Electronic voting has promised to take a lot of the burden off organizing and carrying out elections by aiding in the registering of voters and casting of votes, yet they come with perils, too. In early September, servers in Alberta, Canada, crashed as enumerators began the process of registering voters for the upcoming provincial election.
Elections Alberta Faces Server Crash
Even though they had just started knocking on doors of Alberta residents to help them register for the provincial election of 2019, enumerators were forced to stop on their very first day, as the verification app stopped working. The electronic system that was newly installed to be used for verifying registered voters faced a glitch that forced its servers to crash due to the volume of requests. A representative for Elections Alberta, the independent body conducting the process, admitted that, while they did test their system beforehand, their servers did not anticipate so much volume. They expect to keep registering voters over the phone or through their online system, while they address the problem.
— Edmonton Journal (@edmontonjournal) September 10, 2018
The issue was caused because of the app that staff uses to check whether a potential voter is already registered in the system via their call center or online. Due to the number of incoming requests, the app slowed down to the point that they could not continue their work and they had to stop after visiting just 100,000 households. Elections Alberta has stated that it will expand its servers to address the issue. With more and more organizations under pressure to deal with increasing volumes of data and incoming traffic, technology that allows servers to deal with increased workload, like a load balancer, is set to be in high demand. Load balancing ensures reliable application performance and high availability by reallocating traffic across several resources to reduce server load.
County Elections in Tennessee Hacked by Cybercriminals
Yet it seems that overloading servers is not the only issue with electronic voting and registering systems. According to a story reported on knoxnews.com on May 17, 2018, the Knox County Elections in Tennessee were hacked, as the County’s Election Commission website crashed. The County IT officials were on alert to address potential issues of spikes in traffic, as the heated election drew a lot of attention – the fact that Glenn Jacobs, of WWE wrestling fame, featured on the Republican ballot had a lot to do with that. Yet it was not simply overload that caused the servers to crash.
Knox County Mayor @timburchett today called for a cyber-security contractor to look into the Tuesday night server crash that shut down the County’s website just as polls closed on election night. More: https://t.co/LXQs3QxHiy
— Knox Co. Government (@KnoxGov) May 2, 2018
As Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett called for an investigation into the issue, it was revealed that hackers were behind the website shutdown. The crash was the result of a DDoS attack by malicious third parties, but further investigation clarified, according to knoxnews.com, that it was just a smokescreen to hide another layer of attack – one in which the hackers were trying to access personal and sensitive data. This is why they did not waste any time meddling with election results, which remained unaffected by the attack – yet authorities were more than an hour late to display them on the County website once they were able to restore it. The attack comes among increasing fears that the US might face hacker attacks from a variety of sources during the upcoming midterm elections.
Electronic voting systems can greatly help in managing elections with fewer resources and more transparency – yet dealing with issues such as traffic overload and potential cybersecurity vulnerabilities remains crucial for their success.