Secrets of Scandal: Truth or Consequences

By Jess Brownell, Researcher | Feb 1st, 2013

Olivia PopeOn this week’s episode of Scandal, Mellie reels from Fitz’s request for a divorce, Edison’s proposal hangs over Olivia’s head, and David’s investigation into Hollis Doyle leads him one step closer to uncovering the cabal’s election rigging scheme. With that threat, Olivia takes to her bed and the tables are turned – the fixer becomes the one who needs fixing. To help out their fearless leader, the Associates gather to share their pieces of the conspiracy puzzle, and we learn that Quinn’s ex-boyfriend, Jesse, is the one Hollis paid to pull of the rigging of the election some years ago.

So, how exactly does Jesse steal the national election? In last week’s episode, Fitz’s campaign strategist determined that (in our fictional universe), the Fitz/Reston election would be decided by Ohio, and that Fitz needed to sway three specific counties to win the state. So, in the opening of this episode, we see Jesse in one of those three counties, switching out voting machine memory cards for altered ones. These altered cards, when inserted into the machines, are meant to infect the voting machines with malware that will switch the votes from Reston to Fitz and deliver the county to Fitz.

So, what’s the reality of a scenario like this? In 2006, researchers conducted a study on touch screen voting machines in which they found that “malicious software running on a single voting machine can steal votes with little if any risk of detection.” They also found that the “malicious software can modify all of the records, audit logs, and counters kept by the voting machines, so that even careful forensic examination of these records will find nothing amiss.” But in response to the study, one of the manufacturers of touch screen voting machines said that the study was conducted on a “unit [with] security software that was two generations old” and not in use, and stated that the study was “unrealistic and inaccurate.”

So, has the vote-altering method used by Jesse ever been used in the real world? Perhaps we’ll never know for sure. Certainly, if voting software can be manipulated via undetectable means, we may never know if such a hack has ever been used. This 2008 graphic shows the distribution of voting technologies in the U.S.., with optical scanners and touch screen machines leading the way. As our voting methods trend towards more advanced technology, the doors are just starting to open up for claims of software manipulation to trickle in.

For Olivia and the rest of the cabal, the results of their actions may be devastating. This week’s episode leaves Hollis in a very small space with Huck’s gun-friendly assassin acquaintance, Charlie – tune in next week to see whether the results of election rigging, for at least one person, will be deadly.


More on election fraud and voting:

Election Fraud: Detecting and Deterring Electoral Manipulation by R. Michael Alvarez, Thad E. Hall, and Susan D. Hyde, Editors, published 2008