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Hack the Vote

Posted by on August 13, 2016.

As recent events with the Democratic National Committee (DNC) being hacked solidify the fact that we cannot seem to secure anything connected to the Internet, one has to wonder if elections can also be hacked. The topic of “Hacking the Vote” reminds me of one of my favorite InfoSec security maxims; “high technology is often taken as a license to stop thinking critically”.

The push for electronic voting systems started very soon after the 2000 US Presidential election. That election was fraught with controversy. After complete investigations, most if not all turned up nothing. The US Election of 2000 was the first “Hack the Vote”, utilizing social engineering to create havoc and mistrust. Of note was the Palm Beach “butterfly ballot,” which some pundits claimed produced an “unexpectedly” large number of votes for third-party candidate Pat Buchanan. Interestingly, the same ballot was successfully used in the 1996 election with no protests. The issue at hand should have been easy to resolve. If you cannot follow an arrow, you should not be voting. The arrow is one of the most basic directional indicators successfully used in print motif as early as 1933. However, in 2000 it was a confusing and utterly cryptic symbol.


To solve this non-issue the call went out for technology. While the old paper ballots could be deployed anywhere without the need for electricity (say in a disaster), the use of technology would in fact allow faster counts. Onward we march, our technology tool belt at the ready.

In the 2000 presidential election, Riverside California became the first county in the nation to move entirely to electronic voting. In 2008 – 20 California counties scrapped electronic vote machines. Why?

A study led by UC Berkeley computer scientist David Wagner revealed that e-voting is not as secure and reliable as it should be. As a result, electronic voting machines were decertified across California. This back in 2008.

Fast forward to 2016 and consider the following:

  • Illinois election officials shut down that state’s voter registration database after discovering it had been hacked.
  • Arizona took its voter registration system offline after the FBI warned it too might have been hacked
  • Security analyst David Levin was arrested after he gained access to the Lee County, Fla., elections website

As for the antiquated, imperfect, techno-lacking paper ballot… I can today vote on a paper “mail-in” ballot. While we can never fully account for insider corruption, how many more physical locations does this mail-in paper ballot transverse.

To recap:

A social engineering campaign about voter fraud, based on the fact that people cannot follow an arrow, gave way to technolust by those who lack a critical thought process, funded by taxpayers across the nation, later scrapped, reproduced the original paper ballot but made even that less secure.

Hack the Vote!

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Submitted in: Expert Views, Martin Zinaich | Tags: ,