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PRIVACY ISSUES IN AN ELECTRONIC VOTING https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B3FeaMu_1EQyQ0ZKMnNYTlVPNmM/view
Filed under: General
Posted by: site admin @ 7:21 pm



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Chapter #



Arthur M. Keller1

, David Mertz2

, Joseph Lorenzo Hall


, and Arnold Urken4


UC Santa Cruz and Open Voting Consortium, ark@soe.ucsc.edu; 2

Gnosis Software, Inc.,

mertz@gnosis.cx; 3

UC Berkeley, School of Information Management and Systems,

jhall@sims.berkeley.edu; 4

Stevens Institute of Technology, aurken@stevens.edu

Abstract: The Open Voting Consortium has a developed a prototype voting system that

includes an open source, PC-based voting machine that prints an accessible,

voter-verified paper ballot along with an electronic audit trail. This system was

designed for reliability, security, privacy, accessibility and auditability. This

paper describes some of the privacy considerations for the system.

Key words: Electronic voting; privacy; secret ballot; Open Voting Consortium; Electronic

Ballot Printer; paper ballot; barcodes; accessible; reading impaired interface;

multiple languages; accessible voter-verified paper ballot.


The requirements for secrecy in elections depend upon the values and

goals of the political culture where voting takes place. Gradations of partial

and complete privacy can be found in different cultural settings. For

instance, in some cantons in Switzerland, voters traditionally communicate

their choices orally in front of a panel of election officials.

1 In contrast, in

most modern polities, the ideal of complete privacy is institutionalized by

relying on anonymous balloting.


The use of secret balloting in elections—where a ballot’s contents are

disconnected from the identity of the voter—can be traced back to the

earliest use of ballots themselves. The public policy rationales for instituting

anonymous balloting are typically to minimize bribery and intimidation of

1 Benjamin Barber, Strong Democracy (Twentieth Anniversary Edition, University of

California Press, 2004). 2 Alvin Rabushka and Kenneth Shepsle, POLITICS IN PLURAL SOCIETIES: A THEORY OF


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2 Chapter #

the voter. For example, in Athens, Greece during the sixth century B.C.E.,

Athenians voted by raising their hands “except on the question of exiling

someone considered dangerous to the state, in which case a secret vote was

taken on clay ballots.”

3 In this case, presumably it was deemed necessary to

vote via secret ballot to avoid bodily harm to the voter.

Secret ballots, although not always required, have been in use in America

since colonial times.

4 The Australian ballot,

5 designed to be uniform in

appearance because it is printed and distributed by the government, was

adopted throughout most of the U.S. in the late 1800’s. Today,

approximately one hundred years after most states in the U.S. passed legal

provisions for anonymous balloting, a strong sense of voter privacy has

emerged as a third rationale. All fifty states have provisions in their

constitutions for either election by “secret ballot” or elections in which

“secrecy shall be preserved,” which has been interpreted by the courts as an

implied requirement for secret balloting.

6 West Virginia does not require a

secret ballot and leaves that to the discretion of the voter.7 Fourteen states’


Spencer Albrecht, THE AMERICAN BALLOT (1942) at 9. 4 In 1682, the
Province of Pennsylvania in its Frame of the Government required “THAT

the elections of Members or Representatives of the People, to serve in the Provincial

Council and General Assembly … shall be resolved and determined by ballot.” (Votes

and Proceedings of the House of Representatives of the Province of Pennsylvania. Printed

and sold by B. Franklin and D. Hall, at The New Printing Office, near the Market.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania MDCCLII, at xxxi.) In 1782, the legislature of the

Colony/State of New Jersey tried to intimidate Tories by requiring viva voce voting. (At

that time, about half of New Jersey voted with ballots and the other half viva voce.) They

rescinded this in their next session. (Richard P. McCormick, THE HISTORY OF VOTING IN

NEW JERSEY 74 (1953). In 1796, the State of New Jersey required federal elections to be

by ballot and extended that to state elections the following year. (Id. at 106.) In the 1853

pamphlet SECRET SUFFRAGE, Edward L. Pierce recounted Massachusetts’ battle to

make the secret ballot truly secret. The Massachusetts Constitution in 1820 required

elections for representatives to have “written” votes. In 1839, the legislature attacked the

secrecy of the written ballot by requiring the ballot to be presented for deposit in the ballot

box open and unfolded. In 1851, the legislature passed the “Act for the better security of

the Ballot,” which provided that the ballots are to be deposited in the ballot box in sealed

envelopes of uniform size and appearance furnished by the secretary of the Commonwealth

(State of Massachusetts). The battle waged until a provision in the State Constitution made

the secret ballot mandatory. (Edward L. Pierce, SECRET SUFFRAGE 7 (1853)(published by

Ballot Society, No. 140 Strand, London, England). 5 The more general
“Australian ballot” is a term used for anonymous balloting using

non-partisan ballots distributed by the government. See Albright 1942 at 26. “The very

notion of exercising coercion and improper influence absolutely died out of the country.”

See supra note 3, at 24, quoting Francis S. Dutton of South Australia in J. H. Wigmore’s

AUSTRALIAN BALLOT SYSTEM (2nd ed., Boston, 1889) at 15-23. 6 For
example, The Delaware Supreme Court recognized that the Delaware’s

language amounts to an “implied constitutional requirement of a secret ballot.” Brennan v.

34 Del. Ch. 380 at 402. (1954). 7 See W. Va. Const. Art. IV, §2 8 “In
all elections by the people, the mode of voting shall be by ballot; but
the voter shall be

left free to vote by either open, sealed or secret ballot, as he may elect.” (W. VA. CONST.

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#. Privacy Issues in an Electronic Voting Machine 3

constitutions do not list “secret” balloting or “secrecy” of elections and/or

ballots explicitly. These states have either state laws (election code) or case

law (decided legal cases in that state) that mandate secret balloting or

interpret the phrase “election shall be by ballot” to mean a “secret ballot.”

These cultural values and practices contribute to the sets of user

requirements that define the expectations of voters in computer-mediated


9 and determine alternative sets of specifications that can be

considered in developing open source software systems for elections. The

Open Voting Consortium (OVC)10 has developed a model election system

that aims as one of its goals to meet these requirements. This paper describes

how the OVC model ensures ballot privacy.

The OVC has developed its model for an electronic voting system largely

in response to reliability, usability, security, trustworthiness, and

accessibility concerns about other voting systems. Privacy was kept in mind

throughout the process of designing this system. Section 2 of this paper

discusses the requirements for a secret ballot in more detail. Section 3

considers how secrecy could be compromised in some systems. Section 4

describes the architecture of the polling place components of the OVC

system. Section 5 describes how the OVC handles privacy concerns. While

this paper focuses mostly on privacy issues for U.S.-based elections, and

how they are addressed in the OVC system, many of the issues raised are

relevant elsewhere as well.


The public policy goals of secret balloting


— to protect the privacy

of the elector and minimize undue intimidation and influence — are

supported by federal election laws and regulations. The Help America Vote

Act of 200212

codifies this policy as “anonymity” and “independence” of all

voters, and “privacy” and “confidentiality” of ballots. It requires that the

ART. IV, § 2 (2003). 9 Arthur B, Urken, Voting in A Computer-Networked Environment, in THE INFORMATION


1989). 10

The Open Voting Consortium (OVC) is a non-profit organization dedicated to the

development, maintenance, and delivery of open voting systems for use in public

See http://www.openvotingconsortium.org/. 11 There are two aspects to
anonymous voting. The first is ballot privacy—the ability for

someone to vote without having to disclose his or her vote to the public. The second is

secrecy—someone should not be able to prove that they voted one way or another. The

desire for the latter is rooted in eliminating intimidation while the former is to curb vote

The history of these two concepts is beyond the scope of this paper. 12
The Help America Vote Act of 2002, 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 15301 – 15545 (West,

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4 Chapter #

Federal Election Commission create standards that “[preserve] the privacy of

the voter and the confidentiality of the ballot.”


The Federal Election Commission has issued a set of Voting System

Standards (VSS)14 that serve as a model of functional requirements that

elections systems must meet before they can be certified for use in an

election. The VSS state explicitly:

To facilitate casting a ballot, all systems shall:

[…] Protect the secrecy of the vote such that the system cannot reveal any

information about how a particular voter voted, except as otherwise

required by individual State law;



All systems shall provide voting booths [that shall] provide privacy for

the voter, and be designed in such a way as to prevent observation of the

ballot by any person other than the voter;


as well as a lengthy list of specific requirements that Direct Recording

Electronic voting systems must meet.

17 The basic, high-level requirement not

to expose any information about how an individual voted is required of all

voting systems before certification and is the most important. The second

requirement listed above is a corollary.

It is not sufficient for electronic voting systems merely to anonymize the

voting process from the perspective of the voting machine. Every time a

ballot is cast, the voting system adds an entry to one or more software or

firmware logs that consists of a timestamp and an indication that a ballot was

cast. If the timestamp log is combined with the contents of the ballot, this

information becomes much more sensitive. For example, it can be combined

with information about the order in which voters voted to compromise the

confidentiality of the ballot. Such information can be collected at the polling

place using overt or covert surveillance equipment—such as cell phone

cameras or security cameras common at public schools. As described

below, system information collected by the voting system should be kept

separated from the content of cast ballots and used in conjunction only by

authorized, informed election officials.

13 Id., § 301(a)(1)(C). (Also see §§ 242(a)(2)(B), 245(a)(2)(C), 261(b)(1), 271(b)(1), 281

(b)(1), 301(a)(3)(A)). 14 Federal Election Commission, Voting System Standards, Vols. 1 & 2 (2002), available at

http://www.fec.gov/pages/vsfinal (Microsoft Word .doc format) or

(Adobe PDF format) 15 Id. at Vol. 1, § 16 Id. at Vol. 1,
§ 17 Id. at Vol. 1, § and §4.5.

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#. Privacy Issues in an Electronic Voting Machine 5


3.1 A voter’s secret identity

When a voter enters a polling place, she enters with a valuable secret: her

identity. A secret ballot is not really “secret” in a general sense — it is

possible, and even required, for certain recipients to disclose ballots. A

secret ballot is “secret” only in the sense that it is blind as to the identity of

the voter who cast it. The anonymity of ballots must apply even to most

statistical properties of the voters who cast them; a notable exception,

however, is in the disclosure of the geographic distribution of voters who

vote certain ways in the aggregate. We all know there are “Republican

precincts” and “Democratic precincts,” and anyone can easily and legally

find out which are which.

Complicating matters is the fact that a voter’s secret, her identity, must be

disclosed at a certain stage in the voting process. To be allowed to vote at

all, a voter must authenticate her right to vote using her identity, if only by a

declaration of purported identity to elections workers. Depending on

jurisdiction, different standards of identity authentication apply—some

require identification cards and/or revelation of personal information outside

the public domain—but in all cases, identity acts as a kind of key for entry to

voting. However, legally this key must be removed from all subsequent

communication steps in the voting process.

The act of voting, and the acts of aggregating those votes at subsequently

higher levels (called “canvassing” in voting parlance) can be thought of as

involving a series of information channels. At a first step, a voter is given a

token to allow her vote to pass through later stages; depending on the system

model, this token may be a pre-printed ballot form, a PIN-style code, a

temporary ballot-type marker, an electronic smart card, or at a minimum

simply permission to proceed. Although the OVC has not yet settled on a

particular token, we will focus on smart cards in this paper, because they

have the most serious implications for privacy. Outside the US, tokens such

as hand stamps in indelible ink are also used, particularly to preclude

duplicate votes being cast.

Once at a voting station, a voter must perform some voting actions using

either pen-and-paper, a mechanical device like a lever machine or a punch

card guide, or an electronic interface, such as a touchscreen or headphones-
with-keypad. After performing the required voting actions, some sort of

record of the voter’s selections is created, either on paper, in the state of

gears, on electronic/magnetic storage media, or using some combination of

those. That record of selections becomes the “cast ballot.” Under the Open

Voting Consortium system, the paper ballot produced at a voting station

undergoes final voter inspection before being cast into a physical ballot box.

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6 Chapter #

After votes are cast, they are canvassed at several levels: first by precinct;

then by county, district, or city; then perhaps statewide. At each level of

canvassing, either the literal initial vote records or some representation or

aggregation of them must be transmitted.

3.2 Understanding covert channels

At every stage of information transmission, from voter entry, through

vote casting, through canvassing, a voter’s identity must remain hidden. It is

relatively simple to describe the overt communication channels in terms of

the information that actually should be transmitted at each stage. But within

the actual transmission mechanism it is possible that a covert channel also

transmits improper identity information.

Covert channels in a voting system can take a number of forms. Some

covert channels require the cooperation of collaborators, such as voters

themselves or poll workers. Other covert channels can result from

(accidental) poor design in the communication channels; while others can be

created by malicious code that takes advantage of incomplete channel

specification. A final type of covert channel is what we might call a

“sideband attack”—that is, there may be methods of transmitting improper

information that are not encoded directly in the overt channel, but result

indirectly from particular implementations.

For illustration, let us briefly suggest examples of several types of covert

channels. One rather straightforward attack on voter ballot anonymity is

repeatedly missed by almost every new developer approaching design from a

databases-and-log-files background. If the voting channels contain

information about the times when particular ballots are cast and/or the

sequence of ballots, this information can be correlated with an under-
protected record of the sequence of times when voters enter a polling place.

We sometimes call this a “covert videotape” attack. In part, this attack uses a

sideband: the covert videotaping of voters as they enter; but it also relies on

a design flaw in which ballots themselves are timestamped, perhaps as a

means to aid debugging.

A pure sideband attack might use Tempest

18 equipment to monitor

electro-magnetic emissions of electronic voting stations. In principle, it

might be possible for an attacker to sit across the street from a polling place

with a van full of electronics, watch each voter enter, then detect each vote

she selects on a touchscreen voting station.

Cooperative attacks require the voter or poll worker to do something

special to disclose identity. As with other attacks, these covert channels need

not rely on electronics and computers. For example, a malicious poll worker

might mark a pre-printed blank paper ballot using ultraviolet ink before

18 See http://www.cryptome.org/nsa-tempest.htm (Last visited February 13, 2005)

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#. Privacy Issues in an Electronic Voting Machine 7

handing it to a targeted voter. The covert channel is revealed only with an

UV lamp, something voters are unlikely to carry to inspect their ballots. A

voter herself might cooperate in a covert channel in order to facilitate vote

buying or under threat of vote coercion. One such covert channel is to

instruct a bought or coerced voter to cast “marked votes” to prove she cast

the votes desired by her collaborator. Unique write-in names and unusual

patterns in ranked preference or judicial confirmations are ways to “mark” a

ballot as belonging to a particular voter.

3.3 Links between registration data and ballots

Since a voter must identify herself when signing in at the polling place,

there is the potential for her identity to be tied to her vote. The token given

to the voter to allow her to vote may contain her identity. For example, the

voter’s registration number could be entered into the smart-card writer and

then encoded on the smart card that is given to the voter to enable use of a

Direct Recording Electronic voting machine. When the voter registration list

is given to the polling place on paper, this channel appears less of an issue.

However, if the voter registration list is handled electronically, then the

smart card could easily contain the voter’s identity. Diebold’s stated intent

makes this issue a potentially serious privacy risk.

Diebold already has purchased Data Information Management Systems,

one of two firms that have a dominant role in managing voter-registration

lists in California and other states. “The long-term goal here is to introduce

a seamless voting solution, all the way from voter registration to (vote)

tabulation,” said Tom Swidarski, Diebold senior vice president for strategic




The Open Voting Consortium is developing a PC-based open source

voting system based on an accessible voter-verified paper ballot. We mostly

describe the components of the system that operate in the polling place.

20 In

addition, we briefly discuss the components at the county canvassing site.

19 Ian Hoffman, With e-voting, Diebold treads where IBM wouldn’t, OAKLAND TRIB., May 30,

2004, available at

20 See Arthur M. Keller, et al., A PC-Based Open Source Voting Machine
with an Accessible

Voter-Verifiable Paper Ballot, 2005 USENIX ANNUAL TECHNICAL CONFERENCE,

FREENIX/OPEN SOURCE TRACK, April 10-15, 2005, pp. 163–174, and available at


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8 Chapter #

4.1 Voter sign-in station

The Voter Sign-In Station is used by the poll worker when the voter signs

in and involves giving the voter a “token.” It is a requirement that each voter

cast only one vote and that the vote cast be of the right precinct and party for

the voter. The “token” authorizes the voter to cast a ballot using one of these


• Pre-printed ballot stock

o Option for scanning ballot type by Electronic Voting Machine

o Poll worker activation

• Per-voter PIN (including party/precinct identifier)

• Per-party/precinct token

• Smart cards

The token is then used by the Electronic Voting Machine or an Electronic

Voting Machine with a Reading Impaired Interface to ensure that each voter

votes only once and only using the correct ballot type.

If the voter spoils a ballot, the ballot is marked spoiled and kept for

reconciliation at the Ballot Reconciliation Station, and the voter is given a

new token for voting.

4.2 Electronic voting machine

The Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) includes a touch-screen interface

for the voter to view the available choices for each contest and select among

them. The EVM then prints a paper ballot, which the voter verifies (possibly

using the Ballot Verification Station) and places in the ballot box. The EVM

is activated by a token, such as a smart card, obtained at the sign-in station.

The EVM maintains an electronic ballot image as an audit trail and to

reconcile with the paper ballots at the Ballot Reconciliation Station.

4.3 Electronic voting machine with reading impaired interface

The Electronic Voting Machine with Reading Impaired Interface is a PC

similar to the Electronic Voting Machine described above which provides

auditory output of the ballot choices and selections made and also supports

additional modes of making selections suitable for the blind or reading

impaired. Whether these features are integrated into a common voting

machine with all functionality, or whether there is a separate configuration

for the disabled, is an open question. For example, additional modes of input

may be useful for those who can read printed materials, but have physical

limitations. The idea is to have a universal design that accommodates all


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#. Privacy Issues in an Electronic Voting Machine 9

4.4 Ballot verification station

The Ballot Verification Station reads the ballot produced by the

Electronic Voting Machine or the Electronic Voting Machine with Reading

Impaired Interface and speaks (auditorily) the selections on the voter’s

ballot. A count is kept of usage, including counts of consecutive usage for

the same ballot, but no permanent record is kept of which ballots are


The Ballot Verification Station could also have a screen for displaying

the selections. Such an option, enabled by the voter upon her request, would

enable a voter who can read to verify that her ballot will be read correctly for

automated tallying.

4.5 Ballot reconciliation station

The Ballot Reconciliation Station reads the paper ballots, both cast and

spoiled, and reconciles them against the Electronic Ballot Images from the

Electronic Voting Machine or the Electronic Voting Machine with Reading

Impaired Interface.

4.6 Paper ballot

The paper ballot is printed by the Electronic Voting Machine or the

Electronic Voting Machine with Reading Impaired Interface. It must be

“cast” in order to be tallied during canvassing, testing, or a manual recount.

The paper ballot is intended to be easily read by the voter so that the voter

may verify that his or her choices have been properly marked. It also

contains security markings and a bar code. The bar code encodes the voter’s

choices, as expressed in the human readable portion of the ballot. The human

readable text should be in an OCR-friendly font so it is computer-readable as

well. Voters may use the Ballot Verification Station to verify that the bar

code accurately reflects their choices. The Ballot Verification Station not

only assists sight-impaired and reading-impaired voters in verifying their

ballots, but will also give all voters the assurance that the bar-code on the

ballot properly mirrors their choices, as represented in the human-readable

text on the ballot.

4.7 Privacy folder

The paper ballot contains the voter’s choices in two forms: a form that

can be read by people and a bar code that expresses those choices in a

machine-readable form.

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10 Chapter #

Poll workers may come in contact with the ballot should they be asked to

assist a voter or to cast the ballot into the ballot box. In order to protect voter

privacy it is desirable to minimize the chance that a voting place worker

might observe the voter’s ballot choices. A privacy folder is just a standard

file folder with an edge trimmed back so that it reveals only the bar code part

of a ballot. The voter is expected to take his/her ballot from the printer of the

Electronic Voting Machine or the Electronic Voting Machine with Reading

Impaired Interface and place it into a privacy folder before leaving the

voting booth.

The privacy folder is designed so that the voter may place the ballot, still

in its folder, against the scanning station of the Ballot Verification Station to

hear the choices on the voter’s ballot spoken.

When handed the ballot by the voter, the poll worker casts the ballot

by turning the privacy folder so the ballot is face down, and then sliding the

paper ballot into the ballot box.

4.8 Ballot box

The ballot box is a physically secure container, into which voters have

their paper ballots placed, in order to “cast” their votes. The mechanical

aspects of the ballot box will vary among jurisdictions, depending on local

laws and customs. Optionally, a perforated tab is removed from the ballot

before placing the ballot into the ballot box, and the tab is handed to the

voter. The removal of the tab ensures that the ballot cannot be marked


4.9 Box for spoiled ballots

When a voter spoils a ballot, perhaps because the ballot does not

accurately reflect her preferences, the ballot is marked spoiled and placed in

a box for spoiled ballots for later reconciliation.



This section discusses how the Open Voting Consortium is balancing

security, reliability and privacy in its electronic voting system.

5.1 Free and open source software

Opening the source code to a voting system — all stages of it, not only

the voting station—is a necessary, though not sufficient, condition for

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#. Privacy Issues in an Electronic Voting Machine 11

ensuring trustworthiness, including the absence of trapdoors and covert

channels. For practical purposes, no system that functions as a black box, in

which the implementing source code is maintained as a trade secret, can be

known to lack covert channels. Any channel with non-optimal utilization

includes non-utilized content that is potentially malicious rather than merely

accidental — behavior analysis, in principle, cannot distinguish the two.

Of course, free and open source code is not sufficient to prevent covert

channels. Sideband channels, in particular, are never exposed by direct

examination of source code in isolation; it is necessary to perform additional

threat modeling. But even direct encoding of extra information within an

overt channel can sometimes be masked by subtle programming tricks. More

eyes always reduce the risk of tricks hidden in code. Parallel implementation

to open specifications, and message canonicalization also helps restrict

channels to overt content.

A frequent criticism of free and open source software is that, while the

code is available for inspection, no coordinated inspection is actually


21 The absence of Non-Disclosure Agreements and restrictive

intellectual property agreements makes it possible for a large body of open

source developers to inspect the code. Furthermore, in the realm of elections

systems, which are mission-critical for a democratic government, open

source software could benefit from a specific group of developers who are

tasked with recognizing and repairing vulnerabilities. This is a common need

in many open source software projects, and in this sense, it might be an

appropriate role for a non-profit institution that has delivered such services

to other important projects like GNU/Linux, BIND, the Mozilla tool suite

and the Apache web server.

5.2 Privacy in the voting token (e.g., smart card)

The token given to the voter to enable her to use the electronic voting

machine might contain information that could compromise her anonymity.

Indeed, it is not possible to demonstrate the absence of covert channels

through black box testing. Thus, analysis of the software is important to

show how the data for the smart card is assembled. Above, we considered

the benefits of open source software in that numerous people, both inside

and outside the process, have the ability to inspect and test the software to

reduce the likelihood of covert channels. The hardware that enables smart-
card use also includes an interface used by the poll worker (the Voter Sign-
In Station). The nature of that interface limits the type of information that

can be encoded. Encoding the time of day in the smart card, either

intentionally or as a side effect of the process of writing files to the smart

21 Fred Cohen, Is Open Source More or Less Secure? MANAGING NETWORK SECURITY, (July


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12 Chapter #

card, is a potential avenue for attack. However, the electronic voting

machine receiving the smart card knows the time as well, so the smart card

is not needed to convey this information.

We propose to encode in the voting token the ballot type and (particularly

for multiple precincts at the same polling place) the precinct. The smart card

should also be digitally signed by the smart card enabling hardware, so as to

help reduce forgeries.

5.3 Printed ballot

The printed ballot contains a human readable version of the voter’s

selections. After all, that is how it is a voter-verifiable paper ballot.

However, the secrecy of the voter’s selections is at risk while the voter

carries the paper ballot from the electronic voting machine, optionally to the

ballot validation station, and on to the poll worker to cast her ballot.

Our approach is to use a privacy folder to contain the ballot. When the

voter signs in, she receives the token plus an empty privacy folder. When the

EVM prints the ballot, the voter takes the ballot and places it in the privacy

folder, so that only the barcode shows. The barcode can be scanned by the

Ballot Validation Station without exposing the human readable portion of

the ballot. When the privacy folder containing the ballot is given to the poll

worker to be cast, the poll worker turns the privacy folder so the ballot is

face down and then slides the ballot out of the privacy folder and into the

official ballot box. The poll worker thus does not see the text of the ballot,

with the possible exception of precinct and (for primaries) party identifiers

that may be printed in the margin.

The privacy folder is an ordinary manila folder trimmed along the long

edge so that the barcode sticks out.

5.4 Reading impaired interface

The reading impaired interface is used both by voters who cannot read

and by voters who cannot see. Having a segregated electronic voting

machine used only by the reading and visually impaired can compromise

privacy. It is therefore desirable for the electronic voting machines with the

reading impaired interface to be used also by those who can read. For

example, if all electronic voting machines incorporated the reading impaired

interface, then reading impaired voters would not be segregated onto a

subset of the voting machines.

It is important that the ballot not record the fact that a particular ballot

was produced using the reading impaired interface. Nor should the electronic

voting machine record that information for specific ballots. Using a separate

voting station for the reading impaired means that the audit trail is

segregated by whether the voter is reading impaired.

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#. Privacy Issues in an Electronic Voting Machine 13

Nonetheless, it is useful for the electronic voting machine to maintain

some statistics on the use of the reading impaired interface, provided that

these statistics cannot identify specific ballots or voters. These statistics

could be used to improve the user interface, for example.

5.5 Privacy issues with barcodes

The Open Voting Consortium system design uses a barcode to automate

the scanning of paper ballots. Such barcodes raise several possibilities for

introducing covert channels.

The prototype/demo system presented by OVC, for example, used a 1-D

barcode, specifically Code128. For vote encoding, selections were first

converted to a decimal number in a reasonably, but not optimally, efficient

manner; specifically, under the encoding particular digit positions have a

direct relationship to corresponding vote selections. These digits, in turn, are

encoded using the decimal symbology mode of Code128.

Co-author David Mertz identified the problem that even though barcodes

are not per-se human readable, identical patterns in barcodes — especially

near their start and end positions — could be recognized by observers. This

recognition would likely even be unconscious after poll workers saw

hundred of exposed barcodes during a day. For example, perhaps after a

while, a poll worker would notice that known Bush supporters always have

three narrow bars followed by a wide bar at the left of their barcode, while

known Kerry supporters have two wide bars and two narrow bars. To

prevent an attack based on this kind of human bar code recognition, 1-D

barcodes undergo a simple obfuscation of rotating digits by amounts keyed

to a repetition of the random ballot-id. This “keying” is not even weak

encryption—it resembles a Caesar cipher,

22 but with a known key; it merely

makes the same vote look different on different ballots.

In the future, OVC anticipates needing to use 2-D barcodes to

accommodate the information space of complex ballots and ancillary

anonymity-preserving information such as globally unique ballot-IDs and

cryptographic signatures. At this point, we anticipate that patterns in 2-D

barcodes will not be vulnerable to visual recognition; if they are, the same

kind of obfuscation discussed above is straightforward. But the greatly

expanded information space of 2-D barcodes is a vulnerability as well as a

benefit. More bit space quite simply provides room to encode more improper

information. For example, if a given style of barcode encodes 2000 bits of

information, and a particular ballot requires 500 bits to encode, those unused

1500 bits can potentially contain improper information about the voter who

cast the ballot.

22 See http://www.fact-index.com/c/ca/caesar_cipher.html (Last visited February 13, 2005).

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Just because a barcode has room for anonymity-compromising

information does not mean that information is actually encoded there, of

course. Preventing misuse of an available channel requires complementary

steps. Moreover, even a narrow pipe can disclose quite a lot; it only takes

about 10 bits to encode a specific address within a precinct using a lookup

table. Even a relatively impoverished channel might well have room for a

malicious ten bits. For example, if a non-optimal vote encoding is used to

represent votes, it is quite possible that multiple bit-patterns will correspond

to the same votes. The choice among “equivalent” bit patterns might leak


Eliminating barcodes, it should be noted, does not necessarily eliminate

covert channels in a paper ballot. It might, however, increase voter

confidence as average voters become less concerned about covert channels

(which is both good and bad). For example, even a barcode-free printed

ballot could use steganography

23 to encode information in the micro-spacing

between words, or within security watermarks on the page.

5.6 Ballot validation station

The Ballot Validation Station allows reading impaired voters—or

anyone—to hear and therefore validate their paper ballots. Since only the

barcode of the ballot (and possibly the ballot type—the precinct and party

for primaries) is viewable (and as mentioned above, the barcode is

obscured), it is best to keep the paper ballot in the privacy folder. So the

Ballot Validation Station should be able to read the barcode without

removing the paper ballot from the privacy folder. The back of the ballot

should have a barcode (possibly preprinted) saying “please turn over,” so a

Ballot Validation Station will know to tell the blind voter that the ballot is

upside down. So that others will not hear the Ballot Validation Station speak

the choices on the ballot, the voter should hear these choices through


It is useful to know how many times the Ballot Validation Station is used,

and how many consecutive times the same ballot is spoken. It is important to

assure that ballot-IDs are not persistently stored by the Ballot Validation

Station. In particular, to tell how many consecutive times the same ballot

was spoken, the Ballot Validation Station must store the previous ballot-ID.

However, once another ballot with a different ballot-ID is read, then that

new ballot-ID should replace the previous ballot-ID. And the ballot-ID field

should be cleared during the end-of-day closeout. The counts of consecutive

reads of the same ballot should be a vector of counts, and no other ordering

23 Neil F. Johnson and Sushil Jajodia, Steganography: Seeing the Unseen, IEEE COMPUTER

(February 1998) at 26-34.

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#. Privacy Issues in an Electronic Voting Machine 15

information should be maintained. Inspection of the code together with clear

interfaces of persistently maintained records can help assure privacy.

5.7 Languages

Steve Chessin has identified a problem with ballots for non-English

speakers. For the voter, the ballot must be printed in her own language.

However, for canvassing and manual counts, the ballot and its choices must

also be printed in English. However, this approach makes bilingual ballots

easy to identify, and that can compromise ballot anonymity if only a small

number of voters in a given precinct choose a particular language. Steve

Chessin’s solution is to have all ballots contain both English and another

language, where the other language is randomly chosen for English



It is important that the Ballot Validation Station handle multiple

languages so the voter can choose the language for validating the ballot. To

simplify this process, the ballot barcode can include a notation of the second

language, but only if that information does not compromise anonymity.

Always choosing a second language at random where none is specifically

requested reduces the risk. When the ballot’s barcode is scanned by the

Ballot Validation Station, the voter is given a choice of these two languages

for the spoken review of choices listed on the ballot.

5.8 Randomization of ballot-IDs

Under the OVC design, ballots carry ballot-IDs. In our prototype, these

IDs are four digit numbers, which provides enough space for ten thousand

ballots to be cast at a polling place. We anticipate this ballot-ID length to

24 It is important to note that the procedure for randomizing the second, non-English language

printed on a ballot would have to be quite good. Flaws in the randomization or maliciously

planted code could result in the “marking” of certain ballots leading to a compromise of

ballot privacy. A simple solution would be to have all ballots printed only in English, and

requiring non-English literate voters to use the BVA to verify their vote auditorily. As an

alternative for ballots printed only in English, ballot overlays could by provided for each

language needed for each ballot type. The overlay could either be in heavy stock paper

printed with the contest names with holes for the selections to show through, or it could be

a translation sheet showing all the contest names and selections translated into non-English

language. In the former case, the ballots would have to be have the layout of each contest

fixed, so it would be necessary to have extra spaces when the length of the results vary,

such as for pick up to 3 candidates when only 2 were selected. These overlays could be

tethered to every voting machine so that voters who read only a specific language could

simply place the overlay over their ballot so that she could read their selections as if the

ballot was printed in their native language. The overlay approach reduces confusion for

English speakers and it also reduces the length of the printed ballot.

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remain sufficient in production. The main purpose of ballot-IDs is simply to

enable auditing of official paper ballots against unofficial electronic ballot


The crucial feature of ballot-IDs is that they must not reveal any

information about the sequence of votes cast. The prototype and current

reference implementation use Python’s ‘random’ module to randomize the

order of ballot-IDs. The module uses the well-tested Mersenne Twister

algorithm, with a periodicity of 219937–1. Seeding the algorithm with a

good source of truly random data—such as the first few bytes of

/dev/random on modern Linux systems—prevents playback attacks to

duplicate ballot-ID sequences.

Because the ballot-IDs are generated at random by each of the electronic

voting machines, it is important that two machines do not use the same

random ballot-ID. As a result, the first digit (or character) of the ballot-ID in

the reference platform will represent the voting machine ID for that polling


The remaining 3 digits of the ballot-ID are randomly selected from the

range of 000 to 999. A list is maintained of already used ballot-IDs for this

electronic voting machine for this election. (One way to obtain such a list is

to scan the stored electronic ballot images for the ballot numbers used.) If

the random number generated matches an already used ballot-ID, then that

number is skipped and a new random number is generated.

5.9 Information hidden in electronic ballot images and their files

The electronic ballot images (EBIs) are stored on the electronic voting

machine where the ballot was created. One purpose of maintaining these

EBIs is to reconcile them against the paper ballots, to help preclude paper

ballot stuffing. The EBIs are in XML format, which can be interpreted when

printed in “raw” form.

We prefer not to store the EBIs in a database on the electronic voting

machine. A database management system incurs additional complexity,

potential for error, and can contain sequence information that can be used to

identify voters. On the other hand, flat files in XML format would include

the date and time in the file directory, and that is also a potential privacy

risk. We can mitigate this risk by periodically “touching” EBI files

electronically during voting station operation, in order to update the date and

time of all files to the latest time. The placement order of the files on the

disk, however, may still disclose the order of balloting.

Another approach is to store all the EBIs in a single file as if it were an

array. Suppose that it is determined that the largest XML-format EBI is 10K

bytes. Since there are 1000 possible ballot-IDs for this electronic voting

machine, it is possible to create a file with 1000 slots, each of which is 10K

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#. Privacy Issues in an Electronic Voting Machine 17

in length. When the ballot is to be printed, the random ballot-ID is chosen,

and the EBI is placed in that slot in the file, padded to the full 10K in length

with spaces (which would be removed during canonicalization). The file can

be updated in place, thereby having only the latest date and time.

Alternatively, two files can be used, and the electronic voting machine can

write to one, wait for completion, and then write to the other. The benefit of

this approach is increased reliability of persistent storage of the EBI file.

A similar technique can be used to maintain copies of the Postscript versions

of the ballots.

When the polling place closes, the electronic voting machine is changed

to close out the day’s voting. At this time, the EBIs are written as individual

flat files in ascending ballot-ID order to a new session of the CD-R that

already contains the electronic voting machine software and personalization.

Because the EBIs are written all at once, and in order by ascending random

ballot-ID, anonymity is preserved.

5.10 Public vote tallying

It is important that the ballots be shuffled before publicly visible scanning

occurs using the Ballot Reconciliation System. The ballots will naturally be

ordered based on the time they were placed in the ballot box. As described

above, the time or sequence of voting is a potential risk for privacy


An illustration of this problem was reported privately to co-author Arthur

Keller about a supposedly secret tenure vote at a university. Each professor

wrote his or her decision to grant or deny tenure on a piece of paper. The

pieces of paper were collected and placed on top of a pile one-by-one in a

sequence determined by where each person was sitting. The pile was then

turned over and the votes were then read off the ballots in the reverse of that

sequence as they were tallied. One observer noted how each of the faculty

members voted in this supposedly secret vote.

5.11 Results by precinct

A key approach to ensuring the integrity of county (or other district)

canvassing (i.e., vote tallying) is to canvass the votes at the precinct and post

the vote totals by contest at the precinct before sending on the data to the

county. As a crosscheck, the county should make available the vote totals by

contest for each precinct. However, because the county totals include

absentee votes, it is difficult to reconcile the posted numbers at the precinct

against the county’s totals by precinct, unless the county separates out

absentee votes (plus hand-done polling place votes). However providing

these separations may reduce the aggregation size to impair anonymity. An

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even worse threat to anonymity arises when provisional ballots are

incrementally approved and added to the tally one-by-one.

We propose to exclude provisional ballots from the results posted at the

precinct. The county tallies by precinct should be separated into a group of

votes included in the precinct-posted tally and a group of votes not included

in the precinct-posted tally. As long as there is a publicly viewable

canvassing of the votes not included in the precinct-posted tally, the issue of

voter confidence in the system will be addressed. If that canvassing process

involves ballots that have already been separated from the envelope

containing the voter’s identity, privacy is enhanced.

The totals by precinct are aggregate counts for each candidate. There is

no correlation among specific ballots, an important factor to help assure

privacy. However, ranked preference voting schemes, such as instant runoff

voting, require that the ordering of the candidates must be separately

maintained for each ballot. Vote totals are useful to help assure that each

vote was counted, but they do not contain enough information to produce an

absolute majority winner. Therefore, vote totals can be posted at the

precinct — independent of ranking — and those totals can also be posted at

the county. A voter who specifies a write-in candidate for a ranked

preference voting race might in principle be doing so as a marker for

observation during the canvassing process. To ensure anonymity, write-in

candidates whose vote totals are below a certain threshold could be

eliminated from the canvassing process. This threshold must be set to avoid

distortions of aggregate scores at the county level.

5.12 Privacy in the face of voter collusion

Complex cast ballots, taken as a whole, inevitably contain potential

covert channels. We reach a hard limit in the elimination of improper

identifying information once voter collusion is considered. In an ideal case,

voters cooperate in the protection of their own anonymity; but threats of vote

coercion or vote buying can lead voters to collaborate in disclosing—or

rather, proving—their own identity. It is, of course, the right of every voter

to disclose her own votes to whomever she likes; but such disclosure must

not be subject to independent verifications that attack voter anonymity as a


Elections with many contests, with write-ins allowed, or with

information-rich ranked preference contests, implicitly contain extra fields in

which to encode voter identity. For example, if an election contains eight

judicial retention questions, there are at least 6561 possible ways to complete

a ballot, assuming Yes, No, and No Preference are all options for each

question. Very few precincts will have over 6561 votes cast within them, so

a systematic vote buyer could demand that every voter cast a uniquely

identifying vote pattern on judicial retentions. That unique pattern, plus the

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#. Privacy Issues in an Electronic Voting Machine 19

precinct marked on a ballot, in turn, could be correlated with a desired vote

for a contested office.

Ballots may not generally be completely separated into records by each

individual contest. For recounts or other legal challenges to elections, it is

generally necessary to preserve full original ballots, complete with correlated

votes. Of course it is physically possible to cut apart the contest regions on a

paper ballot, or to perform a similar separation of contests within an EBI.

However, doing so is not generally permissible legally.

The best we can do is to control the disclosure of full ballots to mandated

authorities, and maintain the chain of custody over the ballots, including the

EBIs. A full ballot must be maintained, but only aggregations of votes, per

contest, are disclosed to the general public. The number of people who have

access to full ballots should be as limited as feasible, and even people with

access to some full ballots should not necessarily be granted general access

to all full ballots.

5.13 Privacy in electronic voting machines with

voter-verifiable paper audit trails

This section discusses other approaches to voter-verifiable paper audit

trails. These issues do not apply to the design described in this paper ─ the

voter-verifiable paper ballot.


Rebecca Mercuri has proposed that Direct Recording Electronic voting

machines have a paper audit trail that is maintained under glass, so the voter

does not have the opportunity to touch it or change it.

26 Some vendors are

proposing that paper from a spool be shown to the voter, and if the ballot is

verified, a cutter will release the paper audit trail piece to drop into the box

for safekeeping.

27 The challenge with this approach is to make sure that all

of the paper audit trail is readable by the voter and does not curl away out of

view, and yet that paper audit trails from previous voters are obscured from

view. Furthermore, there is the problem that the paper audit trail would fall

in a more-or-less chronologically ordered pile. It is also difficult to reconcile

the paper audit trail with the electronic ballot images in an automated

manner if the paper audit trail cannot be sheet-fed.

25 See http://evm2003.sourceforge.net/security.html for the difference between a paper receipt

and a paper ballot, and between a paper audit trail and an electronically generated paper

ballot. 26 Rebecca Mercuri, A Better Ballot Box?, IEEE SPECTRUM ONLINE (October 2002), available

http://spectrum.ieee.org/WEBONLY/publicfeature/oct02/evot.html 27 For
reference, see Avanti VOTE-TRAKKERTMEVC308, available at


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Another approach is to keep the paper audit trail on a continuous spool.


While this approach has the potential to allow the audit trail to be more

easily scanned in an automated fashion for reconciliation, privacy is

compromised by maintaining an audit trail of the cast ballots in

chronological order. We described above why maintaining order information

is a problem for privacy.


We have described the Open Voting Consortium’s voting system that

includes a PC-based open-source voting machine with a voter-verifiable

accessible paper ballot, and discussed the privacy issues inherent in this

system. By extension, many of the privacy issues in this paper also apply to

other electronic voting machines, such as Direct Recording Electronic voting

machines. The discussion illustrates why careful and thorough design is

required for voter privacy. Even more work would be required to ensure that

such systems are secure and reliable.


We acknowledge the work of the volunteers of the Open Voting Consortium

who contributed to the design and implementation we describe. In particular,

Alan Dechert developed much of the design and Doug Jones provided

significant insights into voting issues. The demonstration software was

largely developed by Jan Kärrman, John-Paul Gignac, Anand Pillai, Eron

Lloyd, David Mertz, Laird Popkin, and Fred McLain. Karl Auerbach wrote

an FAQ on which the OVC system description is based. Amy Pearl also

contributed to the system description. Kurt Hyde and David Jefferson gave

valuable feedback. David Dill referred some of the volunteers.

An extended abstract of this paper appeared at the Workshop on Privacy

in the Electronic Society on October 28, 2004 in Washington DC, part of

ACM CCS 2004 (Conference on Computer and Communications Security).

Other papers on this topic are at http://www-db.stanford.edu/pub/keller

under electronic voting. More information on the Open Voting Consortium

may be found at http://www.openvotingconsortium.org.

28 Press Release, Sequoia Voting Systems, Sequoia Voting Systems Announces Plan to Market

Optional Voter Verifiable Paper Record Printers for Touch Screens in 2004,

available at http://www.sequoiavote.com/article.php?id=54

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