Hack the VoteBy Christopher Beam
Posted Friday, Aug. 15, 2008, at 1:53 PM ET
In the late 1800s, during the heyday of Tammany Hall, New Yorkers would often show up to vote with a full beard. "When you've voted them with their whiskers on, you take them to a barber and scrape off the chin fringe," explained Democratic boss Big Tim Sullivan. If the political machine needed still more votes, the voter would return with nothing but a mustache, and then once again clean-shaven. "That makes one of them good for four votes," according to Sullivan.
Technology has cleaned up elections since then. Voting machines ensure one person casts only one vote. Electronic databases let secretaries of state compare their rolls to avoid double registration. Hotlines tell voters where and when to show up on Election Day.
This year, campaigns are relying more than ever on e-mail, texting, and the Web to get their message out and raise cash. But high-speed communication also means more opportunities for electronic skullduggery. Just as new technology lets voters get good information faster than ever in 2008, mischief-makers can spread bad information quickly.