Since the U.S. presidential election a few days ago, I have received several questions from readers on the subject of computerized voting machines, specifically Dominion Voting Systems Corporation. That Canadian company is the maker of voting machines and software at the center of ongoing controversy and conspiracy theories surrounding the recent election. Lamentably, there is not much I am able to answer because almost the entire voting machine industry is shrouded in such intense secrecy.
A century ago, Justice Louis Brandeis wrote that “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants,” but the voting machine industry does not endorse that idea. Companies such as Dominion instead try to rely on secrecy, hoping that the public will never learn how bad things really are. Not just Dominion, but other shadowy companies also claim their proprietary hardware and software are absolutely secure, but, in reality, are so ridiculously insecure that hacking elections is child’s play.
And I do mean that hacking elections is literally child’s play. The annual DEFCON computer hackers’ convention features the “Voting Machine Hacking Village,” where hackers and would-be hackers of all ages demonstrate their skill at penetrating those allegedly impenetrable voting systems. In a recent competition, 35 participants in the 6- to 17-year-old age group successfully hacked mockup voting systems. In fact, only four children in that competition failed in their attempts to hack a mock election! So, it is entirely accurate to say that hacking elections actually is child’s play.
There is a way to fix this; the technology does exist. Microsoft is now coordinating the ElectionGuard initiative, a public project to create free and open-source software for voting machines. Although Microsoft is yet another secretive corporation that closely guards its proprietary software, sharing its source code with nobody, the ElectionGuard initiative is being handled differently. It is “open-source,” meaning that there are no secrets. Anyone who cares to audit or examine the source code for ElectionGuard may do so. Microsoft is not only doing this for free but is going a step further to fund a bug-bounty program that pays up to US$15,000 to anyone who finds a bug in the software. There is no such reward for finding bugs in Dominion Voting System’s software, or if there is, the rewards are secret, because the company publicly claims there are no bugs in its systems. I suppose that would include the glitches that were allegedly fixed with an update the day before the election, but who knows? That is another secret.
As long as there is no transparency with regard to election hardware and software, as long as corporations such as Dominion are allowed to continue hiding behind a veil of secrecy, nothing will change. Until things do change in the voting machine industry, there will continue to be conspiracy theories and uncertainty clouding elections.
Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981, and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 415 101 8528 or email FAQ8@SMAguru.com.