Hacking our Republic
CAJI/IS and VNS Exclusive
November 8, 2016
The 2016 Presidential Election of the United States of America has attracted a significant amount of attention from Americans and the world alike with daily, regularly vehement, opinions being expressed in respect to the candidates by the public and media at large. This article aims to consider the election at an almost preliminary level; the nature of voting, in particular the infrastructure and the question as to whether or not it ultimately makes any difference who Americans vote for on November 8th.
Electronic voting has been used in the United States for many years and currently is used exclusively by five states (Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, New Jersey and South Carolina) alongside most of the remaining states using a combination of both paper and electronic voting . The electronic equipment that is used for voting is owned and operated by private institutions, some of which include (or have included): Diebold, Election Systems & Software (ES&S), Sequoia and Hart Interactive . The systems are of a proprietary nature, with the source code and other aspects of the systems being closed and vendors being involved in all aspects from designing to maintaining the systems, ultimately resulting in great difficulty when it comes to the public attempting to scrutinize the technology . Although, there have been many cases of computer experts raising concerns in respect to the technology, two notable examples as featured on a prominent documentary on this subject entitled ‘Hacking Democracy’ include Dr. Herbert Hugh Thompson hacking into the GEMS (Global Election Management System) central tabulator and modifying votes and Harri Hustri hacking the memory card used to store votes; both cases resulted in the ability to manipulate the vote count as was desired by the hacker . Another example was a computer programmer who under oath swore that he had written a prototype for a congressman which would alter the results of an election .
The significant power associated with these companies is illustrated by the fact that in 2010, Premier voting systems were used in “over 1,400 jurisdictions in 33 states and serve near 28 million American voters .” Concern has been expressed regarding how the companies conduct themselves with election officials and the agendas of key people involved within the organizations. As an example, a quote attributed to the chief executive of the company Diebold notes he is “committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year .” Another example includes Chuck Hagel, who ran for a senate seat in Nebraska. Prior to the election, the polls were so close that it was noted an outcome could not be predicted. Hagel ultimately won the election by fifteen points. It has been discovered that Hagel, up until two weeks prior to announcing his candidacy, was chairman of ES&S whose computer systems were responsible for counting his own votes for the election. Furthermore, the company’s founder was Hagel’s campaign treasurer. Hagel’s financial ties to ES&S were never disclosed and although a request was made to recount the votes, a state law requiring the votes be recounted using the same mechanism that was used initially deemed it pointless . A number of election officials also end up working for the electronic voting machine companies and sign on as lobbyists. Entities, such as The Election Center, who defend electronic voting, take money from electronic voting companies and don’t disclose how much .
If one delves into most elections that use electronic voting, there seems to regularly be discrepancies and questions raised. From recent elections  to perhaps the most well known controversy in the 2004 Presidential Election . The issue also isn’t specific to the United States, but can also be identified overseas . If one desires to investigate how the machines are tested, and whether or not any of the noted issues are formally documented, they are denied communication . Furthermore, not all electronic voting machines leave a paper trail of the vote and as Harri Hustri demonstrated in ‘Hacking Democracy’ it’s possible to manipulate the physical evidence if the machine does emit a print out .
It seems clear that citizens should be concerned with the proliferation of these machines and it could be confidently argued that electronic voting machines, especially in their current state, are not fit for use in elections with the obvious solution being a complete adoption of paper voting and the immediate ceasing of use of these machines for formal voting purposes.
King, E. (2016) How the U.S. Ended up with today’s paper ballots. Available at: http://time.com/4305508/paper-ballot-history/ (Accessed: 13 October 2016).
Simon, J. and Baiman, R. (no date) The 2004 Presidential Election: Who Won The Popular Vote? An Examination of the Comparative Validity of Exit Poll and Vote Count Data. Available at: http://freepress.org/images/departments/PopularVotePaper181_1.pdf (Accessed: 13 October 2016).
Zeller, T. (2004) Ready or not, electronic voting goes national. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/19/politics/campaign/ready-or-not-electronic-voting-goes-national.html (Accessed: 13 October 2016).
Hacking Democracy (2006) Directed by Simon Ardizzone, Russell Michaels UK
truthstream (2006) Rigged USA elections exposed. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEzY2tnwExs (Accessed: 13 October 2016).
Staff, B. (2010) Dominion voting systems, Inc. Acquires premier election solutions assets from ES&S. Available at: http://www.benzinga.com/press-releases/10/05/b292647/dominion-voting-systems-inc-acquires-premier-election-solutions-assets-#/ixzz15sGvPDXa (Accessed: 13 October 2016).
Smyth, J.C. (2003) Voting machine controversy. Available at: http://www.commondreams.org/headlines03/0828-08.htm (Accessed: 13 October 2016).
Collier, V., Gumpert, R., Solnit, R., Nolan, R., Oates, J.C., Kirn, W., Sullivan, R. and Neason, A. (2016) Harper’s magazine – part 3. Available at: http://harpers.org/archive/2012/11/how-to-rig-an-election/3/ (Accessed: 13 October 2016).
On the voting machine makers’ tab (2004) Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/12/opinion/on-the-voting-machine-makers-tab.html (Accessed: 13 October 2016).
Hatlem, D.J. (2016) Hillary Clinton versus Bernie Sanders: Taking election fraud allegations seriously (part 1). Available at: http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/05/09/hillary-clinton-versus-bernie-sanders-taking-election-fraud-allegations-seriously-part-1/ (Accessed: 13 October 2016).
Fitrakis, B. and Wasserman, H. (2004) Diebold’s political machine. Available at: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2004/03/diebolds-political-machine (Accessed: 13 October 2016).
New South Wales Attacks Researchers Who Found Internet Voting Vulnerabilities (2015) Available at: https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2015/04/new-south-wales-attacks-researchers-who-warned-internet-voting-vulnerabilities (Accessed: 13 October 2016).
Harris, B., Allen, D. and Alexander, L. (2004) ‘Who’s Beholden to Whom?’, in Black box voting: Ballot tampering in the 21st century. Renton, WA: Talion Publishing, p. 52.