Technology is already neutral. While vendors and manufacturers and lobbyists characterize technology as a natural force unto itself with the power to improve our lives and work simply through direct contact with it, more often than not, it provides people within organizations, societies, states and countries with the tools they require to further entrench themselves in bureaucracy, and to bury themselves further in the obscurity and anonymity they desire. The first trials of Scytl’s protocol took place in Norway in 2013. The Carter Center, which has monitored and verified the accuracy of global elections ever since Pres. Carter left the White House, reported on the progress of the Scytl approach (.pdf). The process of voting in Norway, according to that report, was not at all dissimilar to the way B-52 bombers were told to attack Moscow in the movie Dr. Strangelove:
In order to vote, a voter had to register their mobile phone with a centralized government register (one could do so online while the voting was underway). The voter should have also received a special card… delivered through the postal service, with personalized numeric return codes. These cards provided the voter a list of four-digit numbers corresponding to each party running for election. The four-digit numbers were randomly assigned for every voter so that, for example, any two voters who wanted to cast their vote for Labour would unlikely have the same return codes associated to the Labour party.
So you get your notice in the mail showing you the specific numeric return codes corresponding to your candidate of choice. They may not be absolutely unique codes to you, like a GUID, but they’re random and complex. The process of administering the returns is taken care of by an IT department whose membership is determined through a complex screening process, taking place transparently for all the people to ignore. The Carter Center charted the conceptual model of the technology involved:
Imagine your local school board election being charted by a process model this complex. Consider the degree to which people who are already disenchanted by the whole concept of contributing their 1/10,000 of a preference, will simply avoid the process altogether. Maybe this fact alone is what makes it so attractive to people in the election business.
As someone who has regularly sat next to security engineers, I look at a chart like this and see a gold mine of potential exploits–handoffs, air-gaps, SMS as the communications medium. Perhaps Scytl’s system is lock-tight today, but the very fact of its complexity, coupled with its wide-ranging impact on the public, makes it an automatic target. How long before such a system is cracked once, someplace in the world? And when that happens, how many other elections’ veracity will be called into question? How many Bush v. Gore cases will this nation withstand?