Thursday, July 26, 2018

How badly were US elections hacked?

After the 2016 elections in the United States, a large number of headlines appeared regarding the supposed intervention of hackers to manipulate the voting system and to change the will of the citizens.

Thousands of web pages spread fake news through social networks and generated misinformation. Today we know that Russian nationals were indicted for conducting an illegal "information warfare" effort to disrupt the 2016 presidential election, possibly distorting the popularity of Donald Trump’s candidacy.

The real impact of such campaigns is hard to measure: recent research on the real effects found that most voters reading such fake news already supported their candidate. In other words, they somehow favored voting for President Trump; or they already were not too enthusiastic to vote for Hillary Clinton.

Besides this media campaign, there were the hacking events against the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Also, there were attempts to attack state election offices where intruders sought to hack voter registration databases in Illinois and Arizona.

However, there is no evidence to proof that even a single voting machine was hacked. As the article Voting machines in America are reassuringly hard to hack; Voter rolls are not from The Economist points out, “Rigorous software studies and vote counting revealed that there is no evidence of manipulation, change or votes eliminated during the 2016 elections”.

Also, this article from Politico: What we know about Russia’s election hacking states that “Officials from the Department of Homeland Security say they haven’t seen any evidence of digital tampering with election organizations, individuals or systems — though that doesn’t rule out some broader effort to undermine public faith in the U.S. political system or sow unrest”.

Although voting machines were not hacked and not a single vote was changed, Russia might be still trying. “It is 2018, and we continue to see Russian targeting of American society in ways that could affect our midterm elections” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats stated. Therefore, the US should be seeking to adopt a more secure, accessible and reliable election system – one that can only be achieved through modernization.

One out of three US voters have concerns about the accuracy and reliability of the voting technology used at their polling place, and one out of five Americans who voted in the 2016 presidential contest do not fully trust that the national election results were tabulated accurately. However, they also propose a clear solution: eight out of 10 voters believe that upgrading the nation’s voting technology will strengthen and build trust in future elections –a fact the administration and its commissions should not ignore.

To achieve this, there is not only the matter of modernizing and upgrading the voting systems. All sectors involved (media, government, NGOs) and influencers should debunk the myths that are generated daily by false news that seek to warp democracy in the United States. By the way, here an Expert advise on how to fight fake news.