This week, GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump openly speculated that this election would be “rigged.” Last month, Russia decided to take an active role in our election. There’s no basis for questioning the results of a vote that’s still months away. But the interference and aspersions do merit a fresh look at the woeful state of our outdated, insecure electronic voting machines. We’ve previously discussed the sad state of electronic voting machines in America, but it’s worth a closer look as we approach election day itself, and within the context of increased cyber-hostilities between the US and Russia. Besides, by now states have had plenty of warning since a damning report by the Brennan Center for Justice about our voting machine vulnerabilities came out last September. Surely matters must have improved since then. Well, not exactly. In fact, not really at all. … So electronic voting machines aren’t ideal. The good news is, it’s entirely possible to mitigate any potential harm they might cause, either by malice or mistake. First, it’s important to realize that electronic voting machines aren’t as commonplace as one might assume. Three-quarters of the country will vote on a paper ballot this fall, says Pamela Smith, president of Verified Voting, a group that promotes best practices at the polls. Only five states—Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, and New Jersey—use “direct recording electronic” (DRE) machines exclusively. But lots of other states use electronic machines in some capacity. Verified Voting also has a handy map of who votes using what equipment, which lets you drill down both to specific counties and machine brands, so you can see what’s in use at your polling station.
More than half of the states conduct post-election auditing, by checking vote totals against paper records, to ensure that the votes are accurate. Both Smith and Norden agree that this sort of auditing is the single best way to guarantee confidence in election results, as does MIT computer scientist Ronald Rivest, who has writtenextensively [PDF] on voting machine issues.
The problem is that not every state does post-election audits. And even some that require them by law, namely Pennsylvania and Kentucky, don’t actually use voter-verifiable paper trails, meaning they have no way to complete an audit. And progress toward more and better auditing is slow; Maryland just put an auditable system in place this year, Smith says, and will pilot it during the fall election. Over a dozen states still have no audit procedure at all.