By Joseph Guerrero and Jenn Benfield
A long time ago, in galaxy far, far away… there must have been an election. They did call themselves The Republic, after all.
In the Star Wars prequels, we were given a glimpse into the political side of a beloved space opera. One wonders: What kind of cybersecurity did they have? Looking around that giant senate hall, it’s clear they must have had thousands of languages to wrangle. Could a dangerous outside faction (such as, say… the Sith) have altered the election results?
How did they calculate their votes? It must have been (from a technological standpoint) a fairly secure system, if the Emperor himself had to actually politick in order to usurp the governm… I mean, get himself legitimately elected. When even a Sith Lord has to resort to manipulating people for votes, it makes you feel good about the integrity of your ballot system. Their voting machines must have been impervious to human intervention, the nigh-omnipotent hacking power of droids, and the magical abilities of the Force itself!
Of course, election tampering via propaganda and misinformation is a timeless tradition practiced by ambitious, morally suspect leaders through all of human history; it certainly didn’t start with one evil old space wizard deciding the human mind was an easier target than the vaunted Republic voting machines. Maybe they had the sort of blockchain encryption that would have had Andrew Yang on the first ship for Coruscant, citizen application in hand.
But even in the Star Wars universe, you just can’t stop the signal (wait… wrong franchise). Jar Jar Binks and his galactic podcast, full of right-wing propaganda sourced from the Trade Federation, managed to sway public opinion enough to propel Palpatine to the head of the pack. A technologist might be tempted to focus on what can be managed: the voting machines themselves.
However, with so many reports of breaches and hacks, what are the benefits of using digital voting machines? Well, there is a benefit to having a networked system that can report totals in real time to a central location… It certainly eliminates the need to count by hand and removes the chance of human error. And after all, we do our banking online: Shouldn’t an online system be safe enough to vote?
Apparently… not. Most candidates for the 2020 presidential election are pushing for a Return of the King… is the Paper King, at least. When all else fails, sometimes it makes sense to “return to the ways of old.” At least we’re not going back to clay tablets, instead of paper.
So welcome to the future… or, let’s say back to the future, since, for the moment, the most secure way of voting does still seem to be the paper ballot. I wonder… Did the Jedi have to use absentee ballots? Was the galactic mail service as slow as ours?