Online Voting Is a Terrible Idea… An ode to pen and paper.

By  | February 25, 2018 | 7 Comments | Filed under: uncategorized


After the onslaught of computer intrusions suffered by US institutions and political parties in the 2016 presidential election, the decade-old issue of electoral systems’ security was brought back into the public discourse. The American people had the concrete fear their vote too might be manipulated. They worried the election could be factually hacked.

The good news is that such hack does not appear to have happened and despite a recount no significant anomalies have emerged. This assessment still stands even after the recent publication by The Intercept on suspected attempts by Russian intelligence to penetrate the computers of vote counting machines manufacturers and elections officials. The bad news is that, particularly if electronic voting becomes more popular, future elections might very well get hacked.

Read more: This Is Why We Still Can’t Vote Online

We know at least of some sustained attempts at compromising such systems during the Ukrainian elections in 2014. We have been warned so many times of the lacking security of electronic voting machines in use in India, the Netherlands, the United States. Even Estonia, which is widely regarded as the country with the most technologically advanced system of governance, has struggled with securing their elections systems. Yet, voting machines are becoming increasingly popular, in developing and developed economies. From Asia to Latin America, through Africa, Europe and the United States.

I, as many other friends from the hacker community, have always been vehemently opposed to the use of electronic voting machines and for good reasons.

Electronic voting attempts to solve a problem that just doesn’t exist.

Firstly, electronic voting attempts to solve a problem that just doesn’t exist. With the predominant system of paper ballots, we normally get a preliminary count of the votes in a matter of hours already. The benefits provided by a more automatized counting process are not only questionable, but they simply do not outweigh the gravity of the risks involved.

Secondly, we just don’t have a voting technology that is more secure than paper right now. Direct-Recording Electronic voting machines (or just DRE) vary in technical operations and vendors, but they generally all share two common traits: they are proprietary and they are insecure. They are an assembly of layers, both hardware and software, that can potentially be tampered with and even remotely subverted. The integrity of this complex and opaque system simply can not be guaranteed. We would have to trust the technology. Paper ballots on the other hand are extremely hard to hijack at scale and any tampering would require in-person infiltration, and yet no particular role has enough power to completely invent an electoral outcome. Additionally, the custody and count of paper ballots heavily rely on not trusting anyone, by involving multiple people with diverse opinions and opposing political beliefs overseeing a process which has been thoroughly stressed and verified for decades.

A good old piece of paper and a pencil might just do the trick.

If using electronic voting machines wasn’t concerning enough, some countries are moving towards adopting online voting (sometimes referred to as e-Voting or I-Voting), allowing people to cast their votes comfortably from home on the Internet, rather than at a kiosk somewhere else. In Estonia, for example, 30.5% of all participants voted for the 2015 parliamentary elections over the Internet . If all the news of hacks, dumps, espionage, sabotage and other cybering should tell us anything, is that the idea of exercising the fundamental manifestation of a democracy over the Internet is just pure madness.

Germany, the country where I live, has banned electronic voting in 2009. The Netherlands abandoned it in 2007. Many others instead are moving towards a complete digitization.

That is worrying. We need to audit and responsibly bring to the public attention the shortcomings of these systems. This year the DEF CON hacker conference is running a Voting Machine Hacking Village, an initiative that should be replicated in as many other countries as possible. Online voting needs to be abandoned and DRE machines need to be replaced at the very least with optical scanners and human as well as machine readable paper ballots.

While electronic voting systems hacking might not have affected the outcome of an election thus far, it is exactly in moments like this with hateful politics and extremism on the rise that we might see bigger incentives to subvert democracy. For that we need to be prepared, and a good old piece of paper and a pencil might just do the trick.

Claudio “Nex” Guarnieri is a hacker, security researcher and human rights activist. He is specialized in investigating computer attacks and tracking state-sponsored hacking campaigns, particularly those targeting journalists and human rights defenders. He also works for Amnesty International and co-founded Security Without Borders. This piece reflects his independent views.



7 Responses to Online Voting Is a Terrible Idea… An ode to pen and paper.

  1. Quick Draw February 25, 2018 at 11:18 am

    America has proved to us that the Voting system can be overtaken by ‘hacking.’ Any IT professional can hack into any computer program and all it takes is to just change one line on the program. It has been proven….It has also been proven that the same IT professional can go back into a program and change the line back and nobody would ever know the ‘hack’ occurred. Do we want that to happen something as precious as our Democratic Right? It is a serious questions that everyone with a computer should be asking themselves.
    By voting online you have no idea that the vote you have cast has been recorded. It might not even count.
    ON October 22, please take the time to go to a Polling Booth and cast your Vote..You might even meet someone new while you are there and make a new friend.

    Citizen February 25, 2018 at 11:26 am

    Just how many articles does one need to know hacking & vote fixing can occur???

    Apparently this info is falling on closed ears of our Mayor & Council – hmmmm – one wonders why. But then again, we know why.
    The Municipal Election in 2010 & 2014 were a mess & very likely hacked.

    We as citizens & voters would like a legitimate vote here in Cambridge. An honest one where our votes go to the person we voted for.

    People of Cambridge – fight for your right for an honest Election Oct. 22nd.

    Email your Mayor & Councillors or phone. Email shows a record of your request.

    Be wise & informed this coming Municipal Election.

    Collin Pyke March 8, 2018 at 7:24 pm

    This computer voting has been the wrong choice from the beginning. In fact the States even had trouble years ago with machines. Something as important as an election needs to be as foolproof as possible. Anytime a machine is involved it has the opportunity to be tampered with or breakdown. It doesn’t make sense to mess with a system that worked near to 100% perfection. If errors occur with paper it happens to small numbers. Machine tampering can involve thousands of votes in seconds.

    Tom Vann March 12, 2018 at 8:05 am

    Good morning city hall!

    Since your CIA style of monitoring of public sites, meetings, and council has been noted, I see much more coming down the pipe in the future.

    You may choose again to send the police to my door to if you so desire, but I don’t think it a wise choice.

    Fair, not manipulated elections is my goal and people of Cambridge deserve this.

    Hespeler road is an excellent place for education. Making Cambridge a better place and changing the direction we seem to be heading can also be looked at.

    I look forward to the next movie set happening in our city as well. So nice to see we are getting so much attention.

    Positives for Cambridge is progress for the people.

    Return us to a more trust able election process and save the monitoring costs

    You may wish to have the police at council meetings to ensure no one enters with a cold.

    You may also mention to council members and the mayor, that if an SIS (safe injection site) goes into Cambridge a huge blow back I believe will take place, judging on what I am hearing.

    As I mentioned in a past letter…Waterloo got a SIS pass.

    Are our regional seats hearing this? Doing the right things for Cambridge is easy.

    I hope you enjoy my future ads and I look forward to the election this year. So, you can put this post in my file and enjoy the new day.
    Hugs and kisses…

    Watching March 13, 2018 at 9:50 am

    We do not want an SIS site in Cambridge. It does not work! You are just helping these people with their addiction. For crying out loud how many times do you have to be told this – it does not work. You are only enabling these addicts.
    They need help in other ways – but not this. It does not help them and only adds more issues to our City.
    These addicts are coming in droves to Cambridge as they know it is an easy hit.
    You at City Hall need some professional advise – but not an SIS site. I do believe your two Councillors discovered this on their inspection of an SIS site.
    It only adds more danger to the areas they congregate in. Wake up Mayor!

    Concerned March 20, 2018 at 7:15 pm

    I see the Mayor does not want an ISIS site – well that’s a first. No they do not work. We do not want one at all in Cambridge.
    They gather at Bridges – do their deals all over that area – one is afraid to be in that area – always asking for money & yet they can afford to smoke, have tattoos, wear earrings, etc. etc. – they just play the game & we taxpayers are on the hook for it all in the end.
    No ISIS site in Cambridge – period. It helps no one. They need a place to “dry out” in but don’t keep feeding them their addictions. No ISIS SITE!

    Tom Vann March 20, 2018 at 7:47 pm

    Funny Waterloo is exempt like I said before. Any council member that doesn’t say no needs to be removed. Come to think of it; How the heck is Frank and Mann still involved with council with the sex case coming up? This could get ugly during election time. I guess Mann won’t be running for the PC’s. I am surprized the party hasn’t turned down his membership.

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