WLTX has done several stories in recent weeks about voting equipment issues in Richland county and concern over the state’s aging voting equipment. A USC computer science professor, known for critiquing the state’s aging voting equipment, is another voice calling for change before 2020. “I think in order to restore trust in elections, we need to get as much technology out of this process as possible,” Duncan Buell said in his faculty office on Thursday. Buell, a USC computer science professor with a doctorate in mathematics, has been auditing state election results independently for years. He and the South Carolina State Election Commission started separate audits in 2010. “We have seen a significant improvement, I think, in the quality of the process since 2010,” Buell added in his office. Buell said a 2010 Democratic senate primary caused concern due to issues with vote counts in some counties. Together with others, like the League of Women Voters, Buell started individual audits. In 2016, Buell said the data was, “really very very clean.”
Buell’s overall concern is with what he considers confusing election software operated by often older poll volunteers, security concerns and aging hardware. “I have never seen instances of genuine fraud, I’m not sure I would be able to see instances of genuine fraud if it were done well,” Buell added.
Instead, he’s said anomalies over the years are often from another cause. “What I have seen are essentially all the errors that tired people are likely to make at the end of a long day using a very, very complicated computer system that they don’t do every day,” Buell said.
But, he claims he’s also worried about the ability of bad actors to infiltrate voting systems in the state. “Allegedly, our County systems are never connected to the internet,” Buell started.
“It’s not clear to me that the election workers realize that plugging anything into a computer that has been connected to the net is likely to provide a threat vector. If you take a flash drive and you download the results from the allegedly unconnected computer, you plug it in to a computer on the net to upload for the media, then use that flash drive again, then you are connected to the internet. Period. That’s just the assumption that you make,” Buell continued.
All told, it’s why he’s one of several voices calling for a new system. “Hand-marked paper, scanned at the precinct,” he said simply.