Los Angeles County to Intoduce VSAP E-Voting System: NOT Hand-Marked, NOT Paper, NOT Hand-Counted in Public

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

No doubt Los Angeles County’s VSAP (“Voting Solutions for All People”) rollout will not be covered as a debacle. The real question is: If there were a debacle — like, say, a case of election fraud — would we even know? Doubtful. Just what we want in a voting system! In this post, I’ll give a brief overview of issues with electronic voting. Then I’ll look at VSAP as an institution. Next, I’ll show why the VSAP system is not only insecure, but likely to make money-in-politics even worse than it already is.

We’ve covered electronic voting before — see here, here, and here — and if you want to understand why hand-marked paper ballots, hand-counted in public (HMPBCP) is the world standard, you can read them, especially the first. In this overview, I’ll make a few high-level observations about electronic voting in general.

Digital systems can never be shown not to have bugs. As Computer Science Elder God Edgers Dijkstra wrote: “Program testing can be used to show the presence of bugs, but never to show their absence!” Many bugs in many important programs persist for years before they are discovered. A list would include Flash in IE6 (persisted 12 years), OpenSSL (15 years), LZO data compression (18 years), and bash (25 years). None of these examples are outlier programs or trivial; they are all used by millions, essential to enterprises, networks, etc. Each of these bug is an insecurity waiting to happen. And that’s before we get to Trojan Horses, which are bugs introduced deliberately by a developer for purposes of their own. In fact, I would go so far as to argue that any voting system decision maker who advocates electronic voting is doing so for reasons other than security, given that HMPBCP is available, which amounts to saying that such a decision maker regards a certain amount of exploited bugs — election fraud — as acceptable.

Now, of course we all use programs all the time: We have programs to turn on our lightbulbs, call cabs, download pr0n, etc. I’m using a program now to write this post! However, if we put voting machine software on the same plane as commercial software, we’re arguing that a central-to-mission function of democracy — the vote — is on the same plane as the very convenient ability to check the contents of our refrigerator from our cellphone. Lest I be thought curmudgeonly in this, recall the example of Bolivia, where one reason the vote was challenged was the use of an unauthorized server for data transmission of the count. Contrast that with the recent vote in Hong Kong, where there were many images of people marking paper ballots, and of people counting them, in public (in fact, of people demanding to be let in to observe). Imagine if electronic systems had been used: First, the Mainland would have had every incentive to have compromised the software, and might well have done so successfully; second, electronic systems, because they are always buggy, are always open to challenge. The fallout could have been extremely ugly at the geopolitical level. Nor would the people’s will have been respected.

With that, let’s turn to Los Angeles County and VSAP. As with any software project, we need to understand the requirements. Here is what I can find on the extremely spiffy and well-budgeted VSAP site: “The Design Concepts“:

The final concept created for VSAP incorporates features driven by the project principles as well as focus group feedback, input and in-person testing.

The concept system features touch-screen technology with a simple user interface, both audio and visual output and a built-in scanner, printer and ballot box. The new voting system will provide voters with options to scan in QR coded ballots from their phone, enter their ballot choices in-person at the polling location or vote-by-mail with printed ballots.

(Note that the concept very explicitly does not say that hand-marked paper ballots will be available at polling locations; only vote by mail.) I note with alarm that the concept document includes no mention of security, or even that the voters vote be accurately recorded and tabulated. Let’s look elsewhere for that. From the aforementioned “Principles“:

TRUST The voting system must instill public trust and have the ability to produce a physical and tangible record of a voter’s ballot to verify the ballot was marked as intended before it is cast and to ensure auditability of the system. It must demonstrate to voters, candidates, and the general public that all votes are counted as cast.

(A little too much focus on PR for my taste: “instill,” “demonstrate.”) Note the fundamental equivocation, which I have underlined: The paper is not the ballot; the paper is only a record of the ballot, which is digital (the QR code). More:

INTEGRITY The system must have integrity, be accountable to voters, and follow existing regulations. System features must protect against fraud and tampering. It should also be easy to audit and produce useful, accessible data to verify vote counts and monitor system performance.

“System features must protect against fraud and tampering.” See comments on bugs above. There is nothing insecure about counting ballots by hand in public. That’s why you count them in public. Finally:

TRANSPARENCY The processes and transactions associated with how the system is set up, run, and stored should be easy for the public to understand and verify. This should include making hardware components available for inspection, and source code to the extent that the manner of doing so would not jeopardize system security or availability

VSAP is being marketed as open source, but that underlined section is an awfully big qualifier. We’ll have to see how it works out in practice.

So, these design concepts and principles are the closest I can come to a requirements document (and I did look using several search tools, as well as doing an image search for diagrams). So, although VSAP uses “ballot marking devices,” we don’t know what requirements they are supposed to meet, and so have no way to judge the success of the VSAP system. If you, readers, can do better, please put your results in comments.

So, the VSA site reads like public relations to me. For completeness, here’s an image of the county-wide rollout:

Dear Lord. A “voting experience”? So the tiny little alarm head began to ring a little louder, and with this press release it began to clamor: “Votem Corp Selected For LA VSAP Project In Partnership With Smartmatic“:

An innovative voter-centered election system will modernize the way Los Angeles County citizens will cast their ballots. In partnership with Smartmatic, who was awarded a contract to assist LA County in the design, construction, and deployment of the new voting solution, Votem will facilitate the development of the new system’s interactive ballot display.

“We are extremely pleased to be taking this important step forward in delivering on our commitment to modernize the voting experience in Los Angeles County and to lead in the development and implementation of a non-proprietary, publicly-owned voting system that is responsive to the needs and behavior of our electorate,” said Dean Logan, Registrar of Voters, following the awarding of the contract at the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday.

Votem and its team will be responsible for the interactive ballot display and implementation, as designed by and for Los Angeles County, in partnership with IDEO, during prior phases of the VSAP initiative that focus on security, accessibility and usability. The interactive sample ballot display will allow for voters to mark their choices on their mobile device – anywhere, anytime – and then scan in their QR code in person for fast and easy voting at a vote center.

(Hold that thought on QR codes. Again, the QR code is the actual ballot.) Votem, eh? NC readers will be familiar with Votem, since Votem was involved in CalPERS corrupt election process (see here, here, and here). Of the Votem’s many problems, this one seems to be, well, the juiciest. Yves analyes a Votem “CalPERS Tabulation Incident Report” and concludes:

[T]he Incident reports starts with five Big Lies, which is quite impressive in such a short space:

The 2018 CalPERS Public Agency Member Election was conducted by the Everyone Counts/IVS Joint Venture. Everyone Counts has since been acquired by Votem, Corp. The election team and tabulation platform remained the same.

First, the election vendors admitted in 2017 (just the way CalPERS finally confessed that “CalPERS Direct” was not direct investing) that its election “joint venture” was no such thing. It was an operating agreement between K&H Printers-Lithographers, Incorporated, dba Integrity Voting Systems, and Everyone Counts, Inc.6 In keeping, the two parties signed the agreement as separate entities.

Second, the parties nevertheless attempted to depict the contract repeatedly as a joint venture, even stating in the operating agreement that the services were to be provided in the name of the “”IVS/Everyone Counts Joint Venture”. So Votem also misrepresented the name by putting “Everyone Counts” first, implying it is the more important player. We have the agreement embedded at the end of our second post. It makes very clear that K&H Printing, operating as IVS, was the dominant party.

Third, Votem falsely stated that the elections were conducted by the soi disant joint venture. That is false because Everyone Counts defaulted on the agreement by selling its assets to Votem before the election was over.

Fourth, Votem says it acquired “Everyone Counts”. It did not do so. It acquired only Everyone Counts’ assets, deliberately leaving the liabilities and the legal entity behind.

Finally, Votem claims that it acquired “Everyone Counts” after the election. This is false, since the sale of assets closed before the election was over and days before the tabulation took place.

So, underneath all the glossy PR, and the rollout, and the stakeholders, and the lavish website, we have a prime contractor that’s an extremely shady business entity. One, morever, in charge of the ballot!

With all that set-up, let’s quickly move to the critique from the HMPBCP world. First, from the essential Bradblog, “L.A. Registrar Won’t Answer Qs About County’s New Unverifiable Touchscreen Vote Systems.” Here is where the QR code becomes important:

The new VSAP system is a touchscreen Ballot Marking Device or BMD, which prints out a computer-marked paper ballot summary of votes selected via the touchscreen, before using another computer, an optical-scanner, to read the non-human readable QR Code that is also printed on the ballot summary. The QR Codes are used to tally votes. While the QR Code (a type of barcode) cannot be verified for accuracy by voters, it is also impossible with such systems to know if any voter has even verified the human-readable portion of the ballot summary at all, much less correctly, after an election. Studies reveal that most do not verify computer-marked ballots at all, and that of the minority who do, most don’t recall the details or selections on the ballot they voted just moments earlier. That’s just one of the many reasons why most cybersecurity and voting systems experts warn against the use of such systems which are now proliferating — and sometimes replacing verifiable hand-marked paper ballot systems — in many states and counties across the country before 2020. (The list of states where counties or the entire state are moving to BMD systems include a number of key battleground states. Such systems are planned for use next year, or are already being used, in OH, WI, PA, TX, WV, KY, NY, NJ, KS, TN, IN, SC, NC and, yes, CA, unless the public prevents these plans.)

(There’s much, much more; read the whole thing, especially Los Angeles residents.) For readers who think they have never seen a QR code, it’s like a bar-code in two dimensions, and it looks like this:

I wanted to find the requirements document and if possible some process flow diagrams, but I’ll take BradBlog at his word. The flow for a Ballot Marking Device would be something like: Voter makes selections on touch-screen (software, hence buggy and insecure), selections are stored (ditto) and printed out (ditto) on a page with a human-readable receipt reflecting (one assumes) the touchscreen selections, and the ballot itself, which is the QR code, which is not human-readable. The page is then scanned (ditto) and QR code is then tabulated (ditto). The sleight of hand is, of course, the ballot itself. A human may think that their reciept, which they can read to check that it matches what they selected on the touch screen, also matches the QR code, which they cannot. But there’s no reason on earth to think that! And the unreadable QR code, since that is what is tabulated, is the ballot! Take the matter out of the delusional digital realm. Suppose voting worked like this: You voted by hand-marking a yellow paper ballot. You then handed the yellow paper ballot to an official who, behind a screen so you could not see, marked a blue ballot that you could not read, sealed it so you could not read it, and then handed the blue ballot back to you and told you to put it in the ballot box, that’s your vote. Does that make any sense? That is how a “Ballot Marking Device” works.

Worse, the QR code ballots reinforce the power of money in politics. Recall that “The new voting system will provide voters with options to scan in QR coded ballots from their phone.” Well, security aside, game that out. From Knock LA, “The Campaign Finance Problem is About to Get Worse“:

Voters who like to fill out their sample ballot in advance and bring it to the polls will be particularly interested in the new Interactive Sample Ballot (ISB) feature. This will allow them to store their choices to a “Poll Pass” containing a QR code and then reload it into the Ballot Marking Device. This is an option that will “help expedite the voting process” by negating the need to individually mark each line on the ballot while in the polling center. This will be particularly useful on a ballot that will be extraordinarily long now that local elections will be folded into the presidential ballot. Unfortunately, this convenience will come at a steep price for our democracy.

Instead of building in assurances that the Poll Pass could only be used by the person who created it, the designers left the system open so QRs can be created by third parties and then be distributed for use at the polls. This would significantly increase the effectiveness of the slate mailers that inundate mailboxes prior to an election[1].

While the casual voter may believe that the strategically named organizations that publish slate mailers have carefully screened candidates for inclusion, the truth is that most are nothing more than a pay to play form of political marketing. Inclusion on these ads has more to do with the ability to pay than the views of the included candidate. The ability to pre-fill a voter’s ballot will make inclusion on these mailers even more valuable and put candidates not funded by special interest groups at even more of a disadvantage.

Groups like the California Charter School Association (CCSA), which have already shown the willingness to throw ethics aside in order to win elections, will find the new system even more valuable. Their printed materials could highlight popular candidates without even mentioning their favored candidate while still embedding their choice within the QR code. The unsuspecting voter who does not check all the way down the ballot at the polling place would be casting a vote for a candidate they took no action in choosing and may, in fact, oppose. By creating different slates to cover multiple candidates in races that attract the most attention, groups like CCSA could magnify their effect on the election. They could even print one slate on their mailer and include a QR code that placed a completely different set of names on the ballot.

Given the role that liberal Democrats think the donor class should play in politics, this may not be an issue for VSAP.


G-a-a-a-a-a-h! All that design! All those principles! And at the end of the day we have a system where the voter doesn’t know the vote they cast, and that reinforces the power of big money. Some clever lawyer needs to bring suit on this and fight it all the way to the Supreme Court (who, I suppose, can choose to put the final nail in the democracy’s coffin, or not). Oh, and VSAP hopes a lot of other jurisdictions adopt its system. Swell.


[1] As we saw in the recent CalPERS election; see here, here, here, and here. So perhaps this is not a bug, but a feature.


UPDATE 2019-12-07: Here is a diagram of the workflows, comparing real paper ballots to “ballot marking devices”:

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Steve H.

    The notion of a secret ballot has been subverted by factors analyzed in marketing, and social network analysis, amplified by the internet. Not completely, but enough.

    I say this to say, I’ll sign an affidavit for who I’ll vote for. I’m in a college town. We have electronic voting, and I’ve noted the lack of diversity for third parties that I’d expect for national races. So I’ve wondered.

    How can you prove votes were flipped? People lie about who they vote for, so a simple gathering of people making demands counts for naught. A thousand people in a precinct could be looking at each other, wondering why the candidate they support only got a hundred votes, and there is no recourse. Could sworn statements be enough to force a second runoff? More to the point, could the tactic of warning this will be done, before the vote, prove prophylactic against fraud? Can those who need the system to be credible afford to have the system proved a failure? That’s a lot of rice bowls.

    This is a less than ideal solution, and not for everyone. I welcome other solutions. But right now I see no security, more like, last one who flips the votes wins. Perhaps I am overly cynical. Perhaps.

    1. Grebo

      Exit polls. Proper ones, not some bored junior reporter making up numbers. In the UK each party will have a representative sitting outside the polling station asking how people voted. After the polls close (and not before) they publish their counts. If the official result is more than 1% different (proportionately, not everyone will answer) you start asking questions, more than 3% you call the police.

      1. Grebo

        I should say this does depend on hand-marked ballots. Electronic voting allows fine-grained gaming in close elections where just enough votes to flip the result can be faked without crossing the threshold of suspicion.

        1. Lambert Strether Post author


          Moreover, the paper receipts are useless, even if individually correct in most cases. What triggers people to collectively demand a recount of their receipts, assuming they even keep them?

      2. Gordon

        No. Party workers outside polling stations are tellers recording only who has voted so that those who haven’t but were identified as supporters by canvassing can be reminded it’s polling day, offered a lift or whatever it takes.

    2. Crazy Horse

      A fair system for holding elections has already been developed and tested:

      “In the context of the Carter Center’s work monitoring electoral processes around the globe, Carter also disclosed his opinion that in the US “we have one of the worst election processes in the world, and it’s almost entirely because of the excessive influx of money,” he said referring to lack of controls over private campaign donations.”

      Further evidence that the US has fully regressed to the status of a third world sham democracy—. Electoral officials scrambling around under the tables in Florida looking for hanging BushChads, or four years later trying to explain why Diebold Votes in Ohio differed from exit polls by 10%. To say nothing of the antique anti-democratic electoral college, gerrymandering, voter registration suppression, fraud and Citizens United.

      “Speaking at an annual event last week in Atlanta for his Carter Center foundation, the politician-turned philanthropist stated, “As a matter of fact, of the 92 elections that we’ve monitored, I would say the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world.”

      “Venezuela has developed a fully automated touch-screen voting system, which now uses thumbprint recognition technology and prints off a receipt to confirm voters’ choices.”

      Meanwhile confidence in elections by the citizens of the USA has fallen so low that most don’t even bother to vote. After all “if voting changed anything they’d make it illegal” “Emma Goldman”

  2. Joe Well

    I had to laugh when I saw “new ballot marking device.”

    In Massachusetts, that would be a black pen…

    …unfortunately using electronic ballot counting machines, without much auditing.

    I would ask the OAS to intervene in US elections, except for what they just did in Bolivia.

    1. Joe Well

      Also, coming from a near-one-party state (Massachusetts) that has had more than its share of government spending on scams, this one is hard to believe. It is so obviously a Rube Goldberg device that can’t benefit anyone but the companies selling the machines and whichever government employees will get to revolve the door onto their payrolls. Isn’t there any local opposition to this?

  3. Danny

    Nice documentary on how tens of thousands, or more, Los Angeles County voters, but also those elsewhere, were disenfranchised by a Hillary campaign worker who wanted to prevent likely Bernie voters from voting in 2016.
    Hillary’s puppet just happened to be Alex Padilla, the California Secretary of State, who controlled the statewide election process. He is still in that office and bears close watching.



    1. Suzanne O'Keeffe

      Awesome. I’m in that documentary, organized the protests that are filmed, started Count Our Votes California, and persuaded the reporter who ended up doing this documentary that she should cover the story. She did not cover in the doc, however, the story of the subsequent push I and many other activists made to pressure the LA County Board of Supervisors to invalidate the election and investigate the suspected election fraud. Chief of our demands to the Supervisors was to be shown proof that a required procedure to validate the software code before and after the count was completed. This validation was required by former secy of state Debra Bowen to re-certify LA’s ancient MTS tabulator (installed in 1998, running DOS) that counted all of LA County’s votes. The Supervisors never provided that proof. As far as we know, that tabulator and therefore the count was invalid. Dean Logan presented reassuring slides and the Supervisors, though admitting concern to us in private, did not launch an investigation and announced they’d certified the election without a real vote while we were there to speak at public comment.


      4. MTS Software Validation: The county must create a SHA-I hash of the trusted build of the
      MTS software after logic and accuracy testing is performed and prior to the pre-election
      deposit of a copy of the software with the Secretary of State that is required not later than 7
      days before the election, pursuant to Elections Code section 15001 (a). Immediately after the
      final canvass update is completed, but before official certification of results, a second SHA-I
      hash must be created of the MTS software actually used for the election. Any discrepancy
      between the two hash values must be reported to the Secretary of State immediately.


      1. JeffC

        sha1 is obsolete. Solid security-oriented firms use sha512 for this now. AirVPN (https://airvpn.org), for example, uses sha512 to secure the software clients they distribute for using their system.

  4. The Rev Kev

    After seeing two Jimmy Dore videos on voting in California, I can believe that it was California that is putting this out there. It is just opaque layer of layer of complexity, isn’t it? So what happens on voting day when PG&E cuts electricity to some voting districts because it ‘looks a bit windy’. In the long run, CalPERs could adopt this same methodology in their own elections and just claim that they are following State standards.
    Who would ever have expected that that having third-world standard elections could have such a high-tech gloss to it?

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > It is just opaque layer of layer of complexity, isn’t it?

      At the very best. There’s a lot of hand-waving about convenience, but nothing that can’t be solved with paper ballots. The whole thing is a ginormous boondoggle at the very least. At the very worst, you might think it was designed by Russian assets to destroy “our democracy.”

      I did manage to find some slideshows from the Registrar about the process, and it’s quite clear from the beginning that hand-marked paper ballots, hand-counted in public, were never under serious consideration.

      1. d

        Not sure that paper ballots didn’t have their own…..fraud problems

        At one time or another the following has happened

        Ballots stolen
        Ballots changed after the voter voted
        Ballots destroyed,
        Ballots unreadable
        Why we think the past always I don’t know

        But maybe having both and counting both to see if they match.

        Course even that isn’t totally secure. I suppose some enterprising politician would rig it so that even doing counts like that by ‘fixing’ the paper ballot so that voter can’t validate what they did. then what can be done?

        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          Of course. But the entire process is out in the open. It’s possible, as a civic duty, to prevent election fraud in the moment; see Hong Kong tweets. Not so with ballot marking devices.

    2. Joe Well

      >>So what happens on voting day when PG&E cuts electricity to some voting districts

      Amazing that no one stopped to ask this. Also the carbon footpeint in this era of reusable grocery bags.

  5. Anon

    I don’t like or want electronic voting procedure to proliferate.

    However, LA County has over 4 million registered voters and I believe over 500 voting districts. It’s supposedly the most complex voting district in the land (US). The county registrar says they perform about 200 elections (feds, state, schools, etc.) per year. I see why they are moving to a digital format; reduce costs/manpower.

    They still should still give voters paper receipts of their voting choices.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > reduce costs/manpower

      Population of Hong Kong: ~7,500,000

      Population of Los Angeles: ~4,000,000

      So the County of Los Angeles can’t do what Hong Kong does, with half the population?

      Looks like their budget is more important than a functional democracy. (And if I look at that website, it screams “expensive,” as does the collateral for the rollout, so I’m not sure that budget is all that important.)

      Re: receipts, as I said above:

      Moreover, the paper receipts are useless, even if individually correct in most cases. What triggers people to collectively demand a recount of their receipts, assuming they even keep them?

      How do you know that your human-readable receipt is the same as the QR code, which is the real ballot? You don’t.

      1. Anon

        Well, we need to compare apples to apples: LA County has a population of 10 million (spread out over 4000 sq. miles), its registered voter population is 4 million. Hong Kong is much more compact (polling sites, likely, as well).

        As I prefaced in my comment: I don’t want electronic voting to proliferate. I prefer a tangible, countable (and re-countable ballot). Many good arguments from the commentariat (that’s why we’re here, right?). A larger concern, for me, is not just the paper ballot, but actual involvement in political discussion AND participation in the elections. Disenfranchisement is anathema to Democracy.

        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          Yes, I know Hong Kong doesn’t have sprawl. But to argue that a county government can’t arrange for more and more suitable polling places with the powers available to any state seems a little odd. Reading the VSAP presentations, it seemed to me that the the voting administrators simply regard digital is less work for them — no papers to lug about, voting machines that fit in the trunk of a car — and that their views affected the process much more than they had a right to do (they were considered “stakeholders,” as opposed to public servants).

          1. Anon

            Lambert, your population numbers for Hong Kong vs. LA County were inaccurate. LA County has 2.5 million more residents than HK. HK is in the top 3 cities for population density. These are real issues to resolve when attempting to get polling stewards, ballots, and voting booths for a political subdivision the size of LA County. (Voters here regularly display their displeasure with the cost of special elections.)

            I appreciate your intensity in promoting verifiable elections. It’s not about who casts the votes but who counts them.

            1. Yves Smith

              Come on. The UK uses paper ballots. There are plenty of rural areas in the UK.

              “Real issues” is a handwave. You have yet to raise a substantive obstacle.

            2. Ignacio

              Spain, 48 million, rural areas, lots of remote villages in mountainous regions, islands. Paper ballots. Turnout levels well above US average.

              Italy: 67 million, very much as Spain geographically. Paper ballots.

              France: 67 million, paper ballots. Usually high turnout

              EU: 2019, Paper ballots, more than 200 million votes casted.

              Tell me if the number is a problem.

    2. curious euro

      Receipts are even better for vote tampering than anything else.
      The local thug can now compel you to vote for person of his choosing, or “your dog/gran gets it”
      You can even sell your vote for cash.

      I think the only worse thing than voting machines are receipts.

      We have 4 different elections here: municipal (one for council, one for mayor), state, federal and EU. Each every 4-5 years, more if some government body resigns for some reason, so we have it easy. However: why can’t the US do it similarly as us? All their local elections for schoolboards, judges, DAs, sheriff, propositions etc. can be done on one day. No need for several elections. If you only need one election e.g. to replace a councillor, you generally only have to have them in one district, not the whole county.

      So while you nominally might have 200 elections per year, certainly not 200 elections citywide. Which makes it a very misleading argument.

      Then another peeve or maybe question of mine: why do all anglosaxon countries do elections on weekdays? It disenfranchises (poor) working people so I probably have my answer already. But is there a real good official reason for doing this? Sunday is vastly superior since then everyone gets time to vote,which kinda is the point of democracy. The people who handle the voting process will have to get overtime pay obviously, but cost can’t be a valid reason not to do it this way.

      1. Harry Shearer

        In non-Anglo-Saxon Louisiana, as the newly re-elected Governor pointed out on election night, “we tailgate and vote on the same day.”

      2. Lambert Strether Post author

        > why do all anglosaxon countries do elections on weekdays

        Election day should be a national holiday. All this crap with early voting, and voting periods weeks long, should go away (since they only benefit those who have made up their minds, reducing citizen involvement with events and increasing partisanship — the obvious goal).

        1. Procopius

          Errr… Have you noticed a lot of people work on national holidays? Bob Cratchett was allowed to take the day off, but I’ll bet a lot of employers were not as generous as Mr. Scrooge. In the Army we used to arrange among ourselves for trading duties on holidays — Christians working in place of Jews or Muslims of Sikhs on their Holy Days and vice versa. I think lots of civilians do the same, but somebody has to be there to do the job.

  6. emorejahongkong

    On Hong Kong’s paper ballots, the voter holds and presses, into the checkable area, a stamping device that marks a dark check mark.

    The voter is invited to obtain a replacement ballot if a slip of the hand interferes with the clarity or location of the check mark, or if folding of the ballot (which is required as part of the general requirement of keeping each person’s vote choice confidential) results in duplicate marks. (Anti-establishment advocacy organizations warned people to blow on their checkmark to ensure it quickly becomes too dry to create a duplicate mark).

    Nothing visible on the ballot itself appears to link it to the voter. Implementation of the one ballot per voter rule is through lining out voter’s name and ID number, on a printout of the voter registry, when the voter receives the ballot.

    1. fdr-fan

      Interesting! Continuing the old Chinese tradition of personal seals or ‘chops’.

      It would be easy to set up automatic receipts, with pen or chop, by using NCR paper.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      That was my concern and I don’t have an answer. Some form of monkey-wrenching is all I can think of. And organizing that would take an enormous effort… from whom? The press coverage was, of course, sycophantic.

      By national standards, the amount of money involved isn’t that great, and the voting machine companies aren’t doing that well (it doesn’t take much to buy an alderman in Philly, unfortunately for us all). So speculating not all that freely, even corruption that is small can do a lot of damage.

      1. turtle

        Thank you, Lambert. I read the PDF regarding the QR code and got a tiny bit of comfort from finding that the code will use an open format that is verifiable by the voter. Unfortunately it would take the voter scanning the QR code themselves and cross-referencing the vote IDs in a string of numbers, so it’s likely that a tiny minority of people will go through the effort. Someone could write a verifier app to make the process easier (i.e. do the cross-referencing automatically), but even then only a small minority will go through the effort. The criticisms against this thing still stand.

        I learned something else in that PDF that was disturbing. This thing is going to be thermal-printed coated paper. This has two drawbacks: thermal paper is usually (always?) BPA-coated, and this is a full-size sheet instead of just a small store receipt – yay, large quantities of harmful chemicals; and thermal printing sometimes has a tendency to fade and become illegible – yay, self-destructing ballots. What’s not to like?

        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          > self-destructing ballots


          Adding, more on BPA, from the NIH in 2009:

          Phthalates, pesticides, and bisphenol-A (BPA) are three groups of chemicals, implicated in endocrine disruption and commonly found in the local environment, that have been implicated in the pathogenesis of asthma and allergies [1-3]. Multiple observational studies have demonstrated an association between exposure to phthalates and the development of asthma and allergies in humans. Associations with exposure to pesticides and BPA and the development of respiratory disease are less clear. However, recent evidence suggests that prenatal or early postnatal exposure to BPA may be deleterious to the developing immune system. Future cohort-driven epidemiological or translational research should focus on determining whether these ubiquitous chemicals contribute to the development of asthma and allergies in humans, and attempt to establish the routes and mechanisms by which they operate. Determining dose-response relationships will be important to establishing safe levels of these chemicals in the environment and in consumer products. Attempts to reduce exposures to chemicals such as phthalates, pesticides, and BPA may have environmental repercussions as well as public health impact for the developing child

          So, we ask ourselves if the ADA applies to allergies, e.g. the allergies induced by exposure to BPA. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, yes:

          In both the ADA and Section 504, a person with a disability is someone who has a physical or mental impairment that seriously limits one or more major life activities, or who is regarded as having such impairments. Asthma and allergies are usually considered disabilities under the ADA…. In 2008, the ADA was changed to include more people in the definition of “disabled.” Conditions that only show symptoms at certain times are now included. Asthma and allergies fit this definition. The ADA protects people with asthma and allergies even if reactions or attacks happen only when triggered. The ADA can help to create an environment where patients can avoid their triggers. With the 2008 changes, the ADA covers people with asthma and allergies even if medication controls their symptoms.

          If this were a post, I’d have a lot better research. But here at least is a theory of the case that a clever lawyer might be able to use to stop VSAP. (Note that the County of Los Angeles owns VSAP, and they have deep pockets, so….).

    2. jrs

      Come on now, how can one not have already been aware of this. They had mock voting a couple months ago (with creepy staffers offended if you expressed anything other than love if it).

      Exit polling I guess would be a check on it, but is it legal to just run your own exit polls?

  7. RopeADope

    Just wait till you find out about Epstein and Gate’s ElectionGuard fraud.


    It is likely that Bloomberg is not running to win, he is merely in the race to provide a place to stash e-vote election rigging.

    This is just your reminder that the only election shenanigans that actually seemed to have happened in 2016 were in the area where one of the 9/11 hijacker cells and their Mossad observation unit were located. Also where Nuland stashed her Ukrainian mobsters. Close to Jeffrey Epstein’s island. Also near where Trump was laundering money for global criminals at Maro Lago, likely for the CIA. Did the reporting on how one of Trump’s sources of money was running weapons for Al-Qaeda ever make it to the US? I will give you a hint, it was the boss of the guy the House kept trying to testify about “Russians”. The one that somehow made it off the FBI most wanted list.

  8. turtle

    Fantastic. Actually this is terrible any way you look at it. The wikipedia page about smartmatic doesn’t inspire confidence at all. Shady multinational company with obscured ownership. So much for LA county putting “transparency” as the first bullet point in its principles for the project.

      1. turtle

        Thank you, Lambert. Apparently the QR code is verifiable by the voter, but just not easily, at least not yet until someone writes an app for it. And even then a tiny minority of voters would actually verify it, and some people (anyone without a smartphone) would be completely unable to do so on their own.

  9. The Historian

    When I read this article yesterday, I thought what LA County was doing was so absurd that I just couldn’t comment. Rereading it today doesn’t make it any less absurd.

    So if absurdity is where we are headed, why doesn’t LA County give up this pretense of voting and go to the next step. Instead of having voters go to the polls with all the costs that entails, why don’t they just hire Google to analyze the data they have on every voter in LA Country and use AI to tell them how the people will have voted and use those results instead?

    1. Off The Street

      We fortunate Los Angeles County voters show up to collect our participation trophies, doncha know. The actual counting and other details are less interesting and besides, those grouchy old poll workers shoo us out before we can take selfies. How can we even strut and preen carry on polite conversation about our civic duties at the restaurant afterwards?

      Forget it. It’s Los Angeles, Jake.

      1. The Historian

        In my backward state, we passed a law that says you can have all the electronic voting machines you want, but you still have to have a paper ballot. Needless to say, we don’t have many electronic voting machines but we do have a lot of black pens and pencils at the polls.

        1. The Historian

          PS, we also don’t have those modern things like hanging chads or computer glitches either, and I haven’t heard of a virus or a hacker getting into those pens and pencils.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > Fake ballots are a feature no voting machine should have

      Unless you believe, as I do, that the ability to perpetrate election fraud is the unspoken sales pitch behind all these systems. Because what party official wouldn’t want that? (Only in really, really important cases, of course.)

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      > A Pennsylvania County’s Election Day Nightmare Underscores Voting Machine Concerns

      Thanks for this horrid story. Note this, far down:

      Though there has been no conclusive study as to what caused the machines to malfunction, as the machines are locked away for 20 days after an election according to state law, the prevailing theory is that the touch screens were plagued by a bug in the software. A senior intelligence official who focuses on election security said there were no visible signs of outside meddling by any foreign actors.

      So another consequence of electronic voting machines is that we have the intelligence community slowly accumulating the power to legitimate or delegitimate elections. (Note that with hand-marked paper ballots, hand-counted in public, the idea of this being done would be absurd.) Another selling point!

  10. jfleni

    These systems will eventually all fail as voters realize that
    the clodhopper clowns running them will mess them up
    totally; with results as unbelievable as those found in
    the DPRK. Why vote if it’s just an LA video game, stay home and relax instead!

  11. Brad Friedman

    Thanks, Lambert. A few other points of concern (some of which you hinted at):

    – While studies reveal the vast majority of voters don’t review their computer-marked ballot summaries, of those who do, most don’t notice flips or omissions. But, most disturbing is that even if everyone does so — and does so perfectly — it is still impossible to know after the election if ANYone did. That’s right, it’ll be 100% impossible to know if even one “ballot” represents ANY voter’s intent. Even if all works perfectly!

    – “Monkey wrenching” – What happens when voters start reporting the touchscreen printed their choices incorrectly? Whether they did or not? It can’t be proven either way. Chaos ensues, because there are no plans for hand-marked paper ballot options at the new Voting Centers.

    – Here’s a fun one for you: The latest demo video from the County Registrar shows a voter approving the printed summary before hitting the “cast vote” button. At which time the paper summary then goes BACK THROUGH the same print heads that printed it in the first place! Thus, the “approved” paper can be changed, reprinted, amended etc AFTER the voter (maybe) approves it and NOBODY WOULD EVER KNOW.

    – As to power outages, as you note, if one happens (or a ransomware attack), the nation’s largest voter jurisdiction is cooked.

  12. your taxes at work

    VSAP is a vanity project for the County and the Registrar of Voters.
    Voting system design does not need $15 million. As we all know, it takes a computer to make a mess out of a simple process and a huge spend to cover one’s behind.
    The 1/4 billion spent on hardware makes military spending look miserly

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