How to hack an election—and what states should do to prevent fake votes


Donald Trump received the 2016 presidential election because of the votes of simply 107,000 folks in three states. The intricacies of the Electoral School assist create conditions the place a comparatively small variety of US residents can determine who wins the presidency. How vulnerable may these votes be to tampering? The reply: much more than you would possibly understand.

In a stay demonstration at MIT Expertise Assessment’s EmTech convention as we speak, J. Alex Halderman, professor of pc science and engineering on the College of Michigan, confirmed simply how straightforward it could be to meddle with vote tallies to instantly change election outcomes.

Halderman introduced an AccuVote TSX machine to the stage in a stay demonstration of the hazards. He had three volunteers use the machine to vote in a mock election between George Washington and Benedict Arnold. Cameras pointing on the display screen and projected above the stage confirmed the three voters casting their ballots for Washington. But when Halderman printed the returns from the machine, the reported consequence was a two-to-one victory for Arnold. 

How did it occur? By tampering with the poll programming. For each election, officers should program the candidates into the machine utilizing a bodily reminiscence card. Halderman contaminated this card with malicious vote-stealing software program earlier than any voters received wherever close to the polling cubicles. 

“This machine you noticed right here is utilized in 18 states, and a number of the states, together with Georgia, use an excellent older model of the software program than I confirmed right here as we speak,” he mentioned.

Ron Rivest

Jake Belcher

Past the machines folks use to forged their votes, the principle targets for somebody attempting to tamper with a US election are voter registration databases and the digital units used to test voters in at polling stations, in line with Ron Rivest, Institute Professor at MIT.

If this all sounds terrifying, don’t panic. There are easy steps the authorities can take to mitigate the specter of an assault.

“We want paper verifiable ballots, no web voting, and we have to guarantee we will audit ballots correctly. Some sort of paper path the voter can use to confirm their vote is essential,” Rivest mentioned.

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At a nationwide degree, $380 million was allotted for shoring up election safety in March, and the Safe Elections Act is at the moment working its means by Congress. This is able to require states to have audit processes and paper trails for his or her elections, strikes each Rivest and Halderman strongly assist.

In the meantime, West Virginia is about to make use of a blockchain to confirm votes this fall. May this be the reply?

Rivest is unequivocal. “Completely not. For a lot of functions, voting included, blockchain is only a poor database alternative. It takes belongings you put in it and preserves them endlessly. It’s a really poor match for voting,” he mentioned.


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