As the U.S. heads toward an especially contentious national election in November, 15 states are still clinging to outdated electronic voting machines that don’t support paper printouts used to audit their internal vote counts. E-voting machines without attached printers are still being used in a handful of presidential swing states, leading some voting security advocates to worry about the potential of a hacked election. Some makers of e-voting machines, often called direct-recording electronic machines or DREs, are now focusing on other sorts of voting technology, including optical scanners. They seem reluctant to talk about DREs; three major DRE vendors didn’t respond to questions about security. … While a hacked election may be unlikely, it’s not impossible, said Joe Kiniry, a long-time election security researcher. Researchers have found many security holes in DREs, and many states don’t conduct comprehensive election audits, said Kiniry, now CEO and chief scientist at Free and Fair, an open-source election technology vendor. “I would say that a determined adversary, with the standard skill that people like me have, would be able to hack an election nationally,” he said. “With enough money and resources, I don’t think that’s actually a technical challenge.” Voting results are “ripe for manipulation,” Kiniry added. Hacking an election would be more of a social and political challenge than a technical one, he said. “You’d have a medium-sized conspiracy in order to achieve such a goal.”
While most states have auditable voting systems, only about half the states conduct post-election audits, added Pamela Smith, president of Verified Voting. “That leaves a lot of gaps for confirming that election outcomes were correct,” she said. “In such a contentious election year, well, let’s just say it’s never a good thing to be unable to demonstrate to the public’s satisfaction that votes were counted correctly, whether in a small contest or large.”
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 studiesfound glaring security holes in many DREs and some states reported glitches during the 2004 and 2008 elections.