Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Not a laughing matter

Today, Parade magazine did a little digging, and announced that their Tom Cruise poll was hacked.

Parade.com recently conducted an online poll asking readers whether they thought Cruise was responsible for his disastrous public relations year of couch-jumping, sonogram machine buying and psychiatry bashing, or if it was the media's fault. Eighty-four percent of respondents said the media was to blame for his tough year and that Cruise did not bring his image problems on himself....

"We did some investigating and found out that more than 14,000 (of the 18,000-plus votes) that came in were cast from only 10 computers," Parade publicist Alexis Collado wrote in a press release. "One computer was responsible for nearly 8,400 votes alone, all blaming the media for Tom's troubles. We also discovered that at least two other machines were the sources of inordinate numbers of votes."

Parade also speculated how the results could have come to be.

"It seems these folks (whoever they may be) resorted to extraordinary measures to try to portray Tom in a positive light for the Parade.com survey. There is even a chance they wrote a special 'bot' program for the sole purpose of skewing the results, rather than casting the votes by hand on a computer. Sounds like a pretty devoted group of people, don't you think?"


This might be worth a chuckle, except for the ease with which they hacked into this poll. Now, granted it was an online poll, and we can surmise that the security measures involved were not the greatest. However, it should raise a warning flag.

In passing the Help America Vote Act, Congress specified that no 'paper trail' was necessary. As such, we have to simply trust the accuracy and integrity of the process and the machines involved. We have seen in the past how voting machines have been subject to mechanical and programming errors. But now we also have to consider the possibility that someone could actively try to hack into one or a lot of voting machines and affect the elections. I know people who believe that is what happened in 2002 (in the state of Georgia) and in 2004 (in several locations.) Now, my purpose here is not to rehash the same old stuff, but to point out how necessary it is that we work to ensure a paper trail.

To begin with, we must absolutely push absentee and early voting. This guarantees a paper trail. Another thing that we can do is accurately canvass neighborhoods ahead of the election so that if results in a precinct differ significantly from the canvass, we can if necessary obtain sworn statements from enough voters to prove the results wrong. And we must push, at the national, state and local level to guarantee a paper trail.

Because if we don't, let's just say that there are people out there with much more at stake in elections and with far better resources available to them to fix the results with, than the Tom Cruise fan club has.

5 comments:

Eddie81 said...

The electronic machine I vote on cannot be "hacked into". It is a stand alone machine. At the end of the day it is plugged into another stand alone macnine that tallies the votes.

Steve B said...

eddie: If it doesn't have a paper trail, there's no way to be sure, now, is there? The hacking could have occurred prior to the purchase of the machine. It could occur during development. It could occur during maintainance. It could be done to the tally machine in such a way that the tally machine corrupts the vote count read from the voting machine. And those are just the more obvious solutions.

Hackers are highly resourceful. Saying *any* bit of computing equipment absolutely cannot be hacked into is either ignorance or a willful disregard of the facts.

Eddie81 said...

steve b: Of course I meant that it could not be hacked into through the internet (where hackers usually do their work.)

For the types of corruption you are talking about...those could happen with a paper trail also. If there is a corrupt person in the county clerk's office, they can find a way to do bad things...paper trail or not.

Karen said...

The country should embrace the Oregon voting system, which includes a voter pamphlet and ALL mail-in ballots - that's right, there are no polling districts, being late for work, waiting in lines, or hanging chads. You get the ballots many weeks ahead of time and if you come across an issue you don't know well, you can take the time to research it before you decide. I loved it, and considering how much I despised my entire Oregon experience, that's saying something.

Eli Blake said...

Karen:

In local elections in Winslow, they have used all mail-in ballots. It really works well because even the busiest people can still vote, and it saves the county a lot of money they don't have to spend on pollworkers, polling places and more sophisticated equipment.