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Tech’s Role in the Voting Process

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November 6 is election day in the U.S., and this year technology will play a bigger role than usual in elections in some part of the country. Because of the damage from Superstorm Sandy, New Jersey residents can vote by email, and a few districts will test the Microsoft Surface tablet as a voting device.

Arik Hesseldahl from All Things D reported, “[New Jersey] Gov. Chris Christie has ordered counties to provide ways for people who have been displaced by Hurricane Sandy to vote in Tuesday’s election by fax and email. The system will follow in part a similar scheme developed for New Jersey residents serving overseas in the military to cast their ballots. To say that no one is going to be happy with the result, no matter what it is, is probably understating it.”

The Verge’s T.C. Sottek wrote:

“Princeton University Professor Andrew Appel… said today on a Verified Voting conference call that ’email is the most insecure form of voting.’ Citing common security vulnerabilities like spoofing, Appel says ‘it’s really easy for a spammer to alter an outgoing email,’ and ‘it’s hard to tell who emails are really from.’ He also says that personal computers aren’t just at risk, and that that the state’s computers may be vulnerable. ‘Emails will be received by email county computers that really aren’t very different from other small business computers,’ he says. ‘Voters emails can be modified or altered without their knowledge coming into those computers.’ (Indeed, New Jersey is already balking at internet-based systems — a 2010 order from Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg required the state’s 11,000 voting machines to be disconnected from from the internet for security reasons). Blaze says it’s not just an insecure system, but a fragile one: he says the system could be vulnerable to denial-of-service attacks, crashed email servers, and even zero day attacks. There’s also the issue of a digital divide between voters: what happens to people who don’t have scanners, or compatible hardware, or internet access?

In a separate story about the role of technology in the election, GeekWire’s Todd Bishop noted, “Here’s an interesting milestone for Microsoft Surface: One of the tablets is being tested in Virginia this week as a balloting device for state and national elections there. The test is being conducted by Democracy Live, a company based in Issaquah, Wash., that works with Virginia and other states to deliver electronic ballots and voter information. Democracy Live uses Microsoft’s Windows Azure cloud-based platform, and the Surface is running the company’s ‘LiveBallot’ application through the browser.”

And John Brandon from FOX News observed that Microsoft’s decision to release Halo 4 on election day could impact voter turnout because gamers could be too busy with the new game to take the time to vote. “While no one has hard data on whether Halo 4 gamers will influence the election, there is a logical argument that suggests Halo 4 could have some effect,” Brandon wrote. “Tech analyst Charles King says recent polling data suggests that younger voters are already less interested in this election cycle than they were in 2008, and that gamers might decide to buy the game and skip the vote all together.”

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