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Last July, alert elections officials in the Miami-Dade jurisdiction noticed a puzzling pattern in requests for absentee ballots and discovered the first case of electronic election fraud to get some serious, if not timely, mainstream media attention. NBC News, the Miami Herald, and the Huffington Post, among others, are reporting that thousands of absentee ballots were being requested...

...for Democratic voters, but that many of those requests were coming from just a few Internet addresses in India, the UK, and--it was revealed after the investigation closed--a few addresses within Florida. The officials began rejecting the suspect requests and eventually the requests stopped. If the alert civil servants had not acted to refuse the requests, it would have made voting difficult or impossible for those voters when they arrived at the polls.

While the news reports are stressing that the incident is the “first known cyberattack” on an election, I like it that NBC also lets its readers know that “other experts… noted that there are so many local elections systems in use that it's possible that similar attempts have gone unnoticed.”

This paragraph, however, bothers me: “There have been allegations of election system hacking before in the US, but investigations of irregularities have found only software glitches, voting machine failures, voter error or inconclusive evidence. Where there has been evidence of a computer security breach -- such as a 2006 incident in Sarasota, Fla., in which a computer worm that had been around for years raised havoc with the county elections voter database -- it was unclear whether the worm's appearance was timed to interfere with the election.”

That seems to imply that NBC isn't interested when our elections are messed up by accident or incompetence. It has to be a crime story to get their interest.

Like investigations into previous incidents, the investigation into this fraud was closed before the culprits were identified and brought to justice, although the Miami Herald is staying on the case. And, of course, some are calling not for rigorous investigation and prosecution of the criminals, but for additional requirements that will make it harder for absentee voters (signing in the presence of a witness).

So, it's one more reminder that we've got our work cut out for us: We need to keep demanding effective investigations into electronic election fraud; we need to increase awareness that electronic spoiling of elections is unacceptable to voters regardless of its cause, and we need to work with our local elections officials to be just as vigilant as the heroes who caught this attempt at fraud and nipped it in the bud.

- Karen McKim

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