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Vote fraud: a business opportunity?

 

'Net Insider 

 

By Scott Bradner, Network World, 11/06/06

 

Tuesday is Election Day in the United States, so it seems to be a perfect time to revisit the ongoing saga of voting-machine companies that would rather fight than fix and of elections officials whose loyalties seem to be more to past decisions than to voters.

 

With the thousands of electronic voting systems that will be in use for the first time in this election (Google news lists 4,290 news stories about the issue), more people are worried about the potential for problems, including fraud. There have been a number of stories on TV news shows, including a documentary on HBO titled “Hacking Democracy.”

 

The stories fall into two general groups: first, talking about the many failures of the systems; and second, the potential for fraud because of poor security in the systems or in the processes by which they are used. Some observers and politicians have been suggesting that voters use paper absentee ballots instead of risking their vote in a machine.

 

There have been many problems with the machines, some of which observers attribute to purposeful interfering with the voting process. In a few cases, such problems have led elections officials to ban use of these systems. But in many cases, election officials are the primary cheerleaders for the devices.

 

Meanwhile, quite a few observers have been warning of significant hacking risks for years.

 

Naturally, the manufacturers of electronic voting systems do not admit that there are any problems to worry about.

 

Manufacturers not admitting to security problems in their products is not exactly confined to the electronic voting industry. Hardly a day goes by without some manufacturer bashing a researcher for finding flaws in its products. And election officials are not the only people reluctant to admit they bought the wrong product or service - this behavior is anything but rare in the business world.

 

Fixing elections by tampering with electronic voting systems may become a business opportunity. Why should a candidate for, let’s say, the U.S. Senate spend tens of millions of dollars on travel and advertising when a small fraction of that money paid to the right set of hackers may be a more reliable way to win an election?

 

A (I hope) spoof Web site was recently set up at www.fixavote.com by someone or some ones calling themselves “Election Consultants.” It looks just like a site that a high-priced professional consultant company would put together, complete with new-age music in the background. The site says that they provide all sorts of services such as “real-time voter correction” and “enhanced retrospective tallying” to ensure a “desirable election outcome.” They say they “support” Sequoia Voting Systems, Diebold Elections Systems and Elections Systems Software. I assume these folks are honest and would accept only a contract from one candidate in any particular election.

 

I guess it’s human nature not to want to admit a mistake. In business all that is at stake may be the future of a few managers in a company or in extreme cases the company itself. Somewhat more is at stake if elections officials refuse not to admit that many of these machines are not yet ready for prime time. But, that said, I sincerely hope that electronic voting will be a nonstory this week.

 

Disclaimer: The research side of a place like Harvard is, by definition, supposed to think about things that are not ready for prime time. But, as far as I know, Harvard has not suggested that electronic voting machines fit that or any other category, so the above view is my own.

 

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