Monday, August 18, 2008

XKCD & Voter Fraud

Friday's XKCD (above) raises a worrying issue about both past and upcoming elections. Even from my own limited experience with computers, I can tell you:

1. The only way to keep computers from being hacked or getting viruses is by keeping them isolated. Period. Why on earth are these machines ever hooked up to a network? Why are they ever in a situation where they could possibly get infected with a virus?

2. Almost universally, viruses have to be programmed specifically for the OS that they will infect, and anti-virus software works by looking for particular viruses. In other words, you wouldn't be able to tell whether the voting machines had been affected by a stealthy virus even if the anti-virus software was working perfectly, because the only place the virus would show up would be in the voting machines themselves and so the anti-virus software wouldn't know what to look for.

3. Or, at least that's the only place it should show up. The fact that they think they need anti-virus software raises the possibility of an even more serious concern: what if they didn't bother to program their own OS? Oh my god, I hope they are not running Windows.

There are many reasons to be worried about electronic voting machines. But holy shit: I did not expect severe incompetence on the part of their designers to be one of them. More information is available here. Or, you know, here.


  1. The silence on these concerns is defining. The election is less than three months away! FIX IT or PAPER BALLOTS!!! AHHHHHH!

  2. Quixote Foundation started and continues to fund the Electronic Voting Network (EVN). It's a coalition of groups working on this issue. Electronic Frontier Foundation is one of the lead groups - they did the work to catch ATT spying on us, and took them to court. (Altho much good that did since FISA granted retroactive immunity. Thank you, Senator Obama for overlooking the Constitution on that one! Did you notice how your polls went DOWN after that vote? Or were you too busy making other decisions that will lose you this election?) EFF also issues the metal Bill of Rights so you can exclaim "That must be my Bill of Rights" as you set off any metal detector when you carry it in your pocket. Mark Ritchie, the phenomenal Secretary of State in Minnesota is also doing a great deal of work organizing secretaries of state nationwide. And, as I am sure you know, the CA SoS de-certified the CA machines, to great uproar.

  3. Aside from everything else, the idea of a metal bill of rights is so damn cool. Pretty highbrow, since it only affects people who fly, but also sorta a ray of hope. In any case, EFF is entirely tight, and I'm actually probably going to use them for my thesis.

    I'm not sure what the ultimate solution is to electronic voting – it's not like paper ballots are tamper-proof, either, after all – but it's definitely not working now and I'm not sure it will ever be truly safe.

    As far as Obama goes: not to quote Stoller again, but this is pretty damning. Fine, we live in DC and are isolated from the imaginary "real American voter" – but damnit, man, killing your brand never makes sense. Here, we have one of the first natural leaders in decades, and apparently his plan to get elected is to contradict and triangulate his positions to fit in with an imaginary American center instead of actively deciding what that center is. Just great. Makes a ton of sense. Good god.