#OurWorld: Hacking Elections

Sam av

In a previous post, I outlined some of the many ways millions of American’s were unable to have their voices heard or their votes counted. In this post, I’d like to focus on one issue in particular because I don’t think people are talking about it enough.

And it’s the problem with how the votes are counted.

“It is enough that the people know there was an election. The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.” -Joseph Stalin

So the general concept of a vote is quite simple. A single person goes to the voting booth, fills out their ballot, and puts it in the ballot box.

However, some of you may have noticed that the passage of time has never ceased. As the years fly by, technology advances. Some of you parents out there might have noticed that your kids are very gadget-oriented now. Toddlers are learning how to use iPads. Everyone has a cell phone. We’re a tech-savvy generation. And tech-savvy generations produce the good and the evil both. Some of us will make smaller, more powerful technology. Most of us will only use this technology.

And some of us–the scum of the universe–will exploit this powerful knowledge to prey upon the majority who doesn’t understand it. Face it: right now, there are people who don’t know how to use a computer, check their phone voicemail, or even HTML code.

Computer programs are written in code. It’s a code I don’t profess to understand. I’ve learned basic HTML so that I can design a simple webpage, but I don’t know how to write scripts or programs. Many of my generation have gone to school for this, though. They’ve learned how to write subtle, elegant code that responds in specific ways to do a variety of processes. It’s amazing stuff!

How many of you truly understand the nuances of what you’re doing on the computer right now? What code is running wordpress? How does your computer function? Most of us don’t even know. We’ve never had to think about it.

But if you want to know how far we’ve come…this is one of the first cell phones:

Now, to put it in perspective, meet the voting machines:

Most of the voting machines in use in the USA were engineered in the 1990s. In a report by NYU law school, experts from the Brennan School of Justice said:

“The problem of aging and outdated voting equipment is national and widespread. We ignore it at our collective peril. A majority of jurisdictions in 2016 will be using machines at or near the end of their projected lifespans.”

The average personal laptop needs to be replaced within four years.

The average cell phone is replaced within two years.

These voting machines in fourteen states are 15+ years old. Now, even if hacking weren’t an issue–and it always is, no matter what anyone says…any machine that can be hacked will be hacked; any game that can be cheated, any bug that can be exploited, someone will figure out how…it’s pretty much the law of the internet–old machinery has any variety of hardware failures–loss of memory, loading problems, recording errors, etc.

It’s a simple enough program, counting votes…but that’s exactly the problem. Simple machines with simple programs are a piece of cake for hackers. And why would anyone want to hack a vote?

To fuck with you.

And it’s actually incredibly easy. In fact, this guy was paid to do just that in the 2000 election.

And this guy does it, too.

So even if we could forget about all of the ‘irregularities’ that happened this year in the primaries (I surely cannot), and even if we could believe this year was fairly decided (and I don’t), it is incredibly easy for me to believe that old computers can be easily hacked.

Your vote goes into this box and disappears. That’s it.

How much control does a hacker have?

Well. Have any of you ever been the victim of a computer virus? Some of them are devastating…they’ll shut down your whole computer, maybe you can’t turn it on, or it’s sluggish. Some are more subtle than that. I once had a virus that hid my files on my flash drive. They were still there…they’d just been relegated to hidden files. What was more, the virus created shell files that looked like my files but had no information. At first, I thought they’d been hollowed out, all of the information I’d stored completely wiped. They were there, though, and I recovered them safely.

Hackers may be able to access voting machines remotely.

They can definitely rewrite the card.

Communications between a voting machine and the server may be intercepted, the same way an identity thief might snag your information from unsecure wifi.

If you’re still not convinced, this guy bought his own machine and toyed with it himself, proving how an election could be stolen in just seven minutes.

The Moral of the Story

In the ongoing chaos of the aftermath of the primary season, Americans are looking for the most critical next step. We’re regrouping, adjusting, recalibrating, and searching for what it is we can do to make the best of what is already a terrible situation. Some of those options I’ll be going into in coming Tuesdays, but this particular problem seems to have been largely ignored.

Does it matter who is running for President–or even Congress, the Senate, our local officials–if a man in his garage can change the results of hundreds or thousands of people in only seven minutes?

Our sacred choice–our vote–is just data on a server, vulnerable to all manner of corrupted individuals with the power to alter that data. If the vote loses integrity, then our power to choose is only an illusion.

The real question becomes…who is behind the hack?

Well, here’s what the President has to say about it:

It’s not very inspired.


S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print).

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About oneofthedragons

Samantha K. Balk and F. R. Donaldson met on An Archive of Our Own, one of the many fanfiction sites online, when Sam asked Frankie to illustrate the fanfiction that would one day lead to Sam's first novel. They've been friends ever since! This blog was created as a way to share the oftentimes difficult journey any new author experiences on the uncomfortable quest of an introvert for attention to his or her most personal work. It is meant to remind you that authors don't just appear fully fledged like a George R. R. Martin, that all of us start out unsure and feeling inadequate. Feel free to ask us anything. Sam: sammykaye9@gmail.com Frankie: reluctant.fraggle@gmail.com

Posted on August 30, 2016, in #OurWorld and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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