Protecting Digital Voting

Quartz Obsession delivered an eye-opening, but sobering overview of digital voting and election hacking. News keeps trickling in about how hacking and improper influence is impacting voting across the globe, and it stands to become an even bigger problem as more elections rely on digital means. Let’s first look at the numbers:

  • Two minutes: The time it took to hack into the (now decommissioned) WINVote voting machine at this year’s DEFCON hacking conference (pictured above). [Source: Wired]
  • 5: Number of US states that are entirely dependent on electronic voting machines, which would leave behind no auditable paper trail in the event of a cyberattack or malfunction. [Source: Defcon]
  • 14: Number of US states that are partially dependent on electronic voting machines with no paper trail. [Source: Defcon]
  • 122: Number of US election officials who received phishing emails from Russian hackers last year, according to the NSA. [Source: NPR]
  • Windows 2000: The antique operating system used by the US state of Georgia’s voting machines during the 2016 election. [Source: Wired]
  • 40 meters: Range from which hackers could eavesdrop on Dutch voting machines, according to the group Wij vertrouwen stemcomputers niet (“We do not trust voting computers”). The nation now uses hand-counted paper ballots. [Source: Dutch Minister of the Interior, via Wikipedia]
  • 18: Machines in India’s 2017 by-election that were allegedly found to be rigged, after an election official tried to demonstrate their infallibility. [Source: State Herald]

This isn’t an Orwellian scenario as much as it’s one about lack of vigilance. We have something worth protecting. We also happen to live at a time when technology can give us efficiencies and conveniences. The promise has been that in the realm of society and government, technology could bring citizens closer to decision-making and the wheels of power. More transparency was supposed to be part of a digital democracy, but instead, we have allowed a business-as-usual approach to rule this new way of citizen participation. When billion dollar companies leave cloud storage open and vulnerable, and are blase about protecting customer data, how can we expect government organizations to do any better?

That’s a big question, but it’s maybe the most important one facing those of us in free societies today. If our democracy isn’t truly representative of, by, and for the people, then we are in a far worse situation than anything Orwell predicted. It makes Mr. Robot’s E Corp look like a bunch of pikers.

We cannot risk the loss of faith in our electoral processes, nor the ability to rely on it as a means of operating our society. All the freedoms that technology provides us must be met with controls, monitoring, and protective efforts so our foundation remains stable while we continue the business of jousting and debating and doing all the things that define just what democracy truly is.