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Security and Elections


Elections are common to almost all societies. Periodically, groups of people determine their representatives, leaders, neighborhood spokespersons, corporate executives, or union representatives by casting ballots and counting votes using a variety of schemes. Those who don’t participate see others around them doing so. And stories abound about rigged elections or results considered compromised by accident or poor communication.

US-based elections follow a general pattern of voter registration, determining items to vote on, generating ballots, distributing election materials to the polling places, voting, counting the votes, declaring winners, and auditing the results. The details differ among jurisdictions, but each step requires considerable care to ensure the election’s integrity. So, elections are an ideal mechanism for teaching about security.

At the University of California, Davis, we teach numerous computer security classes for undergraduate majors and nonmajors and for graduate students. This column presents some of our experiences using elections and e-voting systems as lecture material and as a class project done with the Yolo County Elections Office. 

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