Electronic Voting (17-803, 17-400)


Wednesdays, 3:00-5:50 p.m., Wean 4601

Fall Semester, starting September 15, 2004



Course Overview

This course, which overlaps the November 2004 election, will review all the principal methods of electronic voting with an emphasis on reliability, security, auditability and human factors.  Included are punched cards, optical scan, direct-recording electronic (DRE) and Internet voting systems.  Particular attention will be paid to methods of tampering elections and corresponding countermeasures.

After the punched-card disaster in Florida in 2000, the U.S. has been rushing to replace old voting equipment with direct-recording electronic (DRE) machines (sometimes incorrectly lumped together as “touchscreens”).  Recent examination of these machines by computer security experts has revealed significant security vulnerabilities, leading to a call by some computer scientists to either discontinue use of such machines or equip them with a printing device that would enable the voter to see a paper record of how she had voted before leaving the voting booth.  This “voter-verifiable paper trail” idea has polarized the voting community, leading to bills in Congress and in some states to require it but with vendors, election officials and public advocacy groups strongly in opposition. 

Each meeting will be devoted to a technical lecture followed by an hour of general discussion.  The course is open to juniors, seniors and graduates students.  Students from outside SCS are welcome.  No advanced technical background is required except for the security and cryptography topics.  Each student will participate in a team project, with a presentation to be made on the last day of the course.  Grading will be based on class participation, the project paper and a final exam.  There will be assigned readings but no midterm or written homework.  This course counts as an elective in the Computation, Organizations and Society (COS) Ph.D. program.


Michael I. Shamos, Ph.D., J.D, Distinguished Career Professor in the School of Computer Science.  Dr. Shamos was statutory examiner of computerized voting systems for Pennsylvania from 1980-2000 and for Texas from 1987-2000, examining over 100 different voting systems.  He has testified before several state legislatures and three committees of Congress regarding electronic voting, was on the SERVE Project Review Group for internet voting and is now a member of the National Research Council Electronic Voting Workshop and the AAAS Electronic Voting Technologies Workshop.  He has been an expert witness in three recent lawsuits involving electronic voting: Wexler v. Lepore in Florida, Benavidez v. Shelley in California and Schade v. Maryland State Board of Elections and was the author in 1993 of “Electronic Voting — Evaluating the Threat” and in 2004 of “Paper v. Electronic Voting Records — An Assessment,” both presented at the ACM Conference on Computers, Freedom & Privacy. 

Administrative Information

The course meets once a week on Wednesdays 3:00 - 5:50 p.m., Wean 4601.


There is no textbook.  No overview of electronic voting systems has ever been published.  Internet readings will be assigned. The instructor has created a list of links for this course that you may find useful. 

Course Syllabus

Session 1 - INTRODUCTION TO VOTING (Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2004)  History of voting from the American colonies to the present day.  Paper ballots, lever machines, computerized voting.  How elections are conducted.  Balloting and voting concepts: voter registration, undervotes, overvotes, write-ins, ballot rotation, voter intent. Early voting, absentee voting, provisional voting.  Audit requirements, disabled accessibility, languages requirements.  The Help America Vote act of 2002 (HAVA).  Voting equipment standards, qualification, certification and testing.  Choice of student projects.  View SLIDES.  View LECTURE.

Reading: A Brief Illustrated History of Voting and Voting on Paper Ballots, by Doug Jones, University of Iowa.

Session 2 - PAPER TRAIL SYSTEMS (Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2004)  A brief introduction to paper trails and the problems they are intended to solve.  The Avante, Accupoll and Populex systems.  This will provide background for Prof. Dill's lecture at 4:30 p.m. in McConomy Auditorium, which we will all attend.  View SLIDES.  View LECTURE.

Reading: Paper v. Electronic Voting Records -- An Assessment, by Michael Shamos.

Session 3 - PUNCHED-CARD SYSTEMS (Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2004) – Punched cards are not dead.  They will be used by about 14% of the U.S. in the 2004 election.  The rise and fall of a bad voting method.  The rationale for punched cards.  Chads, butterfly ballots, methods of rigging.  Counting problems, lack of reproducibility. View SLIDES.  View LECTURE.

Readings: Chad -- From waste product to headlines, by Doug Jones.

Session 4 - OPTICAL SCAN VOTING (Wednesday, October 6, 2004) – The most common voting method in the U.S. (34% in 2004).  Ballot marking problems.  Determining voter intent.  Scanning problems: inks, timing marks, paper reflectivity, spectral sensitivity.  Methods of rigging.  View SLIDES.  View LECTURE.

Reading: Counting Mark-Sense Ballots, by Doug Jones,. University of Iowa.  This is the most thorough discussion of the topic there is.  It deserves your full attention.

Session 5 - DIRECT RECORDING ELECTRONIC (DRE) MACHINES (Wednesday, October 13, 2004) – Components of a DRE system.  Full face v. paged ballots.  Vote storage and transport.  Software production and distribution, open source issues.  The Hart Intercivic eSlate System.  View SLIDES.  View LECTURE (part 1).  View LECTURE (part 2).  Audit trail from voting machine.  Audit trail from judge's unit.  Tabulated vote totals.

Reading: Electronic Voting -- Evaluating the Threat, by Michael Shamos; Testing Voting Systems, by Doug Jones.


Session 6 - THE DIEBOLD REPORTS (Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2004) –  A discussion of the vulnerabilities in the Diebold touchscreen system as reported by Avi Rubin and his colleagues in Analysis of an Electronic Voting System (2004) and the SAIC and RABA reports.  View SLIDES.  View LECTURE.

Readings: Read the three reports, then the judge's opinion in Schade v. Maryland State Bd. of Elections, in which the certification of Diebold was challenged.


Session 7 - TABULATION, RECOUNTS AND CONTESTS (Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2004) – How votes are tabulated and reported.  When do recounts occur?  How is the result of an election challenged?  View SLIDES.  View LECTURE.

Reading: Recounts and Other Remedies, by Dan Tokaji (Moritz College of Law)

Session 8 - THE 2004 ELECTION (Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2004) – Analysis and discussion of events and anomalies that took place in last week's election.  View SLIDES.  View spreadsheet from Election Incident Reporting System (large -- over 1400 lines).  View LECTURE.

Reading: Examine Google News using queries such as "electronic voting" to get a feeling for how the election went.  Also take a look at this collection of news stories, which will be updated regularly.  Bring up specific incidents in class for discussion.

Session 9 - VOTING SYSTEM SECURITY (To be rescheduled) – Ballot encryption and checksums, digital signatures.  Internal auditing and redundancy mechanisms, ROMs, write-once systems.  Voter privacy.  Cryptographic techniques leading to universal verifiability of elections.  Mix nets, homomorphic encryption, zero-knowledge voting, Paillier schemes, threshold methods.

Session 10 - CRYPTOGRAPHIC METHODS (Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2004) – Guest lecture and demonstration by Andrew Berg of VoteHere.  At noon, Andy Neff, Chief Scientist of VoteHere, will give the ISRI seminar on the subject "Trustworthy Electronic Election Results without Trusted Machines" in Wean 4623.  View SLIDES.  View LECTURE.


Session 11 - INTERNET VOTING (Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2004) – Lorrie Cranor's SENSUS system, Project SERVE, Canton of Geneva.  View SLIDES.  View LECTURE.

Reading: Sensus (Lorrie Cranor), Security Analysis of SERVE (Jefferson et al.)

Session 12 - STUDENT PRESENTATIONS (Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2004).  Project presentations by student groups.  Course wrap-up.  Each group should give a 15-minute PowerPoint presentation of and discussion of results obtained and conclusions drawn, suggestions for further study.  Final exam handed out.  Final exam due Dec. 12 at 11.59 p.m.  View SLIDES.