Friday, November 20, 2020
Back in 2003, Belgium was holding a national election. One of their first where the votes would be cast and counted on computers. Thousands of hours of preparation went into making it unhackable. And when the day of the vote came, everything seemed to have gone well. That was, until a cosmic chain of events caused a single bit to flip and called the outcome into question.
Late in the night, Emmaneul Willem's phone rang. It was one of the officials of the ministry. They said that they had a problem, that they had detected a problem in Schaerbeek. This relatively unknown Communist Party candidate, Maria Vindevoghel, had a very high number of votes from this one polling station. Taking a closer look, they noticed that the number of votes for this contestant was impossible. Essentially, she received more votes than there were voters who could possibly vote for her.
So first things first, they got all of the ballots. Those white, plastic magnetic cards that the voters had loaded their votes onto. And recounted. Reinserting every single magnetic card one by one. This took several hours. So now it's, like, 1:30 in the morning. And they print out the new recounted report, hold it up against the old one ... And they are the exact same results for every single contestant to the vote, except the contestant which had had this abnormal number of votes. This time around, Maria had far fewer votes.
And at that point, one of my colleagues did the math and said the difference between the number of votes she had in the first count and the number of votes she had in the second count, it's exactly 4,096 votes.
She had 4,096 fewer votes.
4,096 is not a random number.
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