Election hacking FAQs

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From Hillary’s vulnerable email server to the string of Russia-linked email dumps, digital security has been one of the major forces driving the news. So far, all the hacks have been about information — in their way, not so different from October Surprises and smear campaigns of previous elections — but they raise an even more troubling question. With allegedly state-sponsored hackers already playing an active role in the campaign, could the integrity of voting itself be at stake?

Voting machines

Voting machines are terrible in basically every way. They’re expensive, old, prone to failure, and unpleasant to look at, but they’re also not that hard to break into. Computer scientists have been demonstrating that for at least 10 years, generally by physically cracking open the machines and installing election-rigging software. Election boards have been slow to respond, and the demonstrations have just gotten better as the years go by.

Voter data

This year has already seen attacks against voter registration systems in Arizona and Illinois, with the latter attack bringing down the system for 10 days and stealing data on as many as 200,000 voters. If an attacker went farther, actively erasing certain voters from the rolls, it could easily cause havoc on election day.

The good news is that, like the voting machines, rolls are distributed. Hackers might compromise the election board’s version of the voter registration list, but there would be plenty of other evidence that each voter was registered, including previously distributed voter rolls and actual registration forms.

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Election hacking FAQs
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