The Russians aren’t coming. They came. And they launched a cyber strike on last fall’s elections for which the consequences remain an unknown. It’s a sexy, new Cold War replete with headlines featuring the president’s son and a curious meeting with Russians last summer. Sadly, what gets lost within these seductive media narratives are the comprehensive hazards of America’s voting components. It’s essential to note that there’s no confirmed proof any vote recording or ballot tallies were altered back in November. However, such knowledge provides little solace because American voting systems remain extremely vulnerable, and as former FBI Director James Comey said of the Russians, “They will be back.” If the U.S. does not change how it conducts elections, when the Russians return, many of the vulnerabilities from 2016 will still be intact. I learned of these insecurities while producing “I Voted?,” a non-partisan documentary on election integrity.
Perfect elections, of course, remain a utopian dream. At the same time, a few simple steps would minimize uncertainty and dramatically improve election integrity. Such remedies center on paper ballots, risk limiting post election audits and strengthening cybersecurity. Paper ballots contain a durable record of voter marked intent. As University of Michigan Professor and computer scientist J. Alex Halderman states in my documentary, “Without paper today … there’s just no hope.”
Following an election, a risk limiting audit provides an efficient, high degree of confidence in the results. Basically, this entails recounting a portion of the overall ballots with the sample audit size based on the race’s margin of victory. In other words, a close race would have more votes audited than a landslide. When paper ballots are tabulated electronically, a risk limiting audit ensures that the technology is doing what it’s designed to do. Additionally, enhancing cybersecurity builds yet another firewall to protect our election technology.