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Elections Knowledge Press

The Road to California – Part Two

The 21st century has seen the rise of some amazing new technological developments, this is a fact that can not be denied. In fact, it is growing at a nearly exponential pace, an idea first presented by Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel. Think about that for a second. Your toaster today probably has a more advanced operating system than the guidance computer for Apollo 11. While it may not seem like it so some of us, including myself, who have grown up in a world dominated by progressive technology, we are still in the midst of a technological explosion. However, there is one field where this explosion has not permeated.


To this day, in the United States, the vast majority of us are still using paper ballots or antiquated touchscreen systems to cast our votes. It’s embarrassing, to say the least, and we all know the issues with paper; namely ballot stuffing, hanging chads, scanning problems, the list is not small. That doesn’t mean that people haven’t been trying to fix the system…quite the contrary, really. Across the world, attempts have been made to usher in a new-age of voting, to varying degrees of success. I’m here today to share with you some of these attempts, and discuss what exactly has gone wrong, and what we can learn from their mistakes to ensure they don’t get made again.

Actually, to be completely honest, America does have an online voting system in place. In fact, nearly 3 million people were expected to have the ability to vote online for the midterm elections a month ago. These people were mostly members of the military, or overseas personnel currently abroad…or Alaskans. However, it must be pointed out, and I can not stress this enough, that while these people may be able to vote over the internet, they are doing so with the understand that they are waiving their rights to a secret ballot, and that faulty transmissions are not out of the question. Basically, the whole system is a crap shoot, no better than any systems that we have in place today. What is the point of even voting if there is no guarantee that it is going to be counted? This is only the most important of civic duties after all, and I’m pretty sure those who choose to engage in it would like to know that their vote counts.

In Alaska’s case, let’s just say that you’ve read, understood, and signed the waiver. The vote has been placed, submitted as a PDF, and sent back to the election commission representing your district. Along that path, though, cybersecurity experts were, in less than a day, able to develop a system that allowed the PDF to be temporarily intercepted, changed, and then sent along its merry way. Worst of all, this was all done while leaving the user in the dark and having them think that their intended vote was what made it through. Secure? No. Safe? Nope. Transparent? Absolutely not. While the effort must be applauded for merely just giving it a shot, this is a dart that didn’t even really hit the board.

Of course, this isn’t the only instance in which the United States has taken a crack at the online voting game. In 2010, Washington D.C., our lovely capital city, developed a pilot program intended to allow absentee voters the opportunity to vote online. It was then left open to the public to attempt to find any issues with the program, and lo and behold, in less than 24 hours, multiple groups had successfully hacked the system, changing votes and performing other various acts of prankish villainy (electing HAL 9000 as the council chairman). More frightening, though, was the noticing that multiple groups from China and Iran had gotten their way through some of the security protocols as well, turning this experiment into a problem of national security. Again, the ideals of safety, security, and transparency had been compromised, and the program was abandoned for the near future.

I think this is a good stopping point for today, please check back in later for a deeper look at some systems that have been tried outside of the United States, because some countries have actually found a semblance of success in their methods.



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