In a world where we can program our refrigerators to order more milk or conjure images of distant galaxies with a few swipes on a smartphone, it’s significant that the best, most reliable technology available on Election Day 2016 is good, old-fashioned paper. “It seems counterintuitive, but paper is a technology that just happens to work really well for elections,” says Pamela Smith, the president of Verified Voting, a nonpartisan organization that advocates for accurate and transparent elections. “You can’t hack a piece of paper. Voters can mark it and see their vote, and then the ballots can be collected and double-checked.” … The real problem, said Lawrence Norden, the deputy director of the Brennan Center for Justice Democracy Program, lies with the nearly 40 million Americans who won’t be voting on paper, again based on 2012 figures. Those voters will instead be saddled with electronic voting machines (the yellow and red-colored counties on the map), many of which are more than a decade old, lack basic cybersecurity protections, and utilize hardware no more sophisticated than a stripped down, Bush-era laptop. In 42 states, electronic voting machines are more than a decade old, according to Norden’s research. (Many states still use such machines for voters who require special assistance.)
While states no longer use voting machines that connect directly to the internet, and therefore can’t be hacked in the same way your laptop can, any sophisticated ne’er-do-well with physical access to an electronic voting machine could easily rewrite its software to change the way that votes are counted or tabulated, according to a recent report by the Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology.
A hacker could also fairly easily manipulate other weak points in the system, such as the digital networks through which votes from different precincts are collected and transmitted, said Malcolm Harkins, the chief security and trust officer at the cybersecurity firm, Cylance. “When you look at a lot of these problems, its low probability, but high impact,” he said. “So if the question is, ‘Is it possible?’, the answer is yes, definitely.”