FAQs

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Is ElmoVotes as secure as the voting systems it defends?

Answer: Yes, and its security is actively being improved! ElmoVotes is a fork of the Open Source software developed by and for the Carter Center, called “Elmo/Nemo”. Customized for use in the United States, hardened against nation-state level hackers, and extended to provide news and wire services real-time summaries of detected problems along with their physical locations, ElmoVotes employs blockchain technology to ensure the preservation and availability of raw data in the face of determined attempts to exploit even zero-day vulnerabilities in the data collection and dissemination processes.

What parts of ElmoVotes exist today?

Answer: As of the beginning of September 2019, ElmoVotes is a new fork of Elmo/Nemo on GitHub, augmented with some new demonstration “forms” that will be the basis of state-by-state and mission-by-mission customizations for data collection. Work is progressing on development/demonstration sites hosted by Digital Ocean and Amazon Web Services, as well as a WordPress based informative blog, wiki, timeline, and discussion site. Development is being professionally managed using Atlassian JIRA and Confluence to handle the complexities of multiple interacting coding and documentation projects, including the projects involved in producing materials to train poll observers and summary result interpreters such as newsroom reporters and editors.

What kinds of information does ElmoVotes collect today?

Answer: Currently ElmoVotes collects reports of polling location irregularities (e.g. missing or non-functional machines, voting-participation denial, delayed opening or premature closing of polls), documents waiting times for voters, and captures illegal electioneering events at the polls. Reports include descriptive text, and optional voice and video captures, in addition to time- and location-stamped authentication. Summaries can be produced over selected geographical areas, time periods, and report types, with validated, curated, and raw data as inputs. Customizable alerts (email, messaging, and web popups) can be generated by automated reported-forms monitoring software, to assist in realtime validation and curation.

How can that information defend against election tampering?

Answer: ElmoVotes does more than just document and store descriptions of voting irregularity incidents. We are producing support for near-real-time analysis of the incidents that can be used by news services, and securing the collected data with blockchain technology so that it is tamper-proof and non-repudiable, for it to be used in any legal challenges resulting from a particular election. Summaries of reported incidents can be produced over selected geographical areas, time periods, and report types, with validated, curated, and raw data as inputs. These summaries can be generated with real-time data during the voting process. Customizable alerts (email, messaging, and web popups) can be generated by automated reported-forms monitoring software, to assist in realtime validation and curation. Customized alerts for public consumers will be possible in the current development timeframe.

What needs to happen to deploy ElmoVotes as protection for the 2020 primaries?

Answer: Each primary demands a customized set of reporting questions, polling place descriptions, and summary reports be developed before the primaries. For training purposes, much of this customization must occur before training the cohorts of “enumerators” (poll watchers) and the cadre managing those cohorts of data collectors. Expanding the ElmoVotes demonstration server to scale for expected input rates at peak operation times, and adding a stand-alone summary-report generating server to utilize the data collection/validation/curation/publication pipeline would also imply new and more robust static operational and performance-under-load testing before we could trust the production use of such a complex system.

Also, poll watchers must be provided with cell phone-based apps that allow them to select reporting forms, fill them out, store them for as long as necessary, and forward them securely to the centralized ElmoVotes cloud service. These apps exist currently, but would need to be distributed to the collectors in a secure and verifiable fashion.

Finally, news services will need to be trained to the tools we make available to them for summarizing the reported data, and for alerting them to unusually high concentrations of incidents.

How could ElmoVotes be expanded to defend against cheating in the 2020 general?

Answer: Time and resource constraints will likely dictate that ElmoVotes deployment during the primaries be constrained to selected states or areas. Expanding the cohorts of poll watchers and their management cadre will require expanding the training materials and staff, significantly. Additionally, all the forms will need to be updated for the national elections, and the list of polling places will require re-validation.

Because the national elections will entail significantly higher data volume, the ElmoVotes servers will need to be expanded with load balancers, parallel database backends, and summary generating servers, in order to handle the query load. Further analysis may also suggest geographically dispersed content aggregators, which implies synchronizing the databases from each geographic area.

The increase in complexity and required performance would demand more sophisticated validation testing and performance testing, compared to the more limited primary election deployments.