Digital Electoral Fraud

 

Earth 2044

In 10 Sols, Martian colonists will convene to discuss the implementation of Digital Voting and other digital political instruments on Mars. Many countries on Earth have implimented Digital Voting in the last two decades.

The following is the Final Passage of a Three Passage series on digital political instruments and their cataclysmic effect on elections.

 Digital Voting opened the door for sophisticated voter manipulation efforts by large corporations. Vector by Jiw Ingka.

Digital Voting opened the door for sophisticated voter manipulation efforts by large corporations. Vector by Jiw Ingka.

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As political parties harnessed Digital Voting for political gain throughout the 2020s, corporations also learned to exploit digital political instruments. Digital Voting and voter targeting technologies allowed corporations to have a greater influence on American elections and voters. The abuse of data privacy and the misuse of digital technologies and online advertising led to one of the largest election scandals in U.S. history.

Corporations leveraged their relationships with customers to influence their political inclinations.

After the success of Apella Analytics’ voter-targeting efforts in the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election, voter-targeting efforts dramatically increased in sophistication throughout the decade. Political analytics companies were more sophisticated in measuring the specific habits of individuals that correlate to their political preferences—such as health, digital community membership, religiosity, consumption habits, service and product subscriptions. Using this data, corporations began to leverage their relationships with customers to influence their political inclinations. 

Systematic electoral fraud and vote-buying was uncovered by Walter Weissman, a second-year doctoral student in Statistics at the University of Pennsylvania. Inspired by the success of Apella Analytics, Weissman intended for his research to test the efficacy of the company’s modus operandi by correlating voter consumption habits to their political preferences. In the summer of 2025, Weissman discovered that some companies unusually spiked online promotional activity and advertisements within small geographies or subgroups of the population around election season. Weissman tracked down the content of these advertisements and found that constituents were often flooded with online promotions that implicitly and explicitly linked products with a political candidate or policy. Weissman identified that these subversive corporate practices had several ethical and legal implications, as he was quoted at the time: “Make no mistake: this is vote-buying in the 21st century."

“Make no mistake: this is vote-buying in the 21st century.”
— Walter Weissman, The Weissman Discovery

As evidence for electoral fraud, Weissman wrote an exposè on a Pennsylvania county 130 miles away from his college campus, in which sophisticated voter fraud was prevalent. Lackawanna County is home to Alabaster Dairy, one of the largest dairy farms in the country. The farm is a significant job source for blue-collar workers and farmers in the region. As a result, any legislation or political support for the expansion of the farm is tethered to the economic success of the County. 

In 2021, Alabaster Dairy met with Congressman Richard Taft of Pennsylvania’s 10th Congressional District to discuss his reelection campaign. During these meetings, Alabaster Dairy executives pledged to support for Taft not only with campaign donations, but also with a proposal to embed political messaging in support of his candidacy into the company’s dairy advertisements. Congressman Taft was a proponent of large agri-businesses and Alabaster Dairy executives saw Taft as a critical ally to expand dairy operations within the region. Taft agreed to receiving this new form of political endorsement and Alabaster Dairy enlisted Apella Analytics to target online advertisements to certain local constituents. 

Apella Analytics then began dissipating online promotions that were tagged with implicit and explicit political messaging in support of Congressman Taft.

Apella Analytics utilized consumption data—online purchases, media consumption—to accurately identify a local population that would be interested in employment at Alabaster Dairy and discounts on their dairy products. Apella Analytics then began dissipating online promotions on Alabaster Dairy products that were tagged with implicit and explicit political messaging in support of Congressman Taft. One advertisement even stated that “voting for Taft is a vote a job at Alabaster Dairy.” 

Electoral fraud was not isolated to Lackawanna County; Weissman discovered over 200 different examples of similar unethical conduct by politicians and companies nationwide—an effort that was immortalized by the American press as The Weissman Discovery. Politicians began accepting a new, unregulated form of campaign support, in which companies lace their online advertisements with political messaging and target these ads to a specific consumer demographic. In other words, companies were bribing voters with discounted products and promotions, to vote for a favorable political candidate or support a political view.

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Digital Signaling

Critical identifier: A consumption data point that serves as an indicator for a series of other correlated political views and consumption habits

Voter targeting also led to several ubiquitous counter-behaviors within targeted voters. Citizens began to realize that by claiming certain online promotions, they would in-turn be placed into a critical identifier—a consumption data point that serves as an indicator for a series of other correlated political views and consumption habits—and increase their chance of being offered similar online promotions and discounts in the future. After realizing that they can engage in a “divide-and-choose” with corporations, voters enjoyed their cake as well by actively participating in online promotions. Weissman coined the term Digital Signaling to describe this unusual behavior of self-organization through advertisement engagement.

 In Lackawanna County, constituents engaged in Digital Signaling by clicking on and claiming online Alabaster Dairy promotions, which would lead to more discounts on dairy products. Weissman later identified that Digital Signaling was doubly effective when concerning online promotions on consumables, or products that require frequent purchase (ex. dairy products).

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Public Outcry

Congress outlawed politicians from accepting indirect forms of endorsements through online advertisements.

The Weissman Discovery led to a nationwide public outcry and prompted a congressional investigation. Lawmakers began to disassociate themselves from any voter manipulation efforts using digital political instruments. The Federal Election Commission was allocated additional resources to more closely regulate and monitor digital political instrument. To cap off the decade, Congress outlawed politicians from accepting indirect forms of endorsements through online advertisements. 

Despite the rigorous crackdown on American politicians and companies engaging in voter manipulation, U.S. voters continued to be influenced by foreign companies using similar digital tactics. Although U.S. law bars foreign electoral influence through online advertisements, many foreign companies still engaged in overseas electoral manipulation without a real threat of litigation.

After the tumultuous ‘20s and the explosion of digital political instruments, the American public began to vehemently reject targeted political advertising. The New Luddite Movement gained popularity after The Weissman Discovery, as the organization realigned itself to be a more moderate organization, by dropping its anti-immigration political platform. 

Within a single decade, American public sentiment on Digital Voting and digital political instruments experienced a dramatic shift: from the buzz of approval, to patient sufferance, and finally vehement repudiation. 

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The Digital Public Square, Digital Voting, and Digital Electoral Fraud, all serve to provide a brief glimpse into America’s strained relationship with digital voting and other digital political instruments in the 2020s. As Martians begin their deliberations concerning the implementation of Digital Voting on the planet, the Passage hopes that colonists reflect on our tumultuous history with

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Athena has been a writer for The Martian Passage since 2028. She writes about politics and government.