The 2016 presidential election is nearly upon us. It may be the most important one in recent memory, and a number of people, nations, and organizations have a huge stake in how it turns out. But what if the results were to be corrupted? This is something we don’t often think about, but it’s a point of concern for some. Could Russian hackers potentially break into our polling places electronically? Could they change the results of our election?
The Potential for a Russian Hack
This fear doesn’t just come out of the blue. It’s believed Russian hackers were behind the email breach at the Democratic National Committee. Since then, the security of the election databases in Arizona and Illinois has also been compromised. In both states, voter registration information was accessed, including names, addresses, and possibly even Social Security numbers. The FBI believes these hacks originated from Russia as well.
Because of this, many officials are concerned that an attack intended to alter the results on Election Day isn’t out of the question. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid even wrote a letter to FBI director James Comey admonishing him to be prepared for such a possibility and take any necessary precautions to prevent it.
How a Hack Could Alter Election Results
The targeting of voter registration information proves that hackers can potentially have an impact on the 2016 Presidential election. They could easily prevent people who tend to vote for a particular party from being able to cast their ballot merely by removing their names from the database. With enough people of one party turned away from the polls in key states, the opposition could take the votes they need to win the election.
Some fear that even the voting machines themselves could be tampered with, with hackers directly changing votes cast for one candidate to someone else. This fear has been expressed a number of times in recent years, though there’s no evidence that it has ever happened before, in any election. Still, theoretically that doesn’t mean it couldn’t. The technology is there, and adequate protection often isn’t.
The Problem with Polling Places
Each state has their own voting system and their own equipment. Methods range from hand-cast, hand-counted ballots to independent electronic systems to connected databases and more. Since each locality has their own practices and their own IT, some are naturally going to be more secure than others. With so many variables, it’s virtually impossible for the FBI to keep track of all potential vulnerabilities at a nationwide level.
So with all that uncertainty, hacking and other tampering are certainly a possibility. As to whether or not they’re likely, that’s more difficult to speculate. However, it’s not worth taking any chances on. Jeh Johnson, Secretary of Homeland Security, has raised the possibility of categorizing electronic voting machines as critical infrastructure. This means that, to protect them against tampering, they would not be connected to the internet, and would be rigorously audited and inspected to make sure they aren’t infected with malicious software or otherwise compromised.
A breach of voting machine security would not just be disastrous for the election results, but also detrimental to the American psyche. The right to vote is something our forefathers fought and died to bring to us. To find out that the sanctity of that vote has been violated could cause chaos across the nation.
Unfortunately, with less than two months to go until November 8th, it’s doubtful that any new policies could be implemented in time for this election. In the meantime, hopefully the FBI will take interim measures to guard against any imminent threats, and maintain the integrity of our election process.