Posted inTechnology

Hacking the Vote

Election Day is every American citizen’s chance to vote their conscience. We can vote to support the distinguished ladies and gentlemen that represent us in the halls of power. Or we can participate in a perfectly legal and binding coup d’etat and vote the bums outta office.

That’s a lot of power at the end of our fingertips, but that’s exactly where that power belongs. The “will of the people” should be the only thing that decides an election, whether it be presidential, congressional, or even student council. Unfortunately, this ideal has become much more difficult to guarantee due to the proliferation of and reliance on electronic voting machines throughout the country.

Let’s think about that for a second… “Electronic Voting Machine” is just a fancy name for a computer. It might be the hi-tech touch screen that directly records your vote, or it might just be the scanner that tabulates your paper ballot. So it has all of the vulnerabilities that any other computer might have… There might be accidental bugs in the software. Or maybe a developer is paid to insert a not-so-accidental piece of code in the program. The hardware may malfunction. Or a piece of equipment, storage medium, or trusted network might be compromised by an outside virus or other malware.

Surely, the government is intimately involved in the development, testing, implementation, distribution, and usage of something so vital that it will determine what’s written in future history books. Right?

Nope. The software and hardware are developed and sold to individual counties by private for-profit companies. Unfortunately, these companies treat everything involved in the process of manufacturing their electronic voting solutions as very closely held trade secrets. These vendors provide a report (produced by another private company) verifying that the electronic voting machines are safe, secure, and accurate. However, there is no involvement by any truly independent entities in this certification process.

Don’t get me wrong… Anyone who’s read this blog knows that I’m a fan of technology. But this is a case of technology applied to a situation without a proper level of common sense and oversight. I hope we can make the appropriate changes before the inevitable happens, and a major election comes under suspicion. Or maybe an entire election will be stolen, and no one will be the wiser.

Here are links to resources covering this topic in much more detail…

Hacking Democracy
A fascinating (and frightening) HBO documentary focusing on the problems and controversy surrounding electronic voting machines (and the vendors who sell them) in the past couple of elections. I didn’t want to embed it here because it’s pretty big (1 hour 21 minutes), but you can follow the link the Google Video. Highly recommended.

How to Steal an Election by Hacking the Vote
An in-depth article from Ars Technica discussing exactly how easy it would be for a determined individual with the right access to steal a statewide election.

Black Box Voting
Black Box Voting is a national nonprofit, nonpartisan elections watchdog group whose mission is to ensure fair and accurate elections through citizen oversight. The founder of this organization is featured prominently in the “Hacking Democracy” documentary previously mentioned.

The Second American Revolution, Part 1
The Second American Revolution, Part 2
These are links to my buddy Jeff’s blog. The current state of American politics has inspired Jeff to write an interesting and well-argued case condemning both the Democratic and Republican political parties as abject failures in what should be their number one priority, representing the interests of their constituents. This isn’t exactly on-topic regarding electronic voting, but I whole-heartedly agree with Jeff on this issue. Read what he has to say and then let him know what you think one way or the other.