OnlinePrimary: a Showcase of Naivete

Somebody wake me up: I can’t believe that anybody, especially ReadWriteWeb would buy this:,  an effort to to provide a simple, Internet-based system to demonstrate how the US presidential primaries, and later the elections can be handled easily:

“I don’t understand why the straightforward process of casting and tallying votes should require special-purpose machines costing tens of thousands of dollars each, from companies so suspect of fraud and incompetence that they have to change their names (as Diebold Election Systems recently did) to hide from the shame.”

Richard at ReadWriteWeb is somewhat doubtful himself, noting:

In my tests, OnlinePrimary turned out to be a basic website form and still a little buggy (an SQL error popped up after I entered my selections)

Richard, it’s really not about the bugs; it’s the very concept itself.  Anyone can create a webform to collect data – it does not demonstrate anything.  The issue with electronic voting is not how to capture data.  I am by far not an expert, but I think the critical issues all boil down to these points:

  • Identification / Verification of who votes (did not ask for any)
  • How many times can you vote (I just voted twice)
  • Can your vote be tampered with (sure…)

Plain and simple.  Not so plain and simple to resolve. And this simple webform does not attempt to address any of these issues.  This is what we ended up with at an event with much smaller scale… I’m sure you as co-host of the Crunchies also experienced some issues… would the Presidential elections invite a thousand times more fraud attempts?

Update (2/5): Not that there’s much verification in real life, either…


  1. I agree Zoli, the biggest problem is identification. However, once identification is solved, then voting twice is easier to get a handle on (make sure ID doesn’t vote twice) and there’ll always be fraud attempts. At least with a web-based voting platform we could potentially release the vote tallies to the public in real-time to show there was no fraud.

  2. You raise a fair issue, Zoli. But it’s not naivete that has kept from addressing the issues of voter identification and non-duplication. It’s lack of ability to leverage the machinery of the state. In the OLP illustration, one must assume the ID and non-duplication problem could and would be solved (as Adam suggests) via some state-assigned unique and non-predictable ID at the time of voter registration. (I use UUIDs in the OnlinePrimary illustration, but assign them at the time of voting rather than in a preliminary registration step.) A more troublesome design issue for me is preserving the auditability of the system while strictly separating the voter’s unique ID from the votes cast by that ID. The intent of OnlinePrimary is to stimulate community dialogue on how to solve such issues as you raise, not to present a fait-acompli solution (though I’d love to present one if I had it all figured out).

  3. onepersonsopinion says

    One cannot touch this market without seasoned political experience and an insiders understanding of all the various stakeholders’ interests. Unfortunately, one cannot travel down this path if one is unprepared to learn some very unpleasant realities while getting “muddied” along the way. sorry, but it just ain’t what it seems.


  1. […] Erdos, having read about OnlinePrimary on ReadWriteWeb, has branded it a “showcase of naivete.” An excerpt: I think the critical issues all boil down to these […]

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