One problem that crops up again and again is how our elections are being run by people who have no idea about computer security or even how to handle data that locales put up on the web. Today, a story out of Chicago says that the voter information (including social security numbers) were placed on the web where hackers could get the information and compromise the identities and registrations of of 1.3 million voters.
A malevolent hacker could have tampered with voter registration data, such as inactivating certain voters' registration or changing their polling places in the online database, as well as accessed Social Security numbers, names, birth dates and addresses, the group said.
Chicago is bringing in computer forensic specialists to see if they could detect whether the security hole had been used by anyone. Yet, depending on the state of the security on the systems, they might not find any clues until thousands of voters realize they are not registered to vote.
To me, this is just one more indication that our multitude of precincts, counties and states, each having some say in the way the election is conducted by people who have insufficient knowledge about computers, their weaknesses and the problems that can arise is just waiting for a meltdown. We must find a way to standardize and professionalize the processes and procedures around voting if we ever want to have a country where we know our vote matters.
In 2004, Jimmy Carter gave some advice about what was needed to make our elections transparent, fair and honest.
Today, it is far from a forgone conclusion that Americans will have a fair election. As Jimmy Carter wrote last month in the WaPo, American elections do not conform to the international standards for elections that are seen to be transparent, honest and fair. In fact, the Carter Center could not certify our elections as they do so many others because they lack two fundamental requirements:
- A nonpartisan electoral commission or a trusted and nonpartisan official who will be responsible for organizing and conducting the electoral process before, during and after the actual voting takes place. Although rarely perfect in their objectivity, such top administrators are at least subject to public scrutiny and responsible for the integrity of their decisions. Florida voting officials have proved to be highly partisan, brazenly violating a basic need for an unbiased and universally trusted authority to manage all elements of the electoral process.
- Uniformity in voting procedures, so that all citizens, regardless of their social or financial status, have equal assurance that their votes are cast in the same way and will be tabulated with equal accuracy. Modern technology is already in use that makes electronic voting possible, with accurate and almost immediate tabulation and with paper ballot printouts so all voters can have confidence in the integrity of the process. There is no reason these proven techniques, used overseas and in some U.S. states, could not be used in Florida.
Both these requirements were identified by the bipartisan commission that Carter and Gerald Ford led after the debacle of the 2000 election yet were never addressed by the Congress when they worked on the Help America Vote Act (HAVA).
Nothing should make us more angry than to realize that HAVA was used to force insecure voting systems down our throat and the recommendations that would have actually made our elections more fair, honest and transparent were ignored. When will we really address the problems behind our unfair, dishonest and opaque elections?