Who Owns Our Voting Machines? | by Sue Halpern

Buried in a dense authorities report from 1975 is an remark that has come to hang-out the American system of voting. “Efficient Use of Computing Know-how in Vote-Tallying,” a hundred-page compendium of all that may go fallacious when digital expertise is used to register and depend votes, was written by Roy Saltman, a pc scientist, on the behest of the Nationwide Bureau of Requirements.

On the time, computerized election expertise was a shiny new factor, primed to switch time-honored guide methods of voting. However as Saltman noticed, as a result of this expertise was past the comprehension of most election officers, they’d little alternative however to place their belief in, and cede authority to, gear producers. As a consequence, he wrote, “when distributors assume extra duty than they need to, as a result of jurisdictions’ lack of in-house functionality, conditions could also be created through which battle of curiosity is a severe concern.” That is nonetheless true. The ever-increasing sophistication of digital election expertise has left election officers ever extra reliant on the distributors (and underneath the sway of their lobbyists), who play an outsized and largely hidden half in each the administration of elections and the methods we train our most elementary proper as residents in a democracy.

In 2002, two years after misaligned punch-card voting machines in Florida threw the presidential election into disarray and the Supreme Court docket handed the victory to George W. Bush, Congress handed the Assist America Vote Act (HAVA), which despatched about $4 billion to the states to improve their voting gear. Many jurisdictions rushed to switch aged voting machines with costly computerized programs that ran on inscrutable, proprietary software program. These “black bins” have required each election officers and the general public to tackle religion that the machines are programmed to seize voter intent, not subvert it. When researchers have tried to look at the pc code, they’ve been threatened with lawsuits by the election distributors.

Even so, laptop scientists have uncovered quite a few flaws that depart voting machines uncovered to manipulation from each outdoors forces and insiders nearer to residence. These embody machines that may be reprogrammed remotely or in particular person by surreptitiously (and simply) inserting fraudulent media playing cards or thumb drives, as researchers have proven over and over.

In the meantime, regardless of claims on the contrary by election distributors, it’s been demonstrated that poll scanners in precincts within the swing states of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Florida use wi-fi modems that hook up with the Web. Web connectivity, it ought to go with out saying, leaves these precincts open to hacking. Jurisdictions that depend on digital “ballot-marking” voting machines that encode voters’ alternatives in an unreadable barcode current one other vector of assault, since voters can’t know if the alternatives they imagine they’ve made are those that truly have been recorded. (A ballot-marking system automates the “course of” of filling within the oval subsequent to a candidate’s identify. It may be fairly helpful for voters with disabilities.) Election officers have been offered these machines believing that they supply the citizens with a paper path, not understanding that the paper is nugatory until there’s a statistically rigorous, postelection audit that compares the alternatives tabulated from the barcodes with the numbers recorded on paper.

These vulnerabilities—and others—inject doubt into the general public’s notion of election integrity. That doubt is compounded by the truth that the three main election distributors in america—Election Techniques and Software program, Hart InterCivic, and Dominion—are owned by non-public fairness. Collectively, they account for about 80 % of all election gear utilized in america. This leaves the general public at the hours of darkness about who owns the voting machine firms, or how a lot cash these house owners make from elections.

On the very least, not figuring out who’s behind these firms—and if they’ve ties to both political get together, donate to tremendous PACs, or have a monetary stake within the end result of an election—undermines confidence within the proprietary software program undergirding voting machines. The federal authorities, which doesn’t take part within the administration of elections, might change this by requiring any election vendor paid with federal funds to reveal its full possession and put up its stability sheet. Till then, as Saltman warned, “conditions could also be created through which battle of curiosity is a severe concern.”

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