Voting Technology in 2016

Americans are getting only the amount and kind of “democracy” that the professional politicians (i.e. the establishment, the “insiders”) want us to have. When it comes to democracy, we Americans just aren’t getting the entire thing, the whole enchilada, the real deal -- and this in the Land of the Free. After the 2000 election debacle in Florida, with its hanging chads, its butterfly ballots, and its conflicting vote recounts, you’d think the political class would have fixed our election systems, so that exercising our sacred right to vote would be easy, secure, and accurate. But our election systems are still technologically backward.

August 16 on Fox News, "Special Report" aired “Online voting systems raise hacking concerns” by Eric Shawn. The two-minute video featured M.I.T. professor and Internet voting expert Ron Rivest, who said: “Once you have something on the Internet, you are telling the world, please come hack me.” But hacking and other cyber mayhem are problems that all online operations have to deal with. Should we shut down online banking, online commerce, and everything else? Nonetheless, Rivest continued:

There's lots of wonderful ways the Internet can contribute to elections, but putting voting itself online for me is a step too far. It's over the line. We don't know how to do it securely, you're inviting trouble. Every country overseas that has an ax to grind with the U.S. can try to get in and manipulate the election.

I’m not buying it. Mr. Rivest was also quoted in a 2012 article by David Talbot at MIT Technology Review, “Why You Can’t Vote Online”:

Vendors may come and they may say they’ve solved the Internet voting problem for you, but I think that, by and large, they are misleading you, and misleading themselves as well […] If they’ve really solved the Internet security and cybersecurity problem, what are they doing implementing voting systems? They should be working with the Department of Defense or financial industry. These are not solved problems there.

I’m still not buying it. Talbot writes that “voting presents specific kinds of very hard problems.” Sheer twaddle! The actual application, i.e. work, that an online, computerized election system would do is quite simple: adding ones (votes) to the correct accumulators for the various candidates. The only real challenge in Internet voting is security. If you can secure an online voting system from hacking, malware, and DoS attacks (denial-of-service), the rest of it is easy.

The reason that hackers and other miscreants are able to mess with our computer systems is because they’re familiar with them. But if a website were always offline except for Election Day, how could the bad guys familiarize themselves with the system that runs it? One has to wonder if the anti-Internet voting crew has ever considered this kind of very “primitive” solution: 1) Using dedicated servers that do only one thing (elections), and that would be plugged-in, up-and-running only on Election Day, and 2) having only unique software on those dedicated servers; software that does only one thing: elections.

In my experience as an old-time programmer of IBM mainframes, software developers have a bent towards creating complex systems that do “everything.” That’s been the trend in PCs for decades. But complex systems are going to be less secure. What I’m suggesting is a system that does one thing, not everything. Such a system would not be very sophisticated; it wouldn’t be complex; it’d be “dumb.” But simple solutions to complex problems can sometimes be enough. Also, the software could perhaps be on ROM (read-only memory), “firmware,” making it impervious to modification by hackers.

If one Googles “internet voting security” one might get more than 845,000 hits. Some of those hits will be to articles that are against online voting; they argue that the security isn’t there yet. Well then it isn’t yet there for anything else, either. But what do these writers assume? Do they assume the standard servers and usual software? Or have they considered the “dumb,” dedicated system I float above a system that presents a different type of target? Forget about asking “experts” in government about whether the “dumb” system I’ve outlined for Internet voting is feasible; those guys don’t have a very good record of keeping our data secure. Instead, ask the guys at Microsoft, Oracle, and the other big software companies.

Electronic Voting” by Mr. Rivest is six-page study that’s worth looking into. Internet voting devotees, however, will be at odds with him. The security concerns that come with remote Internet voting (as in using your smartphone to vote) also come with the systems that the states are already using, such as with absentee, provisional, and mail-in voting.

Donald Trump has said that the presidential election this year might be “rigged.” Those on both sides of the aisle have been saying that a lot of things in America are rigged, and in the case of elections that just may be true. Some say that the presidential election in 1960 was stolen. Perhaps the ugliest recent election is that of Washington state Governor Christine Gregoire in 2004, which Peter Kirsanow reported on in “The Never-Ending Gubernatorial Race.” Mr. Kirsanow expertly documents the appalling fraud that Washington state Democrats call “democracy.”

Internet voting is just part of the computerization of elections. The reason Americans should want to further computerize our elections goes beyond the long lines they stand in at precinct voting stations; it touches on the integrity of our elections, whether elections can be stolen. But the mantra of the Left is that election fraud is practically nonexistent. They can’t know that, because with the current systems, election fraud can be nearly impossible to detect. One thing an electronic computerized voting system can do that the current systems can’t begin to do is: account for the vote, i.e. demonstrate what the correct vote counts are. Only a computerized election system can give us the surety we have in banking, stock trading, etc.

If a democratic nation doesn’t have a reliable system for voting, what kind of democracy can it claim to have -- a banana republic? The least a real democracy should be able to do is prove to voters that vote counts are correct. Right now, government in America doesn’t have that ability.

Jon N. Hall is a programmer/analyst from Kansas City.

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