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Election 2012 Hacking Threat: 10 Facts

Election technology has improved since the 2000 presidential election "hanging chad" debacle, but new and old threats may put your vote at risk.

After those deficiencies came to light, California was one of the first states to review its use of electronic voting machines, and in 2007 the state decertified their use for voting, pending security improvements and the inclusion of a paper-based audit trail. Interestingly, California's election officials also began actively recommending that counties switch to optically scanned paper ballots, with a report noting that they are "more transparent, and significantly easier to audit." Meanwhile, Diebold ultimately renamed its electronic voting machine division as Premier Election Solutions and sold the division to competitor ES&S for $5 million, plus some revenue that was due.

After having spent millions of dollars to procure electronic voting systems, multiple states have likewise since dumped them. According to Larry Moore, CEO and founder of Clear Ballot, which provides a system that creates rapid audits of optically scanned paper ballots, "75% of the country--and growing--is moving over to optically scanned paper ballots." But the shift away from electronic voting systems, at least in some states, has been slowed by the recession, and budget deficits.

5. All Voting Technology Can Stumble

While a voting system meltdown is unlikely, the possibility that it could happen highlights that no voting technology is perfect. In 2010, for example, more than one-third of votes in a South Bronx voting precinct in New York State were miscounted by an ES&S electronic voting machine that overheated, reported radio station WNYC.

But the machine didn't fail outright. Instead, it began voting on its own. "There's some kind of defect in these machines that when they overheat they can create what they're calling phantom votes," said Larry Norden, a deputy director with the Brennan Center for Justice, which is a voting rights organization that filed a related lawsuit over the miscounted votes. "That could mean that if the person hasn't voted in a contest, they could have a vote attributed to them that they never intended to cast. In the case of these voters in the South Bronx what it meant was that they actually meant to vote for somebody and the machine was adding votes in those contests because it had overheated."

6. Internet Voting No Panacea

Why not simply move elections online? The city of Washington, D.C., gave that approach a try in 2010, when it created a pilot project designed to test allowing absentee voters located overseas to cast votes using an election website. But according to a research paper delivered earlier this year at the Conference on Financial Cryptography & Data Security by three University of Michigan researchers who'd been invited to participate in the four-day mock online voting trial, they quickly identified exploitable vulnerabilities.

"Within 48 hours of the system going live, we had gained near-complete control of the election server," according to the researchers. "We successfully changed every vote and revealed almost every secret ballot. Election officials did not detect our intrusion for nearly two business days--and might have remained unaware for far longer had we not deliberately left a prominent clue." As a result of the researchers' efforts, D.C. officials scuttled their planned rollout of the "D.C. Digital Vote-by-Mail Service" system

7. Online Voting Systems Face DDoS Attack Risk

Meanwhile, other security experts have warned that any connected Internet voting system would be vulnerable to distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, which would allow hackers to disrupt voting. If leading Wall Street banks can't block DDoS attacks about which they've been warned in advance--owing to the sheer bandwidth employed by attackers--is it reasonable to expect that Alabama, Alaska, or the other 48 states could keep their voting systems online during a sustained election day attack?

Furthermore, if Iran, as U.S. officials allege, is really behind the banking attacks, what's to stop its government, or any other group that may have a beef with the United States, from knocking offline the online voting systems of a swing state? So-called "cyber warfare" won't safeguard citizens' right to vote.

8. Voter Registration Rolls Vulnerable To Hackers

If Internet voting isn't safe, surely registering online, as some states now allow, is safe? Both Maryland and Washington State, for example, now allow voters to register online, using their name, birthdate, address, and party affiliation. Unfortunately, all of that information is not only publicly available, but regularly--and legally--bought and sold by political parties, and distributed to their political operatives.

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User Rank: Apprentice
10/28/2012 | 10:11:22 AM
re: Election 2012 Hacking Threat: 10 Facts
This article could benefit by an option to display the article as a single-page.
User Rank: Apprentice
10/28/2012 | 10:10:27 AM
re: Election 2012 Hacking Threat: 10 Facts
This excellent article is extremely timely, particularly since Romney money underwrites electronic voting machine maker Hart Intercivic-- a clear conflict of interest for the company, if not an outright invitation to vote fraud by operators of the Hart Intercivic products.
User Rank: Apprentice
10/26/2012 | 1:58:22 PM
re: Election 2012 Hacking Threat: 10 Facts
Regarding the comment about the 2000 Florida vote"...and officials struggled to produce an accurate count of how votes had actually been cast." Actually the Florida officials, Kathleen Harris in particular, did everything in her power to shut off the recounts and hand the election to George W. Bush, accuracy be damned.
Rob B.
Rob B.,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/25/2012 | 6:45:38 PM
re: Election 2012 Hacking Threat: 10 Facts
Um, it's "voter rolls," not "voter roles." There's quite a difference.
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