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crypto and public policy

Voting: The Beginning of a Revolution

Filed under: Security & Crypto — December 11, 2005 @ 6:05 pm

I spent this past Thursday and Friday meeting with Andy Neff of VoteHere. We discussed the details of his latest ideas for verifiable voting, and he asked me to help him with the write-up and framing of the issues. These will all be published in the near future, just like the rest of Andy’s protocols and code.

Over the next few weeks and months, I’m going to dedicate this blog to explaining why this is a big deal. The short story is this: for a few years now, cryptographic voting has theoretically promised a radically new type of election. An election where you, the individual voter, can verify that your vote has been counted correctly. Not just recorded correctly. Counted correctly. All the way from filling out your ballot to generating a tally. The problem is, this level of verifiability has been, historically, prohibitively inefficient and simply too difficult to use. Andy’s earlier work (2001) addressed the efficiency issues. Andy’s latest ideas address the usability issues. Truly verifiable elections are now a very real possibility.

More on this in the next few weeks. For now, what’s needed is complete disclosure, because I suspect my writing will ruffle some feathers. I have no financial interest in VoteHere. I have never been offered financial interest in VoteHere, and, if it were to be offered, I would refuse it. I welcome any challenge to these ideas. I encourage readers to keep an open mind and ask questions, either via comments or private email.

As a final note for now, here’s the email I sent yesterday to Andy and Jim (VoteHere’s President):

From:    ben
Subject: Thoughts on my visit and what comes next
Date:    December 10, 2005 1:04:55 PM EST
To:      Andy, Jim

Andy, Jim,

Thanks for having me over these past 2 days, it’s been a fantastically interesting time. I want to restate that I find Andy’s latest stream of enhancements fascinating and impressive. Each is independently impressive, but taken together, they amount to a real revolution in voting. I’m excited about what you’ve accomplished, and I would like to help get the word out about my most important conclusion: as of Andy’s latest improvements, I believe cryptographic voting is now truly usable and, thus, inherently superior, in every respect, to other voting techniques. What is needed now is significant work in explaining this to the research and election communities.

I think it’s going to be very difficult. It has been, and it will continue to be. This is an enormous education project, one that entails explaining to many truly well-intentioned people that their intuition about technology and information is wrong. The only way to accomplish this is through extensive education at all levels, a great deal of patience, and an extreme amount of openness. The critics must be answered carefully and patiently. There’s nothing to fear about this public debate, because the facts are on the side of cryptographic voting.

In the spirit of openness, I’m going to begin blogging my thoughts publicly at I will be fully upfront about the facts and my motivations: I believe cryptographic voting is the best way, by far, to give voters confidence in the system. The facts are that you guys paid for the bare essentials of my trip out to Seattle (

Also important is that, if I believe you guys are in the wrong at some point, I will state so without restraint. Alternatively, if another company or research group comes up with similarly powerful technology, I will endorse them as much as I endorse you. Of course, none of this should come to you as a surprise, because I will always be upfront with you, too.

There is an opportunity here to revolutionize the verifiability of our voting systems and the confidence of the electorate in their democratic process. This opportunity requires careful and open collaboration, because the critics will be harsh, numerous, and unfair. At the same time, the potential benefit of this technology is too fantastic to pass up.

It behooves us to teach others and to get the word out. This is simply too darn important.


PS: feel free to forward this letter to fellow employees. I will also post it on my blog.

UPDATE: I edited the email addresses in the email above so that they wouldn’t be available to spam crawlers.

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