Vote tampering has a long history. Such tampering can be done by influencing the voter in improper ways or by altering the actual votes. Naturally, honest people have been trying to defend against such tampering for as long as other have been trying to tamper.
It was hoped that electronic voting would help prevent tampering while also making the election process more efficient. However, as PC Magazine revealed in the October 2, 2007 issue (page 17) voting machines are not doing terribly well. Computer scientists at the University of California were able to hack electronic voting machines from Diebold, Election Systems and Hart InterCivic. In reply these companies complained that the scientists were given unrestricted access to the machines and in a context that did not replicate the conditions under which voting takes place. However, given the general success of hackers in breaking secure systems in “the wild” it seems likely that real hackers could find and exploit the security weaknesses the researchers located.
One obvious concern is that 100% security is not possible-if a system can be accessed it can be accessed in ways that allow misdeeds to be performed. Also, even if the hardware and software were amazingly secure, there is always the human element to contend with. The best hardware and software mean nothing if, for example, a corrupt official has suitable access to the system and can change the true results.
What we can reasonably expect is that the voting machines are adequately secure. Just what that means depends on what sort of attacks can be reasonably expected and how much accuracy is desired. Since 100% security is impossible, a realistic level needs to be determined. This obviously can be done. After all, ATM machines work with an adequate degree of security and a system that is modeled on them could be made to work as well for voting.
Some people have suggested that we should stick with paper ballots in order to avoid hacking problems. While paper ballots obviously cannot be hacked, they can easily be compromised. A fake ballot looks just like a real ballot and the only things that protect paper ballots are tamper-evident seals and the integrity of those monitoring the ballots. Obviously, there are multitudes of ways paper ballots can be tampered with.
While electronic voting machines are currently somewhat problematic, they do seem to offer the best chance of providing a secure and efficient method of voting. The efficiency part is easy-the secure part will be somewhat challenging, but similar secure systems do exist.
Now if we could only find candidates worth voting for.