Hack the vote, pt. 2

Recently, I’ve argued that voting-booth software should be developed only in an open-source fashion — so that anyone can look at how the code works. Right now, of course, that isn’t happening. Governments are buying their voting software from private companies who refuse to let anyone see their code. That means it’s impossible to really trust them that the software is secure. They might well lie, or simply be unaware of how bad their code is. And wouldn’t it suck if a bunch of computer bugs — or hackers — messed up an election?

Actually, we don’t have to imagine that — because it’s already happening. Boone Country recently bought some voting software from MicroVote, one of those closed-source, “trust that we know what we’re doing” private corporations. Boone Country has only 19,000 registered voters, but when the software tallied up the chits, it claimed that 144,000 votes had been cast.

Whoops. As the IndyStar reports, “a lengthy collaboration between the county’s information technology director and advisers from the MicroVote software producer fixed the problem” — and showed that only 5,352 votes had been cast. But really, who’d trust MicroVote at that point? Who knows what really happened in that election?

(Thanks to Slashdot for finding this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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