The Null Device

Hacking the Papal Election

Security guru Bruce Schneier turns his professional paranoia to the Papal election, and looks at how vulnerable it is to fraud or rigging. The answer: not very. There are a few minor flaws, though much of the mechanism is quite robust.
What are the lessons here? First, open systems conducted within a known group make voting fraud much harder. Every step of the election process is observed by everyone, and everyone knows everyone, which makes it harder for someone to get away with anything. Second, small and simple elections are easier to secure. This kind of process works to elect a Pope or a club president, but quickly becomes unwieldy for a large-scale election. The only way manual systems work is through a pyramid-like scheme, with small groups reporting their manually obtained results up the chain to more central tabulating authorities.
And a third and final lesson: when an election process is left to develop over the course of a couple thousand years, you end up with something surprisingly good.

There are 2 comments on "Hacking the Papal Election":

Posted by: toby http:// Fri Apr 15 00:04:20 2005

(Disclaimer: I haven't read the article, and don't have time to just now). The big flaw I see with the means of electing a pope is that there's a big emphasis providing the illusion of some god-directed unity, and this means that a lot of the details are thrashed out in private beforehand, in a fashion which is far from open.

Posted by: acb Fri Apr 15 15:24:17 2005

Still, that's more bloc-voting than vote-rigging. A group of cardinals can get together, push their agenda, and attempt to horse-trade with others for support, but they can't (easily) corrupt the electoral apparatus itself to make all this unnecessary.