“Does new voting technology enable voting fraud, or does it prevent voting fraud?” rhetorically asked Blaze. “Yes.” He explained that the American election process has computers and software at every stage of the process, including voter registration and verification, the designing and distribution of ballots, the actual voting itself, and the tallying of votes and the communication of results. Machines at almost every step have been shown to be vulnerable to hacking, yet we can’t just go back to dropping envelopes in ballot boxes. “U.S. elections are the most complex in the world,” Blaze said. “You’re gonna need computers somewhere.” Fortunately, he said, policymakers and the general public are now aware of how vulnerable electronic voting systems are to tampering, and many states have taken at least initial steps to make them more secure. “Voting security is by far the hardest problem I have ever encountered,” said Blaze, who was recently a professor of computer and information services at the University of Pennsylvania but now holds the McDevitt Chair of Computer Science and Law at Georgetown University.
That’s partly because voting in the United States has tough requirements. The voting process must be transparent, yet every ballot has to be secret. Every vote should be counted, but you shouldn’t be able to trace a specific ballot back to a specific person. It makes verification very difficult — you can’t prove your ballot was altered or lost if you don’t know which one was yours.
Adding to that, the U.S. voting system is maddeningly complex — “both decentralized and hierarchical,” Blaze said. The federal government sets broad standards, but leaves it up to the states to set and enforce rules and laws. Elections are managed at the county level, but voting is held in neighborhood precincts.
The multiplicity of federal, state, county and municipal governments means that people voting in one neighborhood will often receive a slightly different ballot, with different issues to be voted upon, than people voting in the next precinct. In some cases, a single precinct will offer two or more different ballots, depending on a voter’s street address.
In the 2016 general election, Blaze said, there were 117,000 polling places in the U.S., and 178,000 distinct ballots. Nearly 139 million ballots were cast, although about 43 percent of voters cast early ballots or voted by mail, leaving about 82 million people showing up at polling places on Election Day.
So of course the election process needs to be partly computerized — “computers solve real problems that election officials have,” Blaze said.
Full Article: America’s Election Security: How Vulnerable Are We Now?.