Iowa Screams: Don’t Trust High-Tech Elections!

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For years — actually for decades — those of us in the Computer Science community who study election systems have with almost total unanimity warned against the rise of electronic voting, Internet voting, and more recently smartphone/app-based voting systems. I and my colleagues have written and spoken on this topic many times. Has anyone really been listening? Apparently very few!

We have pointed out repeatedly the fundamental problems that render high-tech election systems untrustworthy — much as “backdoors” to strong encryption systems are flawed at foundational levels.

Without a rigorous “paper trail” to backup electronic votes, knowing for sure when an election has been hacked is technically impossible. Even with a paper trail, getting authorities to use it can be enormously challenging. Hacking contests against proposed e-voting systems are generally of little value, since the most dangerous attackers won’t participate in those — they’ll wait for the real elections to do their undetectable damage!

Of course it doesn’t help when the underlying voting models are just this side of insane. Iowa’s caucuses have become a confused mess on every level. Caucuses throughout the U.S. should have been abandoned years ago. They disenfranchise large segments of the voting population who don’t have the ability to spend so much time engaged in a process that can take hours rather than a few minutes to cast their votes. Not only should the Democratic party have eliminated caucuses, it should no longer permit tiny states whose demographics are wholly unrepresentative of the party — and of the country as a whole — to be so early in the primary process. 

In the case of Iowa (and it would have been Nevada too, but they’ve reportedly abandoned plans to use the same flawed app) individual voters weren’t using their smartphones to vote, but caucus locations — almost 1700 of them in Iowa — were supposed to use the app (that melted down) to report their results. And of course the voice phone call system that was designated to be the reporting backup — the way these reports had traditionally been made — collapsed under the strain when the app-based system failed.

Some areas in the U.S. are already experimenting with letting larger and larger numbers of individual voters use their smartphones and apps to vote. It seems so obvious. So simple. They just can’t resist. And they’re driving their elections at 100 miles an hour right toward a massive brick wall.

Imagine — just imagine! — what the reactions would be during a national election if problems like Iowa’s occurred then on a much larger scale, especially given today’s toxic conspiracy theories environment. 

It would be a nuclear dumpster fire of unimaginable proportions. The election results would be tied up in courts for days, weeks, months — who knows?

We can’t take that kind of risk. Or if we do, we’re idiots and deserve the disaster that is likely to result.

Make your choice.

–Lauren–

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