The election cycle has reached its predictable fever pitch, and one issue receiving particular attention this year is the vulnerability of electronic voting systems to tampering, either intentionally (think hacking or voter fraud) or unintentionally (think hanging chads or lost ballots). Although it is unlikely that a consensus solution will be implemented in the near future, experts in both public and private sectors are advocating a technology upgrade for America’s voting systems, and blockchain technology may offer the best hope of eventually cyber-securing our elections. Potential applications of blockchain technology are still in their infancy, but voting systems that adopt the technology may be able to provide significantly higher levels of certainty, transparency, and security, making elections much more efficient and much less susceptible to fraud, hacking, or simple human error.
An estimated 70 percent of states use some form of electronic voting, but aging technology has increased the susceptibility to insider manipulation and hacking. In one incident drawing national attention last year, Virginia decertified certain electronic voting machines, after state officials determined that the machines posed a serious risk of being compromised by hackers. This year, experts have repeatedly demonstrated the ease with which some electronic voting machines can be tampered with. Recent examples include a team at Symantec and Princeton professor Andrew Appel, both of whom conducted successful mock hacking exercises to illustrate the risks facing this year’s election. In August, the Senate Homeland Security Committee warned that “a cyberattack by foreign actors on our elections systems could compromise the integrity of our voting process.”
Perhaps the most prominent election-related security breach this year, however, involved the release of Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign emails obtained by hackers. Although not related to voting machines, these hacks demonstrate the risks posed by the growth of online voting, which is now offered by 32 states mostly for military and other citizens located abroad. In short, online voting exponentially increases the accessibility of the system, which exponentially increases the associated threats. In fact, the Department of Homeland Security’s cyber-division has warned against the adoption of online voting for any elections at this time, due to risk of tampering and potential loss of voter privacy.