Four weeks from Election Day, it’s hard to be confident that every eligible American who wants to vote will be able to do so, and that every vote will be recorded accurately. Hacking has gotten the most attention since the 2016 Russian attacks on the presidential race. In July, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats warned that the “lights are blinking red again.” Along with possible foreign interference, other problems — some the fault of federal and state inaction — loom over this crucial election. Among the most serious:
►Aging equipment. Thirteen states still use voting machines without a paper trail in some or all counties, leaving no reliable way to audit votes after an election. Five states — Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, New Jersey and South Carolina — use these outdated machines in every county, although election experts have been warning for years about their inadequacies. Officials in some states are in denial about how vulnerable the systems are and have fought improvements. Even where problems are recognized, some states have failed to make replacement a budget priority.
►Inaccurate books. Electronic poll books have largely replaced the old handwritten registration books that election officials use at polling places to check in voters and keep track of who has voted. This progress has a downside. On Election Day 2016 in Durham, North Carolina, for instance, scores of voters were turned away from polling places or incorrectly told they had already voted because of inaccuracies in the books. In some precincts, voting was halted for so long that some voters gave up. It was unclear what the problem was, but hacking is a possibility and could happen again.
►Vulnerabilities and malfunctions. State election officials insist that actual vote totals cannot be tampered with because voting machines are not connected to the internet, which means that hackers would need to get into individual machines to do any damage. True. But vote tallies are sometimes sent to central locations through telephone modems that use the same digital infrastructure as the internet, making them vulnerable, too. And even without hacking, voting machine malfunctions occur.