Math in the Media

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Mathematical Digest

Short Summaries of Articles about Mathematics
in the Popular Press

"The Cryptography of ... Voting Machines," by Dana Mackenzie. Discover, May 2004.

Mackenzie explains that electronic voting machines are not immune to flaws and fraud. These voting machines look and function much like ATMs, but the author points out that ATMs have built-in safeguards---paper receipts, ID cards, and camera surveillance. Voting machines have no such safeguards, as complete privacy takes priority in elections. Many people were not worried about this until this year when in Broward County Florida (home of the infamous 2000 Presidential paper ballot recounts) no one was able to do a recount of the electronic votes---some of which were blank. This led to a test in which eight computer security experts set out to discover whether electronic voting machines invited potential undetected mischief. Sure enough, weaknesses (in passwords and coding) were detected and exploited. Although some conclude that electronic voting is "relatively safe compared with the alternatives" (dependent upon good programmers and bad hackers), many feel more confident with a paper trail. The magazine lists several resources on voting technology and the controversy.

--- Annette Emerson

American Mathematical Society