Electronic voting systems

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Electronic voting systems are different forms of voting where the ballot is provided through a computer or a digital device. In the United States, while a range of electronic voting systems are used, the most prominent is the system called Directing Recording Electronic Systems or DRE[1]. DRE voting involves having a voter use a computer to vote, and voters are given an option to print out their decisions before the vote is saved in order to ensure they have voted correctly. The vote is then stored in the computer's memory. Each person's vote is then recorded on the computer's hard drive. [1] While not all states use the DRE system alone, many states have started using this system recently along with the traditional paper ballot. Another form of electronic voting consists of a scanner that scans the votes and then stores them onto a computer, but the actual ballot itself is paper. This is known as an Optical Scan Paper Ballot System. [1] As the digitalization of the voting process increases, there are other problems that arise such as the vulnerability of voting systems and election rigging.


The democratic voting process was traditionally done via the traditional paper ballot. However, in the United States, the DRE system was patented on February 19, 1974. According to the patent, the inventors of the DRE were Richard H. McKay, Paul G. Ziebold, James D. Kirby, Douglas R. Hetzel, and James U. Snydacker [2]. As the years passed by, the government became more involved in creating initiatives to move from the paper ballot to a more technology-based model. The release of the first set of standards for electronic voting by the Federal Election Commission was a catalyst, spurring the transition from analog to digital. The first election in United States history that used an online ballot was Ross Perot, an independent candidate in the 1996 Presidential Election. Electronic voting addressed a lot of issues that came with a paper ballot such as citizens who were overseas serving in the military or college students who were not in their registered district. However, a major problem that lead to the voting process being digitalized became evident in the 2000 Presidential Election between Al Gore and George W. Bush [3]. Florida, a high stakes state, was prematurely declared a victory for Bush. In a turn of events, as the ballots were counted, it was revealed that Gore had actually won Florida. This problem revolved around “hanging chads” and “pregnant chads”, which revolved around the paper ballot not being properly punched through. As a result of these improperly punched ballots, the counting machine glitched and did not count these cards as votes. Because of this electronic voting systems became more widely used across the country. But nevertheless, issues with electronic voting became evident in the 2016 Presidential Election between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Donald Trump which revealed imperfections with this method.


2016 Presidential Election

Though Donald Trump won the presidential seat, the 2016 Presidential Election still remains under scrutiny as rumors of Russian collusion [4] may have affected the results. Before the declarations of the presidential candidates, it was revealed that the Democratic National Committee’s servers were hacked by Russians. Due to the simultaneous controversy of her emails, Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton took a hit in popularity as she was hit with another scandal and was accused of rigging the primaries to her favor. A month after the election, the CIA claimed that the Russian interference was used to boost Trump’s popularity, which Trump and his team declined. It has yet to be proved that there was any true Russian interference, but the investigation as of today, is still considered an open investigation.

J. Alex Halderman Testimony

On June 21, 2017, Computer Science Professor at the University of Michigan, J. Alex Halderman gave an expert testimony [5]. in front of the U.S Senate Intelligence Committee about Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election. Halderman specializes in security risks in computer voting technologies. In his testimony, Halderman emphasized the weaknesses in the electronic voting systems that the United States uses. He stated, “I know firsthand how easy it can be to manipulate computerized voting machines...I’ve performed attacks on widely used voting machines, and I’ve had students successfully attack machines under [his] supervision.” [6] Halderman additionally went on to say that in his research on DRE voting machines, he was able to reprogram the machine to rig it so his preferred candidate would win. Another way he described was a virus that would change the results. The initial virus would be downloaded as malware on one singular system, but it would wirelessly spread. In regards to Russian interference, because of his experiments, Halderman concluded that it would have been easy for Russian hackers to infiltrate the voting software long before the election. It would not have been hard for them to invade the IT system by installing a malware, and then eventually, transferring the malware wirelessly to other systems, therefore compromising the 2016 Presidential Election.

Avoiding Voting Issues

Pennsylvania, in February 2018, became one of the first few states to begin thinking about the importance of both DREs and paper ballots. Robert Torres, Acting Secretary of State, said that "new voting machines with paper ballots or voter-verifiable paper backup will improve auditability and augment security" [1]. This decision was solidified in April 2018, and Pennsylvania was recognized as one of six states to have both paper ballots and DREs. Torres made it a point of focus to ensure that all voting machines had an option to receive a printed ballot.[1]

Electronic Voting in Television


In the second of season of ABC's widely-popular television show, Scandal [7], one of the plotlines included the rigging of the fictional president, Fitzgerald Grant’s, first election victory. In the show, his team, without his knowledge, rigged the cartridges in the digital systems so the vote would go to him no matter what. The rigged cartridges were specifically placed in voting systems around Defiance County in the state of Ohio. The election was extremely close and the winner would be determined by who would win the state of Ohio, a swing state, by winning Defiance County. In the TV show, Fitzgerald Grant is re-elected as they were able to keep the election rigging a secret, but it revealed a strong vulnerability in electronic voting systems as the characters were easily able to slip in the rigged cartridges with the regular ones to rig something as large-scale as a nationwide presidential election.

Ethical Issues

Voter fraud

Because electronic voting systems require a software to function, sometimes the software itself can run into a bug. For example, in the 2000 Presidential Election, Florida Governor Jeb Bush employed the use of an electronic system to expunge thousands of votes made by people of color, allowing his brother, George W. Bush to be victorious, but the election was a close call as Bush only won it by hundreds of votes. [CITATION NEEDED] Unlike paper ballots, the software programming of an electronic device can be manipulated by any computer-expert. There are multiple points in the process where there is a chance to doctor results in favor of one candidate or the other. One way voting systems are now more efficient is because the voter data is stored on an external drive or cartridge. However data can be altered and because of that, the integrity of the democratic process now comes into question as more countries are moving towards a more digital method of voting.


As mentioned before, electronic voting systems are more prone to rigging. While election rigging was an issue with paper ballots as well. Stuffing ballot boxes with multiple phony paper ballots is a lot less efficient than manipulating a software. A person could change the software of the voting system before it reaches the poll location, by programming a system to count a vote as “yes” even if the voter clicked “no”, thus, altering the results doctoring the system itself. AS such electronic voting systems must be properly equipped to prevent this unethical hacking that prevents democracy. Companies that do not take proper measures to prevent rigging are partially responsible for taking away the voices of voters which are suppressed when rigging occurs.


As digital technology gets more sophisticated, it also leaves networks and systems more vulnerable as the security of it is developing at a significantly slower rate than technological discoveries. It is more feasible now than ever to remotely hack into the system. Malware can be installed days prior to the election which allows a hacker to control results remotely or the poll volunteers themselves could be coaxed into implementing these viruses into the machines.

However, there are new technologies being developed to prevent hacking in elections. A blockchain voting company called Votem is working on developing a blockchain platform to help securely cast votes electronically. This technology would allow users to vote securely from any location. Its platform allows end to end verification, therefore the users and the receivers of the vote are assured that the vote has been securely executed and processed. However, ethical issues still are present. By privatizing the voting system, Votem has a significant amount of control. The company could misuse its power by skewing the vote total towards politicians who favor Votem. Furthermore, politicians could contribute large sums of money to the company to fabricate voting results.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Voting methods and equipment by state. (2018, February). Retrieved March 13, 2018, from Ballotpedia website: https://ballotpedia.org/Voting_methods_and_equipment_by_state
  2. Historical timeline: Electronic voting systems and related voting technology. (2013, July 22). Retrieved March 16, 2018, from ProCon.org website: https://votingmachines.procon.org/view.timeline.php?timelineID=000021
  3. Levy, M. (2018). United States presidential election of 2000. Retrieved March 16, 2018, from Britannica website: https://www.britannica.com/event/United-States-presidential-election-of-2000
  4. CNN Library. (2018, February 21). 2016 presidential campaign hacking fast facts
  5. https://www.intelligence.senate.gov/sites/default/files/documents/os-ahalderman-062117.pdf U.S. Senate. 2017-06-21. Retrieved 2018-03-15
  6. https://www.intelligence.senate.gov/sites/default/files/documents/os-ahalderman-062117.pdf U.S. Senate. 2017-06-21. Retrieved 2018-03-15
  7. Scandal [Television program]. (2012). ABC.