The ability to vote for local, state, and federal representatives is the cornerstone of democracy in America. With mid-term congressional elections looming in early November, many voices have raised concerns that the voting infrastructure used by states across the Union might be suspect, unreliable, or potentially vulnerable to attacks. As Congress considers measures critical to consumer rights and the functioning of technology (net neutrality, data privacy, biometric identification, and surveillance), ensuring the integrity of elections has emerged as a matter of crucial importance. On the one hand, the right to vote may not be guaranteed for many people across the country. Historically, access to the ballot has been hard fought, from the Revolution and the Civil War to the movement for civil rights that compelled the Voting Rights Act (VRA). But recent restrictions on voting rights that have proliferated since the Supreme Court struck down the VRA’s pre-clearance provisions in 2013. Coupled with procedural impediments to voting, unresolved problems continue to plague the security of the technology that many voting precincts use in elections. With mid-term elections in just two months, Secretaries of State should be pressed to do their jobs and increase security before voters cast their ballots.
An individual’s experience at the ballot box varies widely across the country. States administer local and national elections, and individual precincts may provide a variety of different ways to vote depending on state rules and funding. In states like Oregon, every eligible voter is mailed a ballot, which they are encouraged to return. In the District of Columbia, voters have the option to choose between casting their vote on a paper ballot that is read by an optical scanner or voting at an electronic voting machine.
But in Georgia, Louisiana, Delaware, New Jersey, and South Carolina, voters can only use an electronic voting machine. That may seem problematic in the abstract, but in these states voters never even receive a receipt that allows them—or election auditors—to check to make sure the machine is calibrated correctly and recorded the right vote. And once votes are cast, states use different infrastructure to tally and analyze the vote and decide the election.