I started watching this ridiculous video before I had to quit it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AaZ_RSt0KP8

It talks about how the election of some country got messed up due to a "bitflip", which gave one person 4096 votes due to "cosmic rays" messing with the computer, "changing one bit".


Surely, a government doesn't implement a digital voting mechanism as a single database table where they do:

UPDATE votes SET count = count + 1 WHERE person = $1

?? That's something that a single 16-year-old amateur programmer would do in the year 2002 for his Counter-Strike statz website. Not a professional working for a government for an election. Surely they would do it like:

INSERT INTO votes (person, voter) VALUES ($1, $2);

And recording the timestamp as its own "row", so that any "bitflips" could not possibly change the vote results besides possibly one extra/too few votes by having the query/transaction failing.

What am I missing?

  • If you watch the whole video, you will see that they in fact did BOTH. Count + 1 was recorded on the computer and id / vote was recorded on magnetic cards. Sep 6, 2021 at 0:06

1 Answer 1


Yes, it's physically possible to change anything at all by a high-energy particle hitting a computer chip in a certain way. It's not previsible, cannot be done on purpose, you cannot guarantee what bit will change, but it is possible.

Surely, a government doesn't implement a digital voting mechanism as a single database table

You would be surprised. I don't even think there's a database involved, more likely there's only a table on RAM with disk-offloading from time to time.

INSERT INTO votes (person, voter) VALUES ($1, $2);

It cannot, not in that way. This could create a log of who voted on who, and that is not desirable on an anonymous election.

What am I missing?

Quite a lot. We are talking high level here: SQL, timestamps. But physics is way lower level than that. Bit-flips are bellow voltage, are on the physical gates on the silicon. So a timestamp means nothing because a high energetic particle can change the timestamp.

What you need to protect the election from a bitflip is ECC memory or RAIM. That technology can detect an error on any address and correct those errors. Using this kind of protected memory would make a bit-flip be detected as soon as the memory address gets accessed, and the bit "unflipped" back.

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