The national media’s reporting on the successful efforts of a group of University of Michigan computer scientists to hack into the District of Columbia’s new Internet voting platform for military and overseas families focused on the cute: they got the Web application to play the UM fight song, “The Victors,” when a vote was submitted.

But more ominously, they were also easily able to change votes at will, potentially giving them the ability to overturn the results of an election.

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So it won’t be all chuckles when the UM’s Alex J. Halderman testifies before the D.C. City Council Friday morning.

The D.C. Board of Ethics and Elections designed a “Digital Vote By Mail” system in which overseas and military voters could receive blank ballots and cast them over the Internet using PDF files. During a test period,  Halderman and a team of students were able to infiltrate the election system within 36 hours and gain complete control over the server, reporting that they were able to change ballots at will.

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Computer experts have long warned that security risks inherent to the Internet could make voting online a national security concern and many urged the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics not to adopt an Internet voting program. Yet this election The New York Times estimates that nearly 3 million voters in 33 states could cast ballots over the Internet using email and efax as state election officials have moved to implement online voting programs despite the known security flaws.

Cyber security experts and election integrity groups Common Cause, Verified Voting and Voter Action encourage the online delivery of blank ballots to overseas voters, but warn that returning voted ballots over the internet is just too risky to adequately ensure that a voter’s ballot will actually count as cast.

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