Who Really Won?

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

"It's Not My Conspiracy Theory"

Miami Herald: Hackers rigging voting machines a real possibility

If a talented computer geek really wanted to alter an election outcome, voters would never know. Avi Rubin, who heads the computer security program at Johns Hopkins University, told me that tampering by a skilled hacker would be virtually ``undetectable.''

David Dill, the Stanford computer science professor who founded the Verified Voting Foundation, told National Public Radio last week that he was worried because, ''We don't know what's happening inside the machine.'' Dill said that, without independent checks or a backup system, ``We don't know what the invisible errors are.''

The computer scientists are bothered by widespread reports of breakdowns and errors in the voting systems.

But they are more bothered by what they don't know. Because state and local election officials have allowed the basic voting mechanism to remain a private company secret -- off limits to the public.

Angry Republicans, at least those firing off e-mails, seem to suspect that I'm conspiring with the computer science departments of several major universities to undermine the election of their candidate. But they ought to consider a vote-chilling reality.

Hackers (at least the few that authorities manage to nab) tend to be youngish, anti-establishment, anti-status quo, anti-corporate, anti-social. They're not likely to join the country club. They're not singing in the choir at an evangelical church. They're not security moms. They're not anxious to join the Marines and rush gung-ho into the battle for Fallujah. They're not likely to spend much time humming along with country music's Brooks & Dunn, who performed at the Republican National Convention.

Dear Republican critics: Which way do you suppose hackers will tip an election, when they decide, just for the heck of it, to have a little fun with the computer programs that now determine American elections?