Duncan Buell paints a nightmare scenario of how South Carolina’s elections could be hacked. Someone armed with a smartphone, a palm pilot — even a personal electronic ballot purchased online, like the ones used by S.C. poll workers — could sign in to vote at a polling site and load a bit of malicious code onto one of the state’s touchscreen voting machines without anyone noticing. A voter carrying their own personal electronic ballot might stand out in the line to cast a ballot, said Buell, a computer science professor at Clemson University who consults on election technology. But, he added, “If it’s a day when it would not be unusual to be wearing a trench coat, someone could get it in, slot it and insert malware into the machine.” Buell is not the only one worried that South Carolina’s aging voting machines are vulnerable to outside interference in an election. Last week, a federal court in Georgia ruled against an effort to force the Peach State to switch to paper ballots in time for the Nov. 6 election.
U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg decided it would be too disruptive for the state to change its whole election system only seven weeks out from Election Day. But she did tell state election officials “further delay is not tolerable in their confronting and tackling the challenges before the state’s election balloting system,” according to the Associated Press.
Georgia uses a different touchscreen voting system than South Carolina. But the neighbors are two of only five states whose voting systems do not include a paper component to audit vote totals.
A similar suit, brought by the nonprofit group Protect Democracy, is making its way through South Carolina’s court system. That suit alleges the South Carolinians’ right to vote is being violated by the vulnerability of the state’s 14-year-old voting machines to hacking attempts, like the one described by Clemson’s Buell.