The internet and smartphones have revolutionized the way we live our lives in fundamental, and, in my opinion, fantastic ways. It’s now possible to do your banking, buy airline tickets and pick your seats at the movies all while you wait in the lobby at the dentist’s office. There’s virtually nothing you can’t do on your favorite electronic device – except vote. And it should stay that way. Give me Scantrons and hanging chads any day of the week over online, or even electronic, voting, where domestic hackers and foreign agents potentially have the ability to alter the result of a U.S. election. Think about the chaos that swept through the state of Florida after the 2000 presidential election in response to an extremely close election – and then think about what would be in store for us if the losing candidate pins their loss on foreign espionage. We’d be at each other’s throats faster than you could say “banana republic.”
Currently, votes in four battleground states will be cast on ATM-style electronic voting machines with no paper trail – Pennsylvania, Georgia, Virginia and, of course, Florida. Given that there will be no physical printouts as a backup, if there are allegations of hacking, foul play or even just an glitch, there is no way to go back and independently verify the results of the machines.
Defenders of these machines believe we have nothing to worry about. “You’d need physical access to equipment to be able to do anything to it,” Virginia Elections Commissioner Edgardo Cortes told Politico. “It would be a substantial undertaking to try to do something like that.”
But, according to Herb Lin, a Stanford University professor who sits on a federal cybersecurity commission that President Barack Obama created this year, that’s exactly what agents of disruption are working on right now. Also speaking in Politico, Lin said, “By and large, the electronic voting machines aren’t able to stand up to graduate students, let alone the KGB, so I don’t have much faith in their ability to defend themselves against a nation-state like Russia. … You only need to hack a few of them to shift an election one way or another. You could easily imagine, if you were paranoid … that somebody could just hack a few voting machines and [turn] an election.”