Our first election hack that doesn’t involve e-ballots

Because some of Hackaday’s readers aren’t from America, let us fill you in on the US election process from the point of view as a voter. Over the next few weeks, political campaigns will dump millions of dollars into advertising, get-out-the-vote and canvassing efforts across the country. The airwaves will broadcast still more ads and political analyses until November 6th, when voters will go to the polls and pull the lever for whoever earned their vote back in July.

Despite how effectively public opinion can be swayed, there are still a lot of problems with the election process in the United States. A first-past-the-post, winner take all system guarantees there will only ever be two realistic choices for voters, but a group of philosophy students (and teachers) may have a solution to this problem.

The idea is fairly simple, really: take dissatisfied members of one party and match them up with dissatisfied members of another party. Normally, these voters would be inclined to vote the party line and not their conscience, for fear of throwing their vote away. After matching these voters up, they make a gentleman’s agreement with each other (either with a handshake or by mailing in their ballots together) to not vote the party line. The balance of power between (D)s and (R)s remains, but third-party candidates get a much-needed shot in the arm.

It’s an interesting idea with far more potential to effect some change than the numerous e-voting hacks that will pop up after the election. Sure, it may not be as effective as other voting systems such as the Condorcet method, but save for elected officials abdicating powers granted to them, this might be the best shot we’ve got.

Voting insecurities

UCSB researchers demonstrated how disturbingly easy it is to hack into Sequoia’s e-voting systems and delete or add votes with little more than a USB key. Given the fact that recent elections have been very close, and this upcoming national one looks also to be decided by a close margin, it’s absolutely inexcusable that our voting systems could be so easily rigged. Not only that, Sequoia has fought hard against having its equipment tested and verified independently. Can we really afford to be using such insecure machines in democratic elections, when the risk of abuse is so great?

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