FAQ and Misconceptions About Electronic Voting


 

What is the problem with electronic voting systems?

Electronic voting machines and ballot tabulators are computers, and like all computers they are susceptible to software bugs, programming errors and hacking which could  corrupt the vote count.

Elections could be hacked or rigged by “insiders” such as vendors or election workers; anyone able to access the voting machines or the systems that program machines and tally the election results. Voting systems may also be hacked or rigged remotely over the Internet by hackers anywhere in the world.

Cyber experts have repeatedly proven that the testing and certification process for basic functionality and accessibility cannot be relied on to ensure voting system security.
 

Which electronic voting systems are worse than others?

INTERNET VOTING: THE ABSOLUTE WORST

Any voting structure which transmits voted ballots electronically via email, facsimile or Internet portal is the most vulnerable to hacking as these ballots are directly exposed to cyber attacks and cannot be adequately secured. Nevertheless, thirty-two states allow some voters to send ballots over the Internet.

TOUCHSCREENS: UNACCEPTABLE

When voters cast ballots directly on a DRE, their choices are recorded solely in digital form, susceptible to alteration by errors or hacking. The change may not be detectable by the voter because the machine could display the correct vote choices, while digitally recording the wrong vote choices.

Some DRE's have been fitted to produce a receipt called a "Voter Verified Paper Trail" (VVPAT). The flimsy VVPAT does not replace the need for a real voter marked paper ballot and is notoriously difficult to use in a post-election audit.

BALLOT SCANNERS: ONLY SECURE WITH A PAPER AUDIT

Optical ballot scanners are also computers, and can count votes incorrectly because of errors, malicious programming, or hacking. Malicious programming within the scanner would not be detected by the "logic and accuracy" tests conducted by elections officials. But the durable, voter marked paper ballot provides a permanent, legal record of the vote that can be used to audit the computerized election results or conduct a recount.

A public, manual post-election audit is the only process that offers verification and public transparency.

 

Have we ever lost votes or had elections disrupted due to these machines?

Yes, there have been many cases in which voting machines recorded or counted votes inaccurately, disrupting the election or causing the contest to be determined incorrectly.

For example, in North Carolina in 2004, DRE voting machines lost over 4,500 votes. A statewide contest was determined by fewer votes, compelling the state to re-run the election.[1]

In Palm Beach County, Florida, in March 2012, a problem with the programming software caused votes to be assigned to the wrong candidate and the wrong contest. The election was conducted using voter-marked paper ballots, which permitted the county to conduct a full hand-count of the ballots, changing the winner in one contest.[2]

In these cases the errors were so pronounced it was clear that there was a problem in the count. Without mandatory, routine post-election audits of paper ballots, it is possible that smaller errors or malicious programming in close elections could go undetected, potentially swinging the results to the wrong candidate.

 

Are our voting machines connected to the Internet?

Most voting machines are not directly connected to the Internet, but this does not ensure they cannot be remotely hacked.

Before each election, each voting machine must receive programming information about the candidates and contests in that election, via an election management system (EMS). The EMS is typically hosted on regular desktop or laptop computers which can potentially be used for other, non-election related, Internet-connected activities.

This means the device that hosts the EMS may be exposed to the Internet and serve as a pathway for a hacker to attack the EMS and infect the voting machines with malicious software that can corrupt the vote count.

Furthermore, many voting machines have built-in wireless capability which will expose the voting machines to the Internet when transmitting election results.[3]

Additionally, any states and counties that allow for a return of online ballots are vulnerable to system-wide infiltration of their voting technology. 

 

Who owns the electronic voting technology and why can't the public view the software?

When a jurisdiction purchases commercially available voting systems, they typically purchase the hardware outright, but they must license the software. The vendors retain proprietary ownership of the software that is used to record and count votes.

This means the county or state government must pay ongoing software licensing fees in order to use the software on the voting machines each year. Furthermore, because the software is proprietary, it is not available for public inspection and in most cases, cannot be inspected by the jurisdiction licensing the software.

This creates a "black box" for election technology that takes the democratic process out of the public sphere and into a virtual back room.
 

Why do we need a paper ballot?

A voter-verified paper ballot provides a physical record of the voter’s intent that cannot be altered or manipulated by software errors or hacking.

When the voter marks a paper ballot, their intent can be determined. A durable paper ballot should serve as the legal ballot of record in the case of a recount. 

Paper can be counted in public, manually, which provides public oversight of elections indispensable to the democratic process. 


Aren't paper ballots easy to rig - remember the old "stuffed" ballot boxes?

There will always be bad actors intent on cheating and rigging elections so we must find ways to mitigate and minimize the risk. It is possible to protect elections effectively from paper ballot fraud through robust physical security measure which can minimize the risk of fraud and/or make it extremely likely that the fraud would be detectable.

Most important is a secure "chain of custody" of the ballots as they are moved from precincts to central counting locations. Where possible, counting the ballots at the precinct before they are moved provides robust verification.

While paper ballot rigging is not impossible, it is far more difficult, and it is detectable. Electronic voting carries a much higher risk because it can be carried out undetectably and on a much larger scale. Research has concluded that a single individual could successfully rig electronic voting machines to manipulate a statewide election.[4]

 

What does it mean to "audit" with paper ballots?

Experts have long recommended that all elections should be audited before the winner is certified to ensure the results are correct. This entails using statistical models to retrieve a small sample of paper ballots that are examined by hand to ensure the machines recorded and counted the votes correctly. If discrepancies are discovered the audit can be escalated to a full hand count and the hand count of the paper ballots becomes the official result.

 

Don't we already audit our elections?

Less than a quarter of states do a post-election audit that manually examines the paper ballots which could catch an error in the election results. Only two states currently conduct post-election audits that use statistics to provide reliable evidence that the election results are correct. 

While all states conduct post-election "ballot reconciliation" which determines if the number of voters checked in matches the number of ballots cast, this procedure provides no evidence that the votes were not altered. Furthermore, in some states there is no remediation if the number of ballots and voters don’t match.

 

Can't we just get rid of all the electronic machines and just count all the ballots by hand?

Hand-counting ballots is common in Europe and Canada which has a parliamentary system of government where voters only cast one vote for their preferred party. This makes hand counting much simpler. U.S. ballots are far, far more complex making hand counting difficult in large jurisdictions.



When we find a problem with our voting results we always fix it, right?

Regrettably, no. Each state has its own election law and regulations governing the election process with varying procedures and responses to errors or irregularities. Establishing and adopting best practices in all 50 states for ensuring our election are secure and accurate would improve the trustworthiness of elections across the nation.


Who exactly is in charge of making decisions about voting technology and processes?

Again, this varies from state to state. In some states it is the Secretary of State or the State Election Director. In other states it is a State Election Board.


What can I do to help secure elections? I am a (citizen, organization, law maker)

Get involved and sign up to be a poll-worker with your local election board. You can also promote the adoption of voter-marked paper ballots and post-election audits to your state legislators and state and local election officials.

 

[1] “More than 4,500 North Carolina votes lost because of mistake in voting machine capacity,” Associate Press, Nov. 4, 2004

[2] Jaikumar Vijayan, E-voting System Awards Election to Wrong Candidates in Florida Village, COMPUTERWORLD, (Apr. 4, 2012),

http://www.computerworld.com.au/article/420523/evoting_

system_awards_election_wrong_candidates_florida_village/?fp=4&fpid=18.

[3] Kim Zetter, “The Myth of the Hacker-Proof Voting Machines,” The New York Times, Feb 21, 2018

[4] “The Machinery of Democracy,” Brennan Center for Justice, 2006

 

 

Contact: Info@ElectionDefense.org