Election 2012 Errors: Why Electronic Voting Doesn’t Work

The RISKS Digest, a great read for anyone interested in computer security and reliability issues, often has news articles that are extremely relevant to ITGS. Recently RISKS has included some very enlightening posts about electronic voting issues in the US elections last week. Here are some of my favourites:

Obama is a Republican

DonkeyHotey CC-BY

In Virginia, one voting machine was incorrectly configured to display Obama as a Republican and Romney as a Democrat. Once the error was noticed, officials switched to paper ballots to avoid future problems, and assured voters that all previous votes “would be counted correctly”. Of course, how that would be done is a different issue – it was impossible to tell if a vote for “Obama, Republican” was intended for Obama or for the Republican party.

Voting by Email in New Jersey

In the wake of hurricane Sandy, New Jersey announced that stranded voters would be able to cast their ballots online, via email. The process would involve completing a ballot, filling it out and scanning it it, then submitting it as an email attachment.

There are more security risks here than you can shake a stick at. Email is not encrypted, making it open to interception and tampering en route – security issues which risk both voter privacy and election integrity.

Secondly, computers were made available in many public places for users to email their votes – but this too makes them open to interference and tampering from unscrupulous users.

Thirdly, the votes were sent as email attachments, requiring the receiving computers to open attachments from unknown users. Sending infected attachments has been a favourite infection method of malware writers for many years.

Finally, sending ballots by email is not only slow and cumbersome, but violates the fundamental principle of the secret ballot – each vote is attached to an email address, and even if the address itself does not reveal the user’s identity explicitly, IP addresses are also recorded in email headers.

Read the full article.

Obama votes switched to Romney

Finally, ComputerWorld reports a voter recorded an electronic voting machine switching his vote to Romney whenever he selected Obama. The error appears to be a mis-calibration which meant that the area of the screen from the top of the “Romney” button to the bottom of the “Obama” button all counted for Romney. Whether or not this mis-calibration was deliberate remains to be seen, but it is quite worrying when US voting systems turn out like an episode of the Simpsons

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