Can Voting Machines be Hacked? No Problem

Monday, October 29, 2012

With the 2012 presidential election coming down to the wire and numerous other contests too close to call, the integrity of electronic voting is under renewed attack from cyber security experts who warn that hacking into them is quite simple. The problem goes beyond the fact that H.I.G. Capital, many of whose machines will be used in Ohio, has prominent partners and directors on its board that hail from Mitt Romney’s Bain Company and/or Bain Capital, or that H.I.G. employees have contributed at least $338,000 to the Romney campaign and H.I.G. directors John P. Bolduk and Douglas Berman are major Romney fundraisers.


Since voting machines are not connected to the Internet, an individual hacker, partisan group, or foreign power could alter them by gaining physical access to them either before or during Election Day. At least four 2012 swing states–Pennsylvania, Virginia, Colorado, and Florida–rely at least partially on machines that produce no paper ballot and are thus even easier to hack. Those four states account for 71 electoral votes in the presidential race, more than one-quarter of the 270 needed for victory. In Pennsylvania, 80% of voters will use paperless systems to cast their ballots, and in Virginia almost 75%.


“The risk of cyber manipulation of these machines is quite real,” Barbara Simons, a computer researcher who wrote Broken Ballots, a book documenting vulnerabilities, told The Christian Science Monitor. “Most people don’t understand that these computer-based voting machines can have software bugs or even election-rigging malicious software in them.”


“If there’s no paper trail, you can have the corrupted software display on the voting-machine screen whatever you want to display–and then after the voter leaves, record something completely different inside,” notes Richard Kemmerer, a computer scientist in charge of the University of California, Santa Barbara, Computer Security Group. A hacker would need only a few minutes with a voting machine to alter its software and steal votes.


Even worse, the domination of the business of voting machine manufacturing by a few large corporations makes it impossible to know if the machines are really secure because they claim their source code is a trade secret. The two biggest companies, Dominion and ES&S, that now count the majority of American ballots, have interlocking ownership and strong partisan ties to the far right. It is not surprising, then, that the Election Defense Alliance, a nonprofit organization specializing in election forensics, has found that when disparities occur, they benefit Republicans and right-wing issues beyond the bounds of probability.


Credible allegations of fraud regarding several elections, including the presidential counts in Florida in 2000 and in Ohio in 2004, and the real possibility of irregularities in next week’s contests, can only erode Americans’ faith in the process and their trust in government, which are the true foundations of any democratic republic.

-Matt Bewig


To Learn More:

Could e-Voting Machines in Election 2012 be Hacked? Yes. (by Mark Clayton, Christian Science Monitor)

E-Voting Puts Vote Accuracy at Risk in Four Key States (by Mark Clayton, Christian Science Monitor)

How to Rig an Election (by Victoria Collier, Harper’s Magazine)

Will H.I.G.-Owned e-Voting Machines give Romney the White House? (by Bob Fitrakas and Harvey Wasserman, Columbus Free Press)


Leave a comment