It may be tempting to think that the United States, the land of smartphones and supercomputers, would have commensurate levels of technology when it came to voting. Dispelling this, sadly, does not require us to look very far. Meet the WINVote touchscreen voting machine. Created and implemented in the early-2000s (and without any form of update since 2004), the WINVote machine is essentially a glorified laptop running Windows XP that also features a touch display. Its USB ports are physically unprotected, the wireless encryption key is set to “a-b-c-d-e,” the administrator password to access the machine (which is unchangeable) is “admin,” and there exists no auditable paper trail after an individual has voted. Oh, and it’s prone to crash. A lot. All of these, among other concerns, combined to lead security experts to term it “the worst voting machine in the U.S.” Despite these documented flaws, when Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe cast a ballot in 2014 at a Richmond-area precinct, he — like many voters in the city and in other parts of the Commonwealth — encountered the problematic WINVote machine. Multiple complaints over crashes and slow voting led the Governor to call for an investigation by the Virginia Information Technology Agency (VITA).
The report’s damning conclusions in April of last year led to a recommendation, subsequently adopted by the State Board of Elections (SBE), to decertify use of the machine in all of the over 500 precincts in 30 localities within the Commonwealth which utilized them. Using SBE’s data, I’ve generated a map which identifies the large swath of Virginia which used the WINVotes in at least one precinct as either a primary machine or Americans with Disability Act compliant-backup for voters with special needs. Sadly, the SBE’s decision to eliminate the WINVote does not completely turn the page on the use of poor, outdated technology to tabulate Virginians’ votes. WINVote’s flaws are symptomatic of the issues within the broader category of voting machines which experts term “Direct Recording Electronic” (DRE) machines.
DRE machines record an individual’s vote electronically (by use of touchscreen or button) and subsequently produce printout results of each machine’s vote totals which are then tabulated. Use of DREs largely began after the federal passage of the 2002 Helping Americans Vote Act (HAVA). HAVA — itself a response to the fiasco of using punch-card machines that resulted in the so-called “hanging chad” of the 2000 election — gave localities funds to modernize their voting processes. This often meant purchasing DREs — like the WINVote — en masse.
Crucially, DRE machines lack individual ballots as opposed to vote totals. This prevents post-election recount or audit of votes from having an effective paper-trail for investigators to check those vote totals against. This oversight raises the possibility of either improper alteration of results or, significantly, potential for non-malicious machine failure.
Full Article: How reliable are Virginia’s voting machines? |.