Verdict: THE SECRET BALLOT is a solid political thriller with an intriguing premise and an engaging narrative.
A stirring alternate history that asks what would have happened if the 2008 American presidential election had used computerized voting.
In an alternative 2008, it is two weeks until the election and the debut of a new, fully computerized federal election system. There’s just one problem: a key employee has disappeared and the whole project is behind schedule. So Dunne Logic, the technology company contracted to complete the project, calls computer encryption expert Paul Trussard. Paul agrees to take the job, but as he races to finish on time he also discovers some disturbing information. He’ll need all his skills and ingenuity to figure out what’s really going on—and to make it to Election Day alive.
First, a fair warning: THE SECRET BALLOT, which features a computer programmer as its protagonist, does contain realistically detailed descriptions of computer processes, coding, and encryption. It’s refreshing to see an author trust an audience with a level of information beyond the typical Hollywood approach of “Super hacker stares at screen while typing furiously to make computer magic.” If you don’t know a megabyte from a modem, don’t worry too much; the more detailed passages don’t need to be comprehended to understand the overall thread of the narrative.
That’s because the real star of the show is the fictional Central Polling Processor (CenPol for short), the computerized voting system that will allow people to vote online, in person, or by phone and make counting paper ballots a thing of the past. It’s a fascinating idea, made all the more so by the fact that a government probably could commission a real life CenPol at this point. But should they? Paul actively considers if CenPol, and American democracy, are worth defending; given the present sociopolitical climate, his sense of uncertainty rings both true and timely. What does not ring true here is the love story, which feels obligatory and uninspired. For example, describing a character’s blue eyes as “two Caribbean lagoons” that another character is “wary of falling in[to]” is the kind of worn out, sentimental cliché one could find in any dime-a-dozen romance novel.
THE SECRET BALLOT is a solid political thriller with an intriguing premise and an engaging narrative.