Just how badly hacked can the upcoming election get?

Everywhere you turn, someone´s saying that the electronic voting machines are supremely hackable.

If this is true, there´ll be hackers for Bush, for Kerry, for Nader, and even for that Libertarian (whose name I cannot recall). Last hacker in pushes his man over the top.

So, computer savvy Dopers, just how screwed up can the vote count get? And what do we do if it happens?

Compuer Science guy here. I know what can/cannot be done with computers.

There was a recent off year election in FL to fill a vacant seat that had at least a 10% miscount. (Which was far larger than the difference in “counted” votes.) No recount was of course possible.

Nationally, if we have only a 10% miscount, we’d be lucky. Given the last poll I saw showed a 6% difference for President, that’s more than enough.

No other voting method, short of show of hands, is less secure, more expensive, or more prone to breakdown than touch screen voting machines.

Keep in mind that the states are being forced to switch to them by federal law. (Can you say “campaign donations”?)

Canada uses paper ballots and hand counting, just for comparison. Cheaper, more reliable and you can do recounts.

A link summarizing a few of the FL election problems.

What I like is:

  1. FL law mandates a recount in such close contests.
  2. No recount was done (it couldn’t be done).
  3. The election was still certified as legal.

Ah, Florida.

Depends on how far behind in the polls Bush is.

“[I am] committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year.”
–Walden O’Dell, Diebold CEO and Republican fundraiser

There’s a huge advantage to insiders in the company manufacturing of the machine.

Does anyone know of a site where the various reported ‘glitches’ are being recorded? There have been a number of them. One that sticks in my mind is a precinct where no votes were recorded for governor, although the other ballot items came up with numbers.

Ditto what FTG says.

In generall, there are several ways that things could get screwed up:

  1. Bugs in the voting system accidently screwing up the election. Since Diebold and others won’t reveal their source code to outsiders, none of us will ever know if the software is reliable. Unfortunately for Diebold, some of their code leaked out, and these guys did a report on it. Not confidence-inspiring, by any means.
  1. Intentional back-doors left by programmers - if some unscrupulous person offered a Diebold employee a large chunk of change to add a way to hack the results on any voting machine?

  2. Outside hackers - voting machines run on known software - often Windows operating systems, for instance. We’ve all seen the many bugs that Windows OS’s have, these could be exploited to gain access to the voting software or the voting data.

And the really, really worying thing about electronic voting is that any tampering is untraceable. We’ve already seen this happen - errors have happened in elections, but they’ve had to stand, because there is no way to know what the result really was.

As far as a list, slashdot has been following this pretty closely. Here’s a list of what Diebold’s been up to:


Here’s a thread I started that never took off:

The Munsters fixed a vote

That which has been shall be. That which has been done, shall be done. And there is no new thing under the sun. Ecc. 1:9

Don’t forget “the system is just an insecure POS.” I seem to recall someone saying that the Diebold machines use an unsecured Microsoft Access database to store the votes, and anyone can access the DB and change the results without even a log entry that the data was changed at a particular time.

When is this law supposed to take effect? I voted on a paper ballot in the primary, and have not heard about any forth-coming changes.

I’m worried. What can be done to insure an accurate vote count this November?

Here are four recent Cringely columns on the idiocy of touchscreen voting in reverse chronological order. They answer many of the questions people have asked as well as include links for more info.
1 2 3 4.

In short:

  1. Good old fashioned paper ballots are cheaper, more secure and recountable. But Americans are astonishingly easy to convince to “buy into” something new simply because it involves computers or that great ad word “digital.” Sometimes old tech is better tech. Like I said, I’m a CS guy. I don’t trust computers, esp. ones running MS software, for anything important, like who’s going to run the country. Many 3rd world nations have more trustworthy voting systems that the US does now!

  2. $ figures prominently. The machine makers are huge campaign donors. (Esp. to Republicans.) State Government printing offices that print paper ballots don’t make campaign contributions. Guess which way your representatives vote?

No offense meant, but I’m half-surprised Rjung didn’t recommend that they run the voting machines on Macs… :smiley:

Nah, you can design a perfectly good electronic voting machine on any computer that runs Anything But Windows™. :wink:

Yes, the opinion pieces you linked to are interesting, but here’s what I am interested in:
Originally Posted by ftg:
“Keep in mind that the states are being forced to switch to them by federal law. (Can you say “campaign donations”?)”
When did this become federal law, and when will it become effective?

See this link. If you Google on “HAVA” with suitable additional keywords you’ll get lots of stuff. This article is nice since it points out what is generally not understood about HAVA. E.g., it specifically works to kill punch cards* and such, even those are far more trustworthy than touchscreens. Whie it doesn’t specifically require touchscreens, that’s pretty much the only system that meets the requirements. It’s like those pork add-ons to spending bills that magically have only one place that meets the requirements, which just happens to be in the sponsor’s district.

The article also points out that military contractors were big pushers of the bill. A very unnerving aspect. Ask yourself: “Why would military contractors be so keen on easily cheated voting systems?”

Note also the name of the bill is one of those classic 1984 “War is peace” doublespeak bill titles that have become so common.

  • The chads and butterfly ballots were just a sideshow to what really happened in Florida in 2000. The really bizarre stuff happened with the electronic systems. (One precinct initially reported more votes for Bush II than total voters. That’s why Gore conceded and then reversed once the “error” was found.) But the media magically decided those stories were less interesting.

(Yeah, sorry about linking to a LaRouchite, but what is said is true.)