Hackers caused enough chaos in the 2016 election, without a proven case of the vote count itself being tampered with. But what if the actual vote-counting machines were tampered with? What if instead of releasing e-mails to the public, hackers bypassed the political process altogether and just changed vote totals?

Such a scenario isn’t as far-fetched as it may seem. Security researchers have already shown that voting machines used in the U.S. are easily rigged by someone with a little know-how, a few inexpensive tools, and brief access. There is a lot of current debate about whether such tampering has indeed occurred, and if so, who may have been involved. It is challenging to investigate vote tabulation and election security issues, because evolving legislation can also create barriers to research.

On Thursday, January 19, at 8 p.m., Rebecca Mercuri will give a free talk at the ACM/IEEE at the Princeton University computer science building, CS 105.

Mercuri’s inauguration eve talk will shed light on the next wave of election reengineering, — lofty promises masking the fact that the remaining vestiges of verification and integrity could all be intentionally concealed from public view and scrutiny. Topics to be discussed will include: National Popular Vote, Ranked Choice Voting, Cryptographic Balloting, Percentage Audits, and the EAC’s Voluntary Voting System Guidelines.

Mercuri grew up in Philadelphia where her father was a high school science teacher and her mother was an English professor. “My parents would take me to the Franklin Institute, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Natural History Museum (in Philadelphia), and to hear Andres Segovia (the Spanish classical guitarist),” she says. “My dad would bring home robot kits sent to his school from Bell Labs.”

As a high school student in the space age, Mercuri became an amateur radio operator. “I was exposed to all things while growing up. That’s how I got interested in engineering and computers. When I went off to college, computer forensics was not even on my radar.”

Mercuri earned a bachelor’s in classical guitar from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia in 1977, followed by a bachelor’s in computer science from Penn State in 1979. At Drexel she earned a master’s in computer science. She received her Ph.D. in computer and information science from Penn.

Mercuri also earned an honorary alumna status at Harvard in 2005 by completing her post-doctoral research project, titled “Transparency and Trust in Computational Systems” at Radcliffe College. She also spent a post-doctoral year at Harvard and gave her doctoral dissertation, “Electronic Vote Tabulation: Checks & Balances,” just 11 days before the contested 2000 presidential election.

Shortly after successfully defending her Ph.D. dissertation on the subject of vote tabulation, at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Engineering, Mercuri was requested to submit testimony regarding the closely contested 2000 Presidential election.

She is a digital forensics expert at Notable Software Inc. in Hamilton, where she performs investigations and provides testimony on a broad variety of legal matters. (U.S. 1, November 10, 2010.)

Having served on the IEEE’s Voting System Standards project, she was recently asked to join a research panel on the Future of Elections being conducted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

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