463: Voting Machines

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Voting Machines
And that's *another* crypto conference I've been kicked out of. C'mon, it's a great analogy!
Title text: And that's *another* crypto conference I've been kicked out of. C'mon, it's a great analogy!


In the 2008 Ohio primary elections, there were numerous problems with electronic voting machines, which eventually required many districts to revert to pen and paper. Premier Election Solutions, the company that handled the machines, blamed these problems on McAfee anti-virus software.

It is not uncommon to see computer software contract stipulating that the vendor will warrant that software and systems delivered will not contain any viruses or malicious code — a knee-jerk reaction to this is for novice management to include virus-scanning software for systems which otherwise are closed. From a computer programming standpoint, having anti-virus software on an electronic voting machine doesn't make sense because the machine shouldn't be accessing the Internet in a way that would leave it open to virus attacks. While there are a lot of ways that viruses can propagate, ultimately the computer still has to download an executable file and run it, which is something that no election machine should do in normal operation. Hence the question is whether the voting machine manufacturer has taken the proper precaution preventing any external access.

Ideally, voting machines (as well as ATMs and other single-purpose appliances) should be embedded systems, incapable of doing the things that might necessitate anti-virus software. However, in practice such devices are more commonly built as application programs running on ordinary Windows PCs (inside of custom-shaped cases), and they download software updates over the internet.

The comic makes an analogy to a teacher who reassures you that he always wears a condom when teaching. While a condom could be considered "protection", and therefore a good thing, common sense dictates that teachers should never end up in a situation where wearing a condom in school would be useful; this parallels the idea that while security in the form of anti-virus software on voting machines could also be considered protection and a good thing, it should never be required. The comment is more likely to make people worried about why the condom is there and what purpose it's serving. Similarly, informed people might worry why a voting machine is connecting to the internet.

In panel one, both the facepalm and "You're doing it wrong" are Internet memes, used to mock someone who made a foolish mistake.

The title text refers to 153: Cryptography.


Premier Election Solutions (formerly Diebold) has blamed Ohio voting machine errors on problems with the machines' McAfee antivirus software.
[Cueball is sitting at a computer, facepalming.]
Cueball: Wait. "Antivirus software"? On voting machines? You're doing it wrong.
[Cueball's friend enters the frame and speaks to Cueball.]
Friend: Why? Security is good, right?
Cueball: Of course. But, well—
Cueball: Imagine you're at a parent-teacher conference, and the teacher reassures you that he always wears a condom while teaching.
Friend: Ah. Strictly speaking, it's better than the alternative—
Cueball: —Yet someone is clearly doing their job horribly wrong.

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What's incomplete? 04:13, 8 March 2014 (UTC)

It seems fine to me. Removing the incomplete tag. LogicalOxymoron (talk) 23:19, 12 March 2014 (UTC)

What's "the alternative"? 20:55, 16 June 2014 (UTC)

I believe when the alternate Cueball references "the alternative" he has already realized what the first Cueball meant. Cueball 2 I'll call him, is thus referencing the alternative is no protection or security. I don't believe Cueball 2 is directly referencing the 'teacher wearing a condom analogy'. Official.xian (talk) 19:59, 10 July 2014 (UTC)
I think the alternative is the teacher being raped at school. That's right, Jacky720 just signed this (talk | contribs) 22:05, 12 May 2017 (UTC)
Other way around dude, other way around. Anonymous 00:05, 19 August 2018 (UTC)
It's not necessarily that the teacher is raping the students, but it does indicate the teacher might be having sex at school (for instance, with another colleague). -- 13:37, 22 May 2021 (UTC)

Ideally, there should be no voting machines. Here in Germany, we make a cross on a paper and put that paper in an urn. Counting is done manually under supervision. Voting machines are illegal for a reason. :) -- 15:05, 27 September 2015 (UTC)