Articles

Heads Or Tails Voting: A Secret Ballot In Plain Sight

In internet, voting on December 30, 2009 by edmundintokyo

It would be useful if people could vote secretly from home. If we could do this right, we could do all kinds of things to improve our political systems.

The problem is that if someone is voting outside a secure voting booth, we can’t be sure that someone isn’t watching how they vote. If someone can watch how you vote, they can bribe or pressure you to vote in the way they want. Some people have concluded that it’s impossible to have a secret ballot using online voting.

Heads Or Tails Voting gives you a secret ballot in plain sight. The voter has a single secret piece of information which is never displayed on their computer screen: Whether they are a Heads Voter or a Tails Voter. Using this secret, they can vote without anyone ever knowing how they voted – even if someone was looking over their shoulder as they did it.

Here’s how it works.

Registration

  • You register in a secure booth. Like an existing voting booth, only one person is allowed in at a time, and you have to prove who you are before you are allowed to use it.
  • Using the computer in the booth, you create a login name and password that you will be able to use from your PC or mobile phone.
  • The computer randomly chooses either Heads or Tails, and tells you which it chose. This information is stored in the voting database along with your password, and no-one else knows whether your are a Heads Voter or a Tails Voter.
  • You only have to visit the booth once, unless you forget whether you are a Heads Voter or a Tails Voter. Everything else can be done from your PC or your phone.

Voting (Yes or No)

  • Log into the voting website using your login name and password.
  • The screen shows the choices for Heads Voters on one side and Tails Voters on the other side.

A Yes/No Question

  • If you are a Heads Voter, click the top checkbox to vote “Yes” or the bottom checkbox to vote “No”.
  • If you are a Tails Voter, click the top checkbox to vote “No” or the bottom checkbox to vote “Yes”.

Voting (Ranking Multiple Choices)

  • Log into the voting website using your login name and password.
  • The screen shows the candidates arranged in a random order.

Ranking multiple=
(Click for a demo.)

  • Rearrange the order of the candidates by dragging their names to the left or right.
  • If you are a Heads Voter, put your favourite candidate on the left and your least favourite candidate on the right.
  • If you are a Tails Voter, put your favourite candidate on the right and your least favourite candidate on the left.

What Happens If…

  • If you forget whether you are a Heads Voter or a Tails Voter, you can go back to the registration booth and find out.
  • If someone tries to force you to vote the way they want, you can trick them by lying about whether you are a Heads Voter or a Tails Voter, and make your actual votes go to whoever you think will annoy them the most.
  • If someone steals your login name and password, they’ll have to guess whether you are a Heads Voter or a Tails Voter. Since they only have a 50/50 chance of guessing right, they will be as likely to hurt their chosen candidate as help them.
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3 Responses to “Heads Or Tails Voting: A Secret Ballot In Plain Sight”

  1. That’s nifty!

    One issue about the the multiple candidate ranking case. Suppose somebody is leaning on me to rank Brown first. I’d like to put Brown second behind Clegg. In this case, I still can’t get what I want and appease him. Not a huge problem, obviously, and maybe it serves Brown right for having thuggish supporters.

  2. Right – and a worse example of the same problem is that most people will want to put the extreme-right candidate – in the British example it would be the BNP – last. To effectively bluff your thuggish Brown-supporter, you’re going to have to put the BNP first, which isn’t really what you want.

    It works best if spying on someone is rare enough that when it does happen, you can afford to throw out your original preferences and concentrate on frustrating the thug. The hope would be that by making thuggery counterproductive, it would become rare enough that people would be OK with that.

    An alternative that would work better for the situation you describe would be to let people create dummy voting accounts that looked exactly the same as real ones, but didn’t actually do anything. (You’d set this in the secure booth, so no-one else would know which one was real.) You’d do exactly what the thug told you with your dummy account, then go back later with your real one and vote how you wanted.

  3. [...] I’ve run into a couple problems related to things like online voting and payment escrow and where I wanted to be able to provide a hosted service for something, that [...]

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