks saying they’d arrived at 8:30 and never got in. We felt very fortunate. I think it was just dumb luck to have found the entrance we did.

We were pretty close to the stage, too. We were off to the right out of the frame of this picture, but still only 30m or so from the stage. We could see Kerry quite clearly from there. It was interesting to see him in person; he was quite lively in addressing the crowd, and clearly engaged in what he was doing. He seemed to be having a good time, too. But I couldn’t help wondering if he and the other speakers didn’t occasionally feel silly up there, making the same speech with the same gestures over and over. Especially at the end, when Kerry shakes his fist in the air like a champion boxer and points out various groups of people for him and Teresa to wave to. But then again, maybe I’m just too jaded myself.

Still, it was interesting to be there in person and to see him working in person. It gave me much more of the impression that we’re dealing with a real person here, rather than just a talking head like you might see on TV. Here’s a guy who might soon hold what is arguably the most powerful political office in the world, and really, he’s just a regular guy trying to do some good, out there talking to anyone who will listen about how he wants to make things different than they have been. He’s a guy you could talk to, and talk to about the issues.

I got this impression from a rally with 60,000 people? Yeah, maybe I’m just nuts.

Highlight of the speech (what we heard of it) for Julie and me: Kerry’s plan to invest much more in alternative energy, to make America energy independent by 2020. That’s a plan I can very much get behind! I also appreciated his saying that he would never send US troops into action unless there was no alternative. The Iraq war is such a clusterfuck in so many ways; I really hope that things will change when Kerry is sworn into office.

But even if they don’t change that much, or not for a while, I would love to be able to have complaints about the Presidential administration more like I had about the Clinton White House. I’d rather be worried that my President was too close to the middle and conciliatory than that he was so far to the right as to be, well, radical.

I will do my part to see to it that Kerry gets the chance to disappoint me as a highly preferable alternative to the current state of complete mortification.

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