By Deb Feyerick and Bob Ruff
The notion of stealing votes is as old as, well, voting itself.
With the advent of computerized voting, some are concerned that e-voting may be susceptible to tampering. University of Michigan Prof. J. Alex Halderman, along with colleagues at Princeton University, decided to put that question to the test.
First, they legally purchased government surplus voting machines, then they tested them to see if they were vulnerable to vote theft.
For Halderman's crew, getting into the machines was as easy as picking a cheap lock. Once in, the researchers were able to reprogram the memory card inside the machines, set up a mock election and then steal votes at will.
Princeton researcher Ariel Feldman, showed us one of the hacked machines: "We were flipping votes from one candidate to another to keep the total number of votes the same." And, just to nail the point home about how simple it is to alter the computer's memory card, they replaced the election software with the classic video game, Pac-Man.
And there's more:
It’s not like Americans have ever voted in huge numbers. Our watershed election this century? Not Obama’s, in 2008. Or even Ronald Reagan’s, in 1980. It was 1960. The dramatic election between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy drew just 64 percent of eligible voters. In 2008, turnout was about 61.7 percent. Some say that’s deplorable. So how do you get more Americans to vote? Why not try what they do in Australia – make voting mandatory? There, if you don't cast a ballot, you get slapped with a big, fat fine.
William Galston, from the Brookings Institution political think tank, believes voting ought to be a mandatory civic duty. “When you get a notice to show up for jury duty, that's not an invitation, that's a polite requirement,” Galston says. “And if you don't show up, then various sorts of problems occur for you as a matter of law.” While elections officials have tried to increase voter turnout by offering early voting, or enabling people to register at the DMV– they've only managed to increase turnout by one or two percentage points. Not great when you look at the numbers: In 1962–almost 50 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots in the midterm elections. In 1986, 38 per cent voted. In 2006: turnout was 40 percent. If people don't vote because they're lazy - then why not force them to perform their civic duty?
Conservative columnist Debra J. Saunders of the San Francisco Chronicle cites California's ballot pamphlet as a strike against mandatory voting. It's thick with candidate choices and tax propositions - complicated stuff, she says. “I know it sounds great to say that we'd like to have 100 percent voting in the United States but when you look at the reality, if people aren't paying attention, I don't know that you want to have them voting on really complicated issues,” Saunders says. Voting in America isn't likely to become mandatory any time soon - as one election official told us - it would be un-American. Just like others say it's un-American to stay home on Election Day.