The Unreasonableness Of Hacking A Presidential Election

October 28, 2016

I am really tired of explaining to some friends on Facebook how completely unlikely it is that Democrats are hacking voting machines to flip Republican ballots in Texas. I don’t understand why educated people believe rumors to be fact and refuse to consider how impossible this is to do.

It isn’t that I think voting devices can’t be altered individually in a controlled environment, but I cannot imagine how thousands of devices not connected to the internet can be hacked without anyone noticing anything. At work we can often barely update server applications or databases or even configuration files without major issues (which is sad). How would you even begin to approach updating a myriad of different electronic voting machines in thousands of precincts one at a time without anyone noticing?

Furthermore imagine how difficult it would be to rewrite the programming of a large set of different software and hardware versions you may not even be able to identify before arriving on site, having ready made software replacements that correctly function to flip certain votes and do it in a statistically valid way (flipping 100% of all votes is a dead giveaway). Since you have to install your patches one device at a time across entire states it would take a large army of people, who somehow have to explain what they are doing and why to a massive number of precinct workers without even one slip-up; a single guilty party would be enough to destroy the scheme.

For example in Texas each county runs its own elections and generally there is a clear set of policies for how machines are calibrated, how votes are collected (I imagine its usually a hard drive), how technicians are identified, what processes should be followed for each election. There are 250 counties in Texas, each handling elections differently but following standards laid out by the state. I don’t know how many voting precincts in total in the state but for example Dallas has nearly 800, each with a number of devices (electronic and paper).

Now imagine you wanted to hack an election, hacking each individual machine one at a time by 1000’s of individuals none of whom can get caught in full view of all the other precinct workers and the various levels of judges and officers seems pretty much impossible unless you believe in invisibility cloaks or elves. Just having enough time in a short election season to get this done and have it be completely successful without any obvious problems is impossible.

We can’t even release single apps that perfect without a single flaw. How would hundreds or even thousands of patches, each for a different ballot content and for different machines with who knows how many versions possibly work?

If for example we had a single national piece of software for voting machines, installed from an insecure network by non-technical people the day of an election without any oversight or validation: then I would believe it is not only possible but likely. No such thing exists at least in the US.

What would stop each party from attempting the same kind of hackery? Now you are not only patching myriads of voting machine software versions but dealing with other people’s previously installed hacks, leaving the poor machine likely comatose, which would be pretty easy to spot as well. This is software after all, a highly malleable but generally unstable mess if not carefully constructed and managed. Random people dropping random code all over the country with no one noticing is something that would only exist in a terrible fantasy movie.

Any programmer should laugh at this craziness since we have enough trouble getting the apps and systems we work with every day, after much process and testing and validation, to update and run correctly. Look at how many companies can’t even secure simple systems, and now somehow there are people who can hack thousands of separate systems simultaneously with perfect results and no one notices?

If you wanted to influence an election, it would be far easier to create random Facebook rumors and make a mess of people’s opinions, and perhaps dissuade people from voting; this is much easier to do than a grand conspiracy a hollywood hack script would reject.

As a programmer being asked to build hundreds of patch scripts for unknown software that must work perfectly each time and be installable quickly without suspicion and produce exactly the correct result but not too obvious would make me take an early vacation and not come back!

Just as a note I do not like any of the US Presidential candidates and find political parties of any kind anachronisms.