Dark Source: A Reflection of the Politics of Voting Technology

As the debate on the Midterm Elections of November 2018 gets more heated, senators from both parties have expressed serious concerns over threats to cybersecurity of electoral systems across different states. Several lists of recommendations to fortify the systems have been released at the state and federal levels by the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Secretary and Former Head of Homeland Security and the Federal Elections Commission emphasizing the need for Cyber-security Risk Assessments.
Between the record-number White House resignations and departures and the amorphous allocation of around $700 million in funding, with $380 million towards “rapidly” replacing aging election technology across the country and $307 million towards fighting potential cyber threats due to Russian interference, it is clear that the Trump Administration is not sufficiently prepared for the upcoming elections. These patterns of weak election technology and weaker cyber-security, however, are not a recent phenomenon.
In 2005, CDA Director Ben Rubin expressed through his art installation Dark Source, “the inner workings of a commercial electronic voting machine.”

The artwork presents over 2,000 pages of software code, a printout of 49,609 lines of C++ that constitute version 4.3.1 of the AccuVote-TS™ source code.

In Dark Source the code, which had been obtained freely over the internet following a 2002 security failure at Diebold, has been blacked out in its entirety in order to comply with trade secrecy laws.

In an essay subsequently published in Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy, he elaborates on the complications with proprietary election technology in the context of 2004 elections.
We trust cash machines and gambling machines with our money, and we trust medical devices and autopilots with our safety, so why shouldn’t we also trust electronic voting machines with our ballots?
Proprietary voting technology, subject to no meaningful standards of security, reliability, or accuracy, is inherently vulnerable not only to malicious tampering but also to inadvertent failure.
Election systems must be returned to the public’s control, and one essential step will be to lift the veil of secrecy that cloaks the software.
As we continue to follow the trail of Election Security, here at Data Matters and raise the necessary concerns over the upcoming elections, it could be worthwhile to reflect upon the fallacies of the past.

Author: Surabhi Naik

Surabhi Naik is a designer and writer dedicated to Immersive Narratives & Experience Design based in New York City. Her past work ranges from conducting data-driven narrative research in urban communities in India and prototyping spatial design experiences to creative writing for different media. A graduate student in The New School’s Media Studies Program, she is currently deep-diving into Immersive Storytelling Design & Research and is the Editor of Data Matters Publication at the Center for Data Arts

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