By Richard Campbell
As the election results are coming in this writer decided to look a little more deeply into the 20-year-old voting machine debacle. Many Americans believe they are informed regarding the integrity of our outdated system of voting. Our technology challenged officials either claim there are no serious problems, or they can’t be fixed in a reasonable time. The New York Times issued a recent editorial entitled “Elections Could be Hacked, Vote Anyway.” The article basically said we should vote to show the Russians we haven’t been influenced by their manipulation of the elections, even though there is clear evidence that our voting system is vulnerable. Just remember this: it’s not how you vote, it’s how your vote is counted.
Forget about social media-the electoral machine system is what counts. I’d like to focus upon the current state of election technology systems. First, you should know that more than a dozen professional assessments by computer science and data experts in our country declare the systems in many states are not only vulnerable to tampering but have been proved to be hackable-in one instance by an eleven-year-old boy. This hardly inspires confidence. When one considers this age of high-tech secure banking systems, you have to wonder about our antiquated voting “system”. Despite minor improvements, we have been in limbo regarding auditing and security of voting nationally since Al Gore’s hanging chads, and no one seems to have a solution to the problem. That is, except MIT! More on that later.
Nationally we have two types of systems, one that is an optical scan, providing a paper ballot and one called DRE direct recording electronic vote systems. Some DRE’s have a paper trail, others do not. Both systems are hackable, though the DRE’s have proven to be the most vulnerable. Also, the confusing design of the interfaces of DRE machines has been known to cause problems, and the way they are networked using software called SERVO that makes certain DRE’s downright un-secure. The paper ballot is critical to election integrity. Most frustrating, there is no way to confirm your vote or to efficiently audit systems in almost every state. In the age of Google, have you ever wondered why?
Although there are some small contractors in the $300+ billion-dollar voting machine industry, the systems are owned mostly by three companies. They are: ES&S, Dominion, and Hart InterCivi. I will not bore the reader with the questionable practices of certain companies, they are very well documented elsewhere. Go to https://ballotpedia.org if you would like to see the chaotic mess of our national election system state by state. The history of this mess involves corruption and bureaucratic incompetence. More importantly: where independent analysis matters, the hack-ability of our system is not held in question by anyone who is modestly informed.
According to Verified Voting, 36 states still have insecure voting equipment. The major voting machine manufacturers claimed to Congress there was nothing wrong with having machines that can’t create a paper record. You don’t have to be a cyber sleuth to know how ridiculous this assertion is. While some machines have been replaced, in 2016, 42 states reported using voting machines that were more than a decade old, according to the Brennen Center. Are you getting nervous yet? You should be. Although Massachusetts has scanned paper ballots, you can forget about being confident in the current voting systems across many states this time around-but hey, there is always 2020.
In a country that put a man on the moon, launched supercomputers and mapped the human genome, state and federal officials are trying to tell us creating a secure voting system for a reasonable price in less than two years is impossible. They are full of it. First: the software for such a system is already in existence. The fix is called cryptographic voting and was born right here in Massachusetts. It is a very well tested independent voting technology called Scantegrity II and has been in use in Tacoma Park Maryland since 2009. This system has proven itself over and over again, and it could be used rather inexpensively with most current ballot scanning voting machines until we replace outdated equipment.
Scantegrity was designed at MIT, guided by Ron Rivest, a professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. This system brings integrity to current optical scanning technology. It is a tamper-proof system because it allows voters to anonymously confirm their vote after an election. It uses special coded ballots and digital signatures that are set up in advance. Instead of simply filling out a bubble on the scannable ballot, the voter uses a special pen that when swiped over their voting selection reveals a code to them that allows them to confirm or audit their own vote. It requires no modification to the current optical scanned ballot systems. The website for Scantegrity II is: http://scantegrity.org.
Finally, the major voting system companies have proven themselves incompetent regarding security. All the voting machine hardware should be replaced with a more physically secure, ergonomic system created by an independent tech consortium overseen by a few top engineering universities. It is time to move on and find a comprehensive national solution backed by the best R&D. The first step of adopting Scantegrity could be easily done nationally by 2020. Let’s be perfectly clear: all this requires is the new scanned paper ballot system. No private company, special interest group or state official has the right to prevent secure voting from being implemented. This is a no brainer that is long over-due. The time for excuses from Congress and State Governors is over. The future of secure voting is here now. Please contact your election officials and request Scantegrity II, and we will have secure paper records that can be audited across the nation.