How Safe Are Our Voting Systems These Days?

In the last year or so there has been a lot of talk about elections and how secure they are. This all started with inquiries into whether the 2016 US general election was the target of attacks on democracy from external forces, namely by Russian cyber attackers.

Whether the allegations that have been circulating for the past year or so are true or not remains to be seen. But the fact that so many people believe the allegations says something about the state of democracy and how secure or insecure it is today.

The Power of Online News

Online news is one of the ways in which people are worried that governments are trying to influence foreign elections. It’s very easy for governments to use fake profiles on social media sites in order to drive headlines regarding an election or political situation in a particular direction.

The rise of online news and its impact on voting patterns is something that definitely requires further monitoring. Without the journalistic accountability that older forms of news carried, it’s possible for pretty much anything to be said and believed.

Online Voting and Voting Machines

Voting machines and online voting have both improved a lot in recent years, and that’s one thing to be thankful for at the moment. Online voting systems are not perfect but some countries are pushing ahead and proving that they are the future of democracies.

Estonia is one such example of a country using modern voting machines from smartmatic and online voting systems robustly and safely. Local elections recently showed that an increasing number of people are using these systems, and that shows they could result in greater voter participation in the long-term.

Voter Suppression

Voter fraud has long been used as a way to make voting more difficult and less straightforward. For many people this amounts to voter suppression because it makes the poorest people in society less likely to cast a vote when an election comes around.

There are many stats in America that back up the idea that certain groups face an uphill struggle when it comes to voting. For example, on average a black voter will wait in line twice as long as a white voter when trying to cast a vote.

Attacks by Hackers

We’ve already seen the impact of successful attacks by hackers can have on democratic systems. Hacked email accounts have leaked information that has been damaging and embarrassing for political parties in the last year alone.

That in itself is an example of a hacker or group of hackers attempting to sway voters in an election, even though it doesn’t attack the voting system itself. There remain risks from hackers who want to directly attack voting machines but that’s much harder and there are fewer known examples of it thus far.

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There are lots of things to be wary of going forward but better technology with stronger safeguards in place will be good for democracy and should even help more people involved in the democratic system.

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