Postal ballots and security

April 18th, 2005

With a UK general election only a couple of weeks away now the media is once again highlighting the flaws and security implications surrounding postal ballots. A High Court judge investigated allegations of postal vote-rigging in Birmingham's local elections, and concluded that the city's Labour party was involved in electoral fraud.

Can a postal voting system be secret (as a ballot is) and secure from fraud?

I can't see how. In a polling station there is a great deal of control over the ballot papers - ballot papers are handed out one at a time and in a controlled manner. They are filled in in secret and away from political influence. They are then placed in a ballot box and the voter leaves. The postal balloting system, especially a widespread postal system, makes fraud much easier.

The first, and I think most serious flaw in the system is that you have valid ballot papers in circulation for days before an election. This gives anyone wanting to have access to the ballot papers more time - if the ballot papers were only in circulation for a few days before an election it would be harder for those wanting to intercept them or alter them to gain access, or at the very least they would have to work harder.

Another problem with postal voting is that the ballots are identical to the ballots used in the polling station, increasing the risk that the unused ballots could be intercepted and then deposited in a ballot box later by someone else (a technique known as ballot stuffing).

There was also evidence of ballot tampering - ballot papers that had had votes covered up with liquid paper and then another vote applied - this indicates a failure on the part of the people counting the vote as this should clearly be a spoilt ballot. Should ballot papers include anti-tampering features? Probably.

Finally, it's an issue of education - people should know what to do with their ballots. They should know that they need to fill them in properly and get them back in the mail as soon as possible. Handing them to a party member calling at the door is just plain silly. Voters need to understand the value of their vote (if not to them but to others) and treat it with the respect that it deserves - an uphill struggle in a country where there is so much apathy among the electorate.

There is no doubt that the postal voting system is open to abuse. When it was only a few people that used it the risk of fraud was much lower (in that fraudsters wouldn't know where to target) but now with postal voting becoming a tool to combat apathy and some areas trialing all-postal elections (although not for the general election) the scope for fraud is increased dramatically.

Some methods that would help limit postal balloting fraud include:

- Limiting how long postal ballots are in circulation for.
- Introducing tampering countermeasures for ballot papers and envelopes
- Making postal voting ballots different to polling station ballots
- Opening the polling stations for a few days rather then for one day, this would limit the need for postal voting
- Educate voters as to what to do with their postal ballot
- Stiffer penalties for postal voting fraud

Spam containment

April 18th, 2005

This is an interesting article on CNN. One interesting quote:

"EarthLink Inc., for instance, is phasing in a requirement that customers' mail programs submit passwords before it will send out their e-mail."

Hmmm, this makes it sound like authentication to send email is a new thing - it's not. In fact, almost all email applications support SMTP authentication, it's just that ISPs don't support it. Why? Probably cost. Why are some ISPs putting such controls in place now? Probably cost.

The combination of outgoing authentication followed by network limits on the amount of email that can be sent in a day (how many people actually need the ability to send more than 100 emails a day?) are the best ways of preventing spam - placing the controls at the outbox rather than the inbox means that spam will be effectively stopped at source.

Dell still Intel only

April 18th, 2005

"Yet again AMD is poised to beat Intel to market with cutting-edge chip technology. But even though some customers are calling for Dell to use AMD processors, Dell -- the lone holdout among hardware makers -- has a strong incentive to pass."

Yahoo! News

I've been watching this for a while - one moment Dell seems to be warming to AMD and then it's icy cold again ... and people ask why?

I think it has a lot to do with lines - as far as Dell is concerned Intel has chips that do almost everything that the AMD Opteron does (OK, maybe not as well, but well enough). This is reason enough for Dell to hold back on expanding product lines. The more lines on offer the more stock it has to hold onto and the more products it has to support. I can see that for a big company like Dell keeping things simple is a route to staying No 1 and keeping profits as high as possible. Diversifying has risks and they know it.

Adobe to buy Macromedia

April 18th, 2005

The news is that Adobe is to buy Macromedia for $3.4 billion.

"Adobe Systems Incorporated (Nasdaq: ADBE) has announced a definitive agreement to acquire Macromedia (Nasdaq: MACR) in an all-stock transaction valued at approximately $3.4 billion. Under the terms of the agreement, which has been approved by both boards of directors, Macromedia stockholders will receive, at a fixed exchange ratio, 0.69 shares of Adobe common stock for every share of Macromedia common stock in a tax-free exchange. Based on Adobe’s and Macromedia’s closing prices on Friday April 15, 2005, this represents a price of $41.86 per share of Macromedia common stock.

The combination of Adobe and Macromedia strengthens our mission of helping people and organizations communicate better. Through the combination of our powerful development, authoring and collaboration tools – and the complementary functionality of PDF and Flash – we have the opportunity to drive an industry-defining technology platform that delivers compelling, rich content and applications across a wide range of devices and operating systems. "

Adobe press release here.

I can see why they are doing this - in fact, I'm surprised it took so long since the two companies were producing complimentary products.

Not sure where this will lead though - will it made Adobe products cheaper or more expensive.

Beginning Programming – The Book!

April 18th, 2005

A few minutes ago the guy from the Royal Mail just came to the door and handed me a massive brown box from Indianapolis - this could only mean one thing - Comps!

And I was right - these are the comp copies for our (Kathie and I) latest book to come out of Wrox/Wiley - "Beginning Programming".

I still get a buzz from ripping open a box that contains comps and seeing the final product! I've had a quick thumb through one and the quality is exactly what I've come to expect from Wiley - excellent. There are some great people working there, some of which I get to work with a lot and get to know quite well and others that just come in, fix problems and disappear and I'd like to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved in this title.

For more information on this book visit http://www.kingsley-hughes.com/books.

Available in all good bookstores! 😉

(Note - Comps, or complimentary copies are copies of the book that the publisher sends the author so that they actually have a few copies of the book and can give a few to people around them so that they actually believe that they did indeed write a book! I wonder how many authors would have a copy of their own books if they weren't given a few? Another oddity of comps is noticing how much further they go the older I get ...)

End transmission!