Save the Trees: E(lectronic) Voting

Written by Rana Tahir ’13

In class this Tuesday, Professor (Jaime) Spacco, a professional “SMC rat” (pronounced “smack” rat), shared with us his thoughts on the possibilities for computerized voting.

What is a SMC rat, you ask?  It is the local jargon for a person who works so hard at the Umbeck Science and Math Center (SMC), they practically live there. This goes for students especially, and yes, they hold these titles proudly. On the same note, the Ford Center for Fine Arts (CFA) can eat your soul, like it’s happily eating mine. Pride.

Back to the point: I must say this was one of the liveliest lectures. Professor Spacco’s passion for his work really shone through, even to a technology-challenged person like me.

The premise was on “openness,” which dealt with patents, copyright and the like. It also had repercussions for privacy.

Electronic voting, or e-voting, can be done through actual online voting or computerized machines. In practice, we already have machines that are built by four companies nationally.

Incidentally, the technology those four companies use is not open to the public. However, that didn’t stop a Princeton team from hacking into one machine in under two minutes. Scary stuff.

But as Professor Spacco said, “Given enough eyes, all bugs are shallow.” And perhaps, the team that hacked into the machine can also help us understand how to improve them.

So the question isn’t: Should we head into e-voting? We’re already there. The question is: Should we open the technology for others to improve upon?

I saw possible risks, and wasn’t sure how we could account for them.

For instance, given the problems banks and companies have been getting from the Avenge Assange group without the ability to protect themselves, I’m wary of going full-in to e-voting.

For those who don’t know, Avenge Assange is a group of anonymous hackers who can send unstoppable attacks to shut down Web sites ,including online banking transactions.

For me, we’re just not there technologically to assure things will be fair. Perhaps Professor Spacco is right, and we need to get the best and the brightest looking at these technologies.

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