It is not just software glitches and corrupted memory cards that should be on the minds of election officials. Hackers pose another very real problem whereby an election could be tilted towards a favored candidate. At the national level, the last few years have demonstrated that no government, including our own, is safe from the threat posed by hackers. Between late 2010 and early 2011, for example, WikiLeaks, an international organization led by Julian Assange, obtained and released publicly thousands of sensitive diplomatic cables and intelligence files obtained from the State Department and U.S. embassies.
Even more recently, hackers were able to hack and obtain five million e-mails from Stratfor, a private intelligence firm based in Texas. These e-mails were released by WikiLeaks earlier this year in what was a major embarrassment for a company that deals with sensitive information.
Organizations worried about the potential for e-voting problems have long-advocated for audit procedures by which votes cast by e-voting machines could be verified through audit trails. But in many states, budget cutbacks and blind reliance on digital technology have stopped legislators and elections officials from moving forward with remedial measures.
The election between President Obama and Romney already is shaping up to be a hard-fought contest that will most assuredly be extremely close, coming down to a handful of states. As campaigns and groups supporting particular candidates push to “get out the vote” in battleground states, it is imperative that officials work diligently to ensure the integrity of the election. Yet, without demands from political party officials and voters, little if any remedial action is likely to be taken.
It is high time watchdog groups shift focus from concern over fraudulent voters infecting the integrity of our voting process, to the very real danger of abuse inherent in un-verifiable e-voting systems. We need to get a handle on problems posed by electronic voting before we enter the next great frontier of technology – online voting; a process already permitted to an extent in some two dozen states. Widespread use of online voting will create the potential for abuse that will make the problems inherent in e-voting pale in comparison.