Hail! to the victors valiant
Hail! to the conqu'ring heroes
Hail! Hail! to Michigan,
the champions of the West!
What in the name of a Wolverine does the University of Michigan fight song have to do with why, in the second decade of the 21st century, we cannot vote online for president? Or more to the point, why can't we vote online for president?
"From a security point of view, it is an insane thing to do," David Jefferson, a computer scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories and chairman of Verified Voting, told Computerworld in March.
In this election cycle, estimates are that about 3.5 million voters in 32 states and the District of Columbia will be able to use their keyboards for at least some portion of the voting process, most of them military service members or Americans living overseas.
"The biggest concern I have about Internet voting is that we don't know how to do it securely. It sounds wonderful but it's an oxymoron. We don't have Internet experts who know how to secure big pieces of the Internet from attack," Ron Rivest, an expert in cryptology and a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told a conference last year at Central Connecticut State University.
Meanwhile, there remain concerns about the voting machines currently in use.
"This is a national security issue. It should really be handled by the Department of Homeland Security," said Roger Johnston and he should know.
Johnston led a team at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, a research arm of the U.S. Department of Energy, in one of the most disturbing e-voting machine hacks to date, in the view of Brad Friedman, proprietor of the Brad Blog and a vocal critic on the subject of voting machine security.
Hacking on the cheap
Call it hacking on the taxpayers' dime -- and on the cheap, too. Voting machines used by as many as a quarter of American voters heading to the polls in 2012 can be hacked with just $10.50 in parts and an 8th-grade science education, Friedman reported in a review of the experiment.
"...the Argonne team's attack required no modification, reprogramming, or even knowledge, of the voting machine's proprietary source code. It was carried out by inserting a piece of inexpensive 'alien electronics' into the machine," he wrote.
This is just one of several hacks in recent years designed to reveal vulnerabilities in voting machines, including one in which the video game Pac Man was installed on a voting machine.
If you want to know what types of equipment your state uses for voting, check out www.verifiedvoting.org.
According to the group's website:
• One-quarter of the nation's registered voters will use paperless electronic voting machines that provide no paper record of votes cast. In six states (Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey and South Carolina) there is only paperless electronic voting. In five states (Indiana, Pennsylvania, Texas, Tennessee and Virginia), the heavy majority of ballots cast are paperless.
• Two-thirds of American voters use paper ballots. In 19 states, voters will use paper ballots statewide. In 13 states and the District of Columbia, optical scan voting will account for the majority of ballots.
• Thirty-three states plus the District of Columbia provide a paper record for every vote cast. That may be a paper ballot or a printout that the voter can view before casting a ballot on an electric machine.
'Voting systems frequently fail'
Check out countingvotes.org for a ranking of the states based on voting equipment security. This survey -- released in July by the Verified Voting Foundation, the Rutgers University Law School and Common Cause -- found that more than 300 voting machine problems were reported in the 2010 midterm elections and more than 1,800 in the 2008 general election.
"Every national election since 2000 has shown us the same thing: Voting systems frequently fail," the study said. "When they fail, votes are lost. Voters in jurisdictions without paper ballots or records for every vote cast, including military and overseas voters, do not have the same protections as states that use paper ballot systems. This is not acceptable."
Now, back to "Hail to the Victors."
Several weeks before the November 2010 election, University of Michigan computer science professor J. Alex Halderman and his students penetrated the District of Columbia's pilot project of an Internet-based voting system for overseas voters.