For a world that is rapidly going all-digital, it might look like a no-brainer to have digital elections. Yet, for most of the Earth, the tried-and-tested paper-based voting process remains the preferred option.
One reason behind this is pure inertia. It’s not easy to simply alter such a gigantic and entrenched system overnight. Another important factor is a careful attitude in regards to preserving the integrity of an election.
The character of paper-based voting fraud is well known, but once you go digital there are still an entirely new set of variables at play. Nonetheless, electronic voting is coming, and when you head to the ballots there is a fantastic chance you’ll be pressing a button on a machine rather than marking a piece of paper or card.
The major question then is whether it is safe to vote and is election hacking an issue?
What Exactly Does “Electronic” Voting Mean?
There are various kinds of electronic voting and the security concerns are different for each one. Electronic voting, widely, means capturing votes using a computerized system. Voting machines that read punch cards are also strictly talking under the wide umbrella of electronic voting. However, those kinds of machines aren’t typically what people are referring to when they use the expression”electronic voting”.
What Are The Benefits Of Electronic Voting?
Elections are expensive, labor-intensive and may span long stretches of time which influence productivity on a state or national level. If everyone could vote it would mean very fast and true voting counts. Fewer people would have to be employed to handle the election. You also cut the transport of tons and a lot of paper, together with the security infrastructure to make sure that these votes make it safely to wherever they are counted.
Standalone voting machines also offer lots of flexibility when it comes to the user experience.
Direct recording electronic systems have no paper versions of votes and all votes are recorded to some type of memory device. Obviously, since it’s all electronic, there can be no miscounts and the results are available immediately. At least in an perfect world, that is how it should function.
With online voting, a significant benefit would be that voters may cast their vote in the home, from a different country, or anywhere else with an online connection. Which could theoretically increase voter turnout and allow for the public to vote on more issues, more often. Rather than expensive referendums for just the biggest issues. In other words, it could be a tool that permits a more pure expression of democracy.
How Does Electronic Voting Work?
The brief answer, from a voter’s perspective, is that it should work pretty similar to paper-based voting. Assuming that you have been confirmed as qualified to vote, you are going to walk up to the machine, follow the directions, then cast a vote for your desirable candidates. Your vote must then be securely stored and tallied.
Online voting would involve logging in to a voting system, going through some sort of identity confirmation process and then casting your vote. Online voting is not acceptable for government elections and contains far too many problems that affect integrity, but it will see use in private business for matters like shareholder voting.
With the progress of numerous technologies, we could one day watch online voting secure enough to be used in general elections.
What Are The Main Security Risks?
The safety risks when it comes to electronic voting depend on the specific type of electronic voting under debate.
The main risk with direct-recording electronic voting machines is their absence of a paper trail. Electronic machines that use punch cards are creating a digital copy of a primary paper document. This means that officials can return to the actual punch cards to confirm the electronic count.
While it’s relatively easy to determine whether a paper card was tampered with or left untreated, it might not be possible to understand if the electronic information in a DRE system was tampered with. So the protection of a given DRE machine relies strongly on data redundancy and how outcomes can be checked against an independent document or the way tampering with the data could be detected.
How Can Hackers Tamper Using Electronic Voting?
To start with, it needs to be stated that there is not any such thing as a 100% tamper-proof system. There will always be a measure of fraud or vulnerability in any voting system. So the actual question is if the overall level of risk posed by electronic voting is okay. Especially in contrast to the risks of accepted analog voting systems.
Among the biggest issues with electronic voting is the fact that discovering whether electronic data has been tampered with may be difficult. Depending how that information is stored, encoded and transferred. This is the reason why there was reluctance to take direct recording machines, because there’s no secondary record to check against.
This implies that when these machines have been hacked and actual fraud has occurred, we might never understand. What we do know is that vulnerabilities in some machines have been demonstrated under laboratory conditions.
Additionally, there are a range of confirmed forensic findings of voting statistics that’s been tampered with or the machines themselves have been tampered with. In 2019 TV personality John Oliver published an outstanding summary of those safety issues digital voting machines have exhibited in the USA and we recommend it as a great starting point to understanding the key problems.
- Access to the people who program and operate DRE machines
- accessibility to the software that’s loaded on the DRE
- Immediate physical access to a DRE system (e.g. USB malware assault )
- Network access to DRE machines that aren’t isolated
As is normal with the disposition of hacking, the weak points in security tend to be human in nature instead of digital. So committed hackers may aim at each link in the chain leading towards the last electronic count of voting machine information, with particular focus on the human beings who form a part of the chain.
Is It Safe To Vote Electronically?
This is an intricate question and there is no way to say the answer is an unqualified no. One problem is that two distinct voting machines may have quite different vulnerabilities.
So the most important thing which you could do is find out which model and manufacturer of voting system you’ll use on your local or state polling station. Do some research on if that machine was independently tested by security professionals to choose whether you’d be comfortable projecting your vote with it.
Electronic voting shouldn’t be viewed in isolation . There are troubling signs that voter behavior”hacking” can happen via platforms such as social websites using disinformation and combined bot networks.
Should you control voter sentiment artificially, then you don’t have to hack on DRE machines at all! So consider the quality of info you’re basing your vote on as well, it might be you who have been hacked rather than the machine taking your vote.