Millions of Americans will trust antiquated voting machines to accurately record their political preferences on Tuesday.
While voter fraud is virtually nonexistent according to the Brennan Center, that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen. An October report from cybersecurity firm Symantec found some voting machines susceptible in an era dominated by cyberthreats. About 6 in 10 US voters also say they feared electronic voting machines would be hacked, according to a report from cybersecurity firm Carbon Black.
The shift in voting technology from the analog to digital realm has opened a new can of worms. In a demonstration before the House subcommittee this September one expert said he could hack an electronic voting machine in seven minutes. In all, nearly two dozen electronic voting machines will be used in the November 8 elections, according to ZDNet.
Here’s everything you need to know about voting machine security:
1. The Less Tech-Savvy Voting Machines Are Safer Than the Electronic Ones
Known as Optical-Scan Paper Ballots, these voting machines record your ballot preferences written down with pencil and paper. Voters insert their ballot into the machine, which stores an electronic copy as well as the original in a secured box. If there is a recount, election officials can manually double check the documents. This paper trail renders hacking tools nearly useless.
Most electronic voting systems are now required to have paper trails in case there’s a recount. However, in Georgia, Delaware, Louisiana, South Carolina and New Jersey there is no paper trail, according to Pamela Smith, president of Verified Voting. Reuters reported that 25 percent of registered voters live in areas with paperless sytems. Paper backups in the swing state Pennsylvania are only available in some communities, reports the New York Times.
2. Security Firm Cylance Revealed a Voting Machine Security Gap 4 Days Before the Election
In September a Princeton University computer science professor exposed security flaws in the Sequoia AVC Advantage DRE. He hacked the machine in seven minutes using some malware he created. Security firm Cylance revealed another vulnerability in a similar voting machine on November 4. Many cyber experts questioned the timing of the disclosure, which included a video demonstrating how the machine was manipulated.
With its push-button or touchscreen interface, electronic voting machines expose themselves to cyberthreats. In the August Black Hat conference, employees from cybersecurity firm Symantec successfully hacked direct-recording electronic (DRE) machines using some simple hacking techniques. According to ZDNet, the voting machines hacked in the demonstration was a version of the Premier AccuVote DRE formerly manufactured by Diebold. Symantec employee Brian Varner discussed how someone could stuff the ballot box using a cheap computer.
Anyone who knows how to program a chip card and purchases a simple $15 Raspberry Pi-like device, could secretly reactivate their voter card while inside the privacy of a voting booth
3. Fears of Voter Fraud Led Virginia to Phase Out the WinVote Machine After 2014 Election
The AVS WinVote DRE was decertified in April 2015 after the Virginia State Board of Elections showed it could be hacked via wireless access. The WinVote machine was practically a laptop running Windows XP that was used in the November 2014 election.
Alarm bells went off when the machines started crashing, which led to an investigation by the State Board of Elections. A report from the Virginia Information Technology Agency found that a third party could manipulate votes on the devices due to their weak security settings.
4. The Makers of the Rumored George Soros-Linked Voting Machines Won’t Deploy the Technology in the 2016 Election
Rep. Sean Duffy sparked a petition to the White House after he informed CNN of voting machines linked to billionaire George Soros. Duffy admitted he couldn’t verify the reports, but skeptical voters ran with the theory launching a petition on October 21, which asked Congress to schedule an emergency meeting regarding the Soros owned voting machines. The petition on the government website has already accumulated the necessary 100,000 signatures to elicit a response from the White House.
The rumors originated from reports that electronic voting machine company SmartMatic had ties to the left-leaning businessman would. The Daily Caller reported that the UK voting tech company had deployed voting technology in 16 states. However, it updated the article after SmartMatic released a statement denying ties to Soros and added that its technology wouldn’t be used in the 2016 election.
5. Bitcoin Technology Could Transform the Political Process and Eliminate Trips to Voting Machines
Currently, Americans must have faith in the political system that their votes are counted accurately. Blockchain technology could change that dynamic by returning complete ownership of votes to the citizen. The blockchain is a decentralized system that verifies transactions by maintaining a sort of public ledger of past transactions. The middleman is replaced by a trustless system that uses the history of transactions to prevent fraud.
One Kickstarter project called Follow My Vote will use the blockchain to stage a parallel election. Voters verify their identity online and can go back to change their vote securely. Each voter is assigned a unique voter ID. According to the Kickstarter page, the project reached its goal and at least 100,000 people will participate in its Parallel Presidential Election Experience.