The conspiracy theories as to why the exit polls in the US election pointed to a Kerry victory, and yet Bush won are starting to abound. Whilst conservatives propose that the exit polls in eastern states were rigged to persuade voters in the west to vote for Kerry, others are expressing concern that the PC’s used to count votes may have been hacked.
Whilst much attention was paid to the fully electronic voting machines, the US election also relies on optical scanners and normal PC’s in order to count and tabulate manual votes. The issue is that the underlying database used to store the details is insecure, and is editable directly from Windows. What is worse is that this manual editing is pretty well undetectable, and can be done in a couple of minutes by almost anyone with a little knowledge of PC databases. The article links to a live demonstration of how easy it is to hack the election tabulator software at http://www.votergate.tv/.
Strange voting patterns could be just that, strange patterns caused by some local issue or another, so it will just add to the list of conspiracy theories on everything from ‘Who shot JFK?’ to ‘Did they fake the moon landings?’. Having said that it does highlight the massive lack of PC security awareness that exists. Tabulating election results into a simple PC database was probably the simplest and cheapest way to do the job, but when that bit of software is responsible for deciding the next President is simple and cheap the best way? In elections the world over there are procedures and inspectors to ensuring that the physical process – casting votes, ensuring that they are not tampered with, and keeping the paper votes safe – is carefully carried out, and yet in this case the software that declares the result can be tampered with in under two minutes with pretty basic knowledge.
The simple fact is that whilst such insecure software is being used we don’t know whether the vote was tampered with or not, and probably never will.