[EM] proxies and confidentiality

Abd ul-Rahman Lomax abd at lomaxdesign.com
Wed Mar 1 12:04:11 PST 2006

At 02:07 PM 3/1/2006, Jobst Heitzig wrote:
>Dear Abd ul-Rahman!
> >> ... Is this possible without the use of
> >> advanced technology like, say, public key cryptography?
>To which you replied:
> > Yes. It's called secret ballot, and it is standard process.
>Perhaps I'm dumb, but could you please explain how that works?
>Just to be sure, let me state more precisely what I think is a necessary
>degree of secrecy: *Nobody* but me must know whether I voted, what I
>voted, whether I named a proxy, and who the proxy is. I don't see how
>this can be done in an easy way!

All of this is easy and standard in elections. I'm just surprised 
that you haven't realized it, there must be some kind of brain 
fault.... happens to everyone.

Here is an example of how it is done:

You walk into a room and verify your identity with a clerk. The clerk 
hands you a ballot, an envelope, and a pencil. You take this into a 
curtained booth, and mark the ballot (or don't mark it), however you 
wish, privately. You then put it into the envelope, walk back to the 
clerk and hand it in. The clerk, in your presence, puts the ballot 
into a locked box. There will often be a police guard to prevent 
theft of the box or any attempt to inspect the ballots outside of 
official process.

The only flaw in the security is that officials with access to the 
list of those who voted will know that you received a ballot. They 
will have no idea how you marked it, or, indeed, if you marked it at 
all. In some places the list of who voted is public record.

Now, it is theoretically possible to compromise this system, but let 
me say that there are many kinds of election fraud in the U.S., but I 
have *never* heard of the secrecy of a ballot being compromised. 
While it is possible, it would also be difficult and there would be 
substantial risks (and it would be highly illegal, so the value of 
doing it would have to be great). In the end, with all that effort, 
all you have done is figure out how someone voted, and then, to use 
this information, you would have to take further and very substantial 
risks. For what? To have a significant effect, you would have to do 
all this on a large scale, intimidating many people. And that is 
*highly* visible, and you would be continually creating motivated enemies.

No, it is much simpler to stuff the ballot boxes, mar the ballots to 
invalidate them (which can be done during the counting process in 
spite of significant precautions, there are some allegations that it 
happened in Florida 2000), interfere with the process in other ways, 
including "accidentally" removing from the voter rolls people who are 
legally qualified to vote but who demographically are likely to vote 
as you don't like. (Again, Florida 2000 and the African-American 
vote, with perhaps thousands of illegally disqualified voters. What 
are they going to do, appeal? And if they win the appeal, the 
election will not be redone. It is actually moot until the next 
election. They got away with it.

Piercing the veil of voting secrecy, quite simply, is probably the 
most expensive and risky method of fraudulently manipulating 
elections. The only aspect of it that can succeed is intimidation 
directed against voting itself, which happens in unsettled 
jurisdictions like Iraq or Afghanistan. And where absentee ballots 
are allowed (as they are in the U.S. and many other places), this too 
becomes quite difficult. What are you going to do, watch everybody 
every minute of every day? Here, you can obtain absentee ballots 
through the mail. Under unsettled conditions, where there is some 
possibiity of retaliation for merely registering to vote, I would 
imagine that voter rolls themselves would be considered highly secret.

If you are a member of a *highly* rejected group, there might be 
enough of society aligned against you to succeed in compromising your 
secrecy; but in that case, you would simply be better off voting 
since your vote isn't going to accomplish anything anyway. (Unless 
there is something like Asset Voting, where every vote *does* count.)

More information about the Election-Methods mailing list