Security Review: Electronic Voting

By nhunt at 7:36 pm on March 12, 2009Comments Off on Security Review: Electronic Voting


The rise of electronic voting machines in recent years has led to some heated debates as to how secure these machines actually are. Voting is a fundamental right of a democratic society, so ensuring that each citizen’s vote is properly counted and the impunity of the election is upheld is of the utmost importance. In an era where everything is becoming digitalized, voting is just the next step. Electronic voting machines offer some benefits, but they are also susceptible to error and fraud.

The integrity of electronic voting machines has been questioned with the headlines of Diebold’s debacles reaching the national spotlight. Diebold has had numerous security mishaps that have dated back to 2003. The most recent one was brought to light over the fact that they used the same physical key to lock all touch-screen voting machines. They also posted a picture of this key on their website, which was used to replicate the key. These mishaps by Diebold have raised many doubts as to how secure these electronic voting machines are and whether or not their benefits outweigh their risks.


  • The most important asset of electronic voting machines is the voter’s privacy; a democracy relies on the people’s ability to vote without worrying about repercussions. Once a vote has been cast, it should be kept in a manner that is unlinkable to the voter.
  • Another key asset of electronic voting machines is that votes can be tallied much more quickly. In an era with twenty-four hour news stations covering elections, people want to know the results immediately.
  • A third key asset of electronic voting machines is that they can be made fully accessible to people with disabilities. Adaptive technologies can be used to provide access for a wide range of disabilities. For example, headphones can be used to allow a visually impaired citizen to vote.


An adversary of electronic voting machines would include individuals looking to exploit the system for personal gain. Two classes of these adversaries exist:

  • The first type of adversary could gain control of electronic voting machines to modify the results of an election. Someone working for the underdog candidate or a lobbyist group that stands to gain from a certain candidates election could fraudulently change votes to sway the election in a certain direction.
  • A second type of adversary is an individual looking for personal gain through blackmail. If electronic voting machines can be compromised, then the hacker could use this circumstance to blackmail a candidate for swaying the election in return.


  • Since electronic voting machines provide no hard copy of the ballot, it is much more difficult to ensure that the votes were properly recorded and tallied, whether by error or fraud.
  • A second weakness of electronic voting machines is that the hardware of the system can be tampered with using a man in the middle attack by injecting a hardware device between the user and the central mechanism of the machine.
  • Another significant weakness was the physical security of the machine. As stated previously, at one point the Diebold voting machines used the same key to protect the machines. If a malicious person was able to get a copy of this key, they would be able to access the internals of any Diebold voting machine.


  • A physical receipt can be provided to each voter listing the votes they cast so they can be ensured that no error or fraud has occurred. This would allow the voter to be certain that their vote was correctly tallied.
  • Sufficient inspection and testing of each voting machine can reduce the possibility of a hardware man in the middle attack from occurring. Furthermore, if an attack did occur, periodic inspection of the machines would minimize the effects of such an attack. A standardized protocol and procedure could be implemented to ensure that inspection and testing of each machine was occurring at a sufficient level.


Elections are the essence of a democratic society. It’s a government for the people chosen by the people. However, if people are not confident in the voting system, then it undermines the entire notion of a democracy. If people believe the voting system has been compromised and their vote does not matter, then why would they vote? Ensuring that the integrity of the election system is upheld is far more important than the conveniences that electronic voting machines offer.


Although electronic voting machines provide some benefits to voters, people need to be confident in the integrity of the system. These machines are built by imperfect people, so there is potential for error and fraud with these systems as Diebold has discovered. Until these machines become much more reliable and secure, doubts as to their integrity will persist.

Jon Andes, Nick Hunt

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