Subscribe / Unsubscribe Enewsletters | Login | Register

Pencil Banner

A hackable election: 5 things you need to know about e-voting machines

Grant Gross | July 25, 2016
E-voting machines without paper trails are still used in several U.S. states, leading to fears that a 'determined adversary' could hack this year's election

Many states embraced e-voting machines after the disputed 2000 U.S. election, when so-called hanging chads on paper punch ballots in Florida helped to determine the results of the presidential race.

But many DRE models didn't offer a way for election officials to double-check the electronic results. Several fair election advocates called for printers to be installed as a way to audit, and several states listened.

Other states abandoned DREs for electronic scanning technology after several studies found glaring security holes in many DREs and some states reported glitches during the 2004 and 2008 elections. 

4. Several issues have driven the decline in DRE use

Many states wanted both reliability and the ability to audit electronic voting results, said Verified Voting's Smith.

"Ballots counted by scanners give you added reliability, in that if the scanner breaks down, voters can still continue to vote -- marking their ballots to be stored in a locked receptacle at the polling place and counted later when the scanner is working again," she said. "If you have a DRE polling place, if the DREs break down, voting comes to a halt -- unless you have emergency paper ballots for voters to mark."

In addition, some DREs proved expensive to maintain and replace, Smith said. Some DREs had "shorter lifespans that some other earlier kinds of equipment," she added. "Lever machines lasted for decades; punch-cards, too. So the purchasing cycle became shorter."

States received a 2002 funding boost for election equipment from the federal government, but the money dried up. "Jurisdictions found themselves, about a decade-plus on, realizing their systems were wearing out and may need replacement," Smith said.

5. States can take simple and inexpensive steps to improve security

Even though Kiniry's company sells voting technology, he tells states they can improve security with better election audits. Many states are "extremely resistant" to recounts, he said.

States can embrace statistics-based risk-limiting audits and parallel testing audits, which use excess voting machines to test results on Election Day. Both audits are inexpensive; risk-limiting audits are "literally something you can learn to do, without being a statistician, in a day, and you can perform the recount in an afternoon," Kiniry said.

States can also hire hackers, even "an intern from a computer science department," to probe their voting systems and "think like a bad guy," Kiniry said. White hat hackers can help states "protect against accidental or malicious behavior."

 

Previous Page  1  2 

Sign up for Computerworld eNewsletters.