America's age-old process – democracy – requires nothing more than one vote of confidence from each citizen. Unfortunately, the systems tracking this participation are too old to handle the dangers associated with the digital era.
Voting in the news
When another country can access information from a major political party in the U.S., it's a signal that the once sacrosanct privilege of American citizens is now no longer shrouded in secrecy. When Russia hacked the DNC database in mid-2016, it cast a light on data security in the political sphere. This caused analysts from all around to take another look at a cornerstone of the election process – voting machines.
"Voting machines are vastly outdated."
These systems are largely digital nowadays – this is because of the election fiasco of 2000 between former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Al Gore, Wired magazine reported. Shortly thereafter, in 2002, the Help America Vote Act was pushed through, which made voting punchcards obsolete.
Cybersecurity wasn't necessarily at the top of every lawmaker's mind when HAVA passed, and the idea that electronic voting could do more good than harm was certainly the mantra. But now 14 states will be setting up machines in November that are more than 15 years old, according to a report by the Brennan Center for Justice. Furthermore, 43 states will be using systems that are at least 10 years old.
Many computers and laptops fail to reach that type of longevity in this day and age, which is why so many industry analysts are worried about the potential adverse side effects should even a newly minted hacker gain access. According to InfoWorld, since these systems aren't connected to the internet, they can't be shut down through distributed denial of service or malware – but once someone gets physical access to them, anything is possible.
"Recycling" voting machines
At some point very soon, these electronic voting systems will be retired in favor of new machines or a different system entirely. This means there will be tens of thousands of machines being retired simultaneously. With their only flaw being found through physical hacking, this is extremely alarming.
Voting machines innately store confidential information by nature. This ranges from Social Security numbers to home addresses. Left in the wrong hands, recycled without proper precautions taken or even worse – left in a landfill – could all be dangerous destinations for this disposed media. These risks outnumber a potential data breach a company could suffer, as a hack of this magnitude could quite possibly affect nearly half of all Americans.
It's for reasons like these that degaussing was invented. Normally used for computers or old hard drives, a degausser demagnetizes the media stored on the disk, rendering it entirely unreadable. It's likely the U.S. will take this method when it comes to recycling these machines, as a simple data erasure software program cannot be trusted with the highly valuable and confidential information stored on these systems.
After these electronic voting machines have their data erased, the next step the government will likely take is to crush, shred or pulverize them. This provides a safe one-two punch to ensure the data cannot be retrieved, no matter how hard a hacker tries.
With one of the most polarizing elections quickly approaching, it's interesting to see the spotlight shifting to the systems that tally the results. Many analysts point to the fact that if voters feel unsafe about logging their information in these systems, it could be dangerous to democracy itself. Degaussing, a method used by institutions all over the world to keep information safe, will likely take some headlines as the best way to transition America during this process.