The goal of technology is to make our lives easier. With the invention of computerized voting machines calculating votes at the end of the day has become drastically easier but the use of these machines can cause additional problems and threaten the security of the ballot.
Over the last three presidential elections there have been multiple reports of malfunctioning voting machines. Some touch screen voting stations would select the wrong candidate and the voter would have no way to change their vote.
Other issues stem from a lack of paper ballot backups. If a person challenges the vote count, election officials cannot go back and count the votes by hand because their are no paper ballots.
In Wellington Florida, election officials certified the wrong candidate based on incorrect computer tabulations of votes cast. The results were corrected after a hand recount of paper ballots was used to verify the results.
Some states have even gone so far as to allow their ballots to be transmitted over the internet leaving them susceptible to tampering.
Right now, President Trump created a Voting Integrity Commission to address voting laws and requirements under the guise of protecting us from non-existent voter fraud. This commission is a sham and way for Trump to validate his lies about millions of votes being cast illegally and to push for stronger voter ID laws that have been proven to suppress votes. It is highly unlikely that Trump’s commission will suggest that “motor voter” registrations be mandatory, or that states should move to voting by mail to expand voter participation.
While in person voter fraud is a more of an urban legend than reality (literally a handful of cases in hundreds of millions of ballots cast), there are a few areas that have the potential to compromise our voting process, swaying results and it revolves mostly around the ballot itself, counting ballots, and the electronic transmission of voting data.
Yesterday, The Hill released an article showing how hackers corrupted voting machines at a cybersecurity conference in Las Vegas.
One of the nation’s largest cybersecurity conferences is inviting attendees to get hands-on experience hacking a slew of voting machines, demonstrating to researchers how easy the process can be.
“It took me only a few minutes to see how to hack it,” said security consultant Thomas Richards, glancing at a Premier Election Solutions machine currently in use in Georgia.
…The conference acquired 30 machines for hackers to toy with. Every voting machine in the village was hacked.
The Hill also notes that the vast majority of the machines used in actual elections are not interconnected or connected to the internet making it harder for potential hackers to corrupt voting machines on a large scale. However, small scale or isolated tampering could sway the results of a single polling place.
But what about those states that are toying with some form of online voting or voting machines that are connected to the internet to transmit votes? These actions put our votes at risk and the security of the ballot box in serious jeopardy.
“Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia allow some form of Internet voting – transmitting votes either via email, electronic fax, or Internet portal – typically for use by overseas and military voters. Because of current technological limitations, and the unique challenges of running public elections, it is impossible to maintain separation of voters’ identities from their votes when Internet voting is used,” wrote Caitriona Fitzgerald, Pamela Smith, Susannah Goodman in their report The Secret Ballot at Risk: Recommendations for Protecting Democracy.
In 2016, Common Cause released a report focused on protecting the vote and ensuring everyone has the ability to vote. They reviewed laws and procedures for voting in 11 “swing states” to see if our votes were at risk.
“Once voters learn laws they thought made elections safer, like voter ID requirements, actually prevent hundreds of thousands of eligible people from voting, they are more likely to see it as a manipulation of the system and reject it. It is critically important that voters exercise their constitutional right, so take a few minutes to learn more, because the best way to fight back against politicians gaming the system to silence your voice is to make a plan to vote,” said Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn.
The report showed that my home state of New Hampshire faired very good when it came to tracking and protecting the votes after they have been cast through the use of paper ballots but was seen as “unsatisfactory” when it came to accessing the ballot box due to poorly written voter ID laws and inability of voters to register online ahead of time.
New Hampshire does not accept any form of “electronic” ballots and in-person voting is done on paper, though still calculated by a “scantron” machine. Computer tabulation machines have been known to cause errors in voting results, but with a paper copy hand recounts and audits can be used to verify computer data. Overall Common Cause rated New Hampshire as “excellent” in ensuring that our votes were not susceptible to outside hackers.
Other states did not fair as well. Common Cause gave an “unsatisfactory” rating to Iowa, North Carolina, and Nevada when it comes to the potential of votes being tampered with after being cast.
Ballots cast online simply cannot be protected from undetectable tampering. Foreign or domestic hackers can access these ballots and alter their contents.
…Four of the states we reviewed put ballots at risk by allowing the ballots to be sent over the internet, where they are vulnerable to remote interception and undetectable altering. These states do not acknowledge the risks involved in internet voting.
Two of our swing states, Iowa and North Carolina, put ballots at risk by allowing overseas and military voters to vote via email. A third, Nevada has created its own internet portal for voter use.
(Note: The fourth state, not mentioned in the above quote, is Florida who allows absentee ballots from military service members to be cast via fax.)
Ensuring everyone has access to the ballot box and that our votes are secure is the foundation of our democracy. Voter ID laws block access to the ballot box and internet or computerized voting can put our ballots at risk.
What can we do to fix this?
Go back to paper ballots and count them by hand. Eliminate the potential for hackers to tamper with voting machines by eliminating voting machines completely. Going back to the old school way of doing it will protect our votes but it will take longer to get results. As a political junkie like myself, this means staying up till 2am to get results, and that is fine with me.
We need to focus our efforts to ensuring greater access to the ballot box and ensuring that our votes our secure and free from potential tampering