Students Hack Washington D.C.'s Web Voting System to Play College Fight Song

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A pilot internet voting program in Washington D.C. for this November's elections has been scrapped. Why? Well, officials invited hackers to give the system their "best shot," and some college kids did—and pulled off a pretty good prank.

During a trial period of the web voting system last week, the Board of Elections and Ethics asked "computer experts" to "prod its vulnerabilities" in preparation for the upcoming elections—in which the system was going to be put to use by some 900 overseas voters in lieu of absentee ballots. But the trial period was quickly put on hold, with the board citing "usability issues."

"Usability issues," like the fact that the site would play the University of Michigan fight song, "Hail to the Victors," after users cast a ballot.


Apparently, U. of Mich. Prof. J. Alex Halderman (that's him on the right), who had been working on the project, "unleashed his students" (in the words of the election board's chief technology officer Paul Stenbjorn) on the system. And this was the result. According to Stenbjorn, that particular hole has been closed, but the board has decided to scrap the "digital vote by mail" pilot program out of concern.


(A second security hole causing "voters to inadvertently return blank ballots" was identified by the nonprofit group Verified Voting. But it only affected Mac users, so you can basically assume they were all voting Democratic.)

As for the prank, well, it's a little old-fashioned, sure, but there's something charming about a hack that doesn't involve making pornography appear inadvertently. Here's the U. of Mich. fight song, by the way: