On being elected General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1934, Stalin is reputed to have commented: “It doesn’t matter how the voting went. What matters is how the votes were counted.”
Now comes Wired with a report that a new Internet voting system scheduled to be implemented in November 2010 is vulnerable. Researchers at the University of Michigan hacked into the system, storing its database username, password and encryption key on a server open to attack. Alex Halderman, a computer scientist at the university, has detailed the vulnerabilities and hacking techniques his students used to completely control the system last week. The hack allowed them to change votes and program the system to play his school’s fight song “Hail to the Victors” after each voter cast their ballot.
What is particularly alarming is the fact that the hack left traces that an intrusion detection system should have caught. But it was only noticed when election officials were told by testers that the Michigan fight song was playing on their $300,000 voting system.
In this day of hot disputes over election results (starting in earnest with Al Gore’s plaint in 2000), vulnerable software complicates things greatly without providing any especial benefits. I can only imagine how tempted people might be to hack into electronic voting systems. Take, for instance, a hypothetical someone who is truly convinced that his mission is to fundamentally transform a state or country in his own image. Following Stalin’s dictum would then be a necessity because the traditional voting process, without the proper “assistance,” might lead to victory by candidates who are not quite as informed and enlightened – nay, evolved! – as our progressive transformer.
I submit that, for the next thirty days, the greatest task before the American people will be to reclaim the voting process and monitor it closely to ensure that it is not subverted.