Something is rotten in the state of our electronic voting practices. They are recklessly wandering toward online voting despite their high vulnerable to hacking and manipulation by cyberspace clowns, partisans, enemies, or all three.
Congress should invoke its power under Article I, section 4 of the U.S. Constitution to require in federal elections use of paper ballots or electronic voting machines that produce voter-verified paper ballots. Congress should encourage states to do likewise for state elections through a federal grant-in-aid program.
Firewalls should also be required between internet and voter registration, vote-tabulating machines, ballot delivery, and election management systems. Before certification of final election results, a random sample of electronic voting system totals should be compared with hand counts of the votes on the corresponding paper ballots to detect hacking or error.
Elections are too important to be left to amateurs or to luck, which Congress seems not to understand.
Last month, former FBI Director James B. Comey advised the Senate Intelligence Committee regarding Russia’s attempted electronic tampering with the 2016 elections, “They’re coming after America. They will be back.”
We are at the edge of an electoral precipice as the example of Illinois confirms. In early July 2016, a contractor with the state board of elections detected unauthorized data leaving the network, according to Ken Menzel, its general counsel. The hackers had gained access to the state’s voter database. It contained information such as names, dates of birth, genders, driver’s licenses and partial Social Security numbers on 15 million registrants, half of whom were active voters. As many as 90,000 records were compromised. The hackers attempted but failed to alter or delete database information.
Using evidence derived from Illinois computer banks, federal agents developed digital “signatures” for the hackers which proved they had penetrated 39 other state election board databases.
In 2014, the bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration reported an “impending crisis” of insecure voting technology. In 2015, Lawrence Norden and Christopher Famighetti of the Brennan Center found that the nations’ voting machines were largely obsolete and hacker friendly. A decade ago, an academic research team conducted a security analysis of a Direct Recording Electronic voting machine. They found that it could be reprogrammed without trace to make any candidate win; and, that malicious software — vote-stealing code — could spread like a virus among voting machines and change election outcomes. Not a single voting machine examined by cybersecurity experts has been proven safe from hacker sabotage.
Elections, like Caesar’s wife, must be above suspicion. If electoral outcomes are or appear to be compromised by hacking or other fraud, then public confidence in government and cooperation with law enforcement will plunge. The risk of civil strife or vigilante justice will escalate, especially when our political culture is polarized and inflamed.
The return of paper ballots in the Age of the Internet should not evoke sneers or laughter. Time has only reinforced the moral of Aesop’s Fable, “The Tortoise and the Hare”: “Slow and steady wins the race.” Thus, President Donald Trump elaborated on Election Day last November, “There’s something really nice about the old paper ballot system. You don’t worry about hacking.”