A recent presidential commission report on election administration characterizes the state of U.S. voting machines as an “impending crisis.” According to the report, created in response to a presidential order, existing voting machines are reaching the end of their operational life spans, jurisdictions often lack the funds to replace them, and those with funds find market offerings limited because several constraints have made manufacturing new machines difficult. On Election Day, these problems could translate into hours-long waits, lost votes and errors in election results. In the long term, such problems breed a lack of trust in the democratic process, reducing the public’s faith in government, experts say. According to Barbara Simons, a member of the board of advisers to the federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC), the problem can’t be avoided any longer. “People died for the right to vote as recently as the civil rights movement,” she said. “The American Revolution was all about being able to control our own democracy, and that means voting … We know that a lot of machines were breaking in the 2012 election. It’s not that it’s an impending crisis. This crisis is already here.” Also, outdated voting machines can present security risks both in hardware deficiencies (some machines use generic keys to protect sensitive panels) and in software flaws that are difficult if not impossible to detect when compromised, according to security audits. Assessing the security of many of these systems is difficult, however, since companies insist proprietary software and hardware may not be disclosed to third parties. Government audits are often not fully public. The current problem is rooted in the short-term fixes that were implemented to solve the last major voting crisis, in 2000, when unreliable punchcard machines led to ambiguous ballots in Florida, putting the presidential election into question. After further issues in the 2002 midterm elections, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) that fall. HAVA gave states millions of dollars to replace punchcard machines and created the EAC, charged with establishing standards for voting systems.
HAVA did not require states to wait for the new standards before buying machines, however, leading many jurisdictions to replace punchcard systems — whose faults were largely known — with electronic, paperless machines — whose faults were unknown and whose reliability was untested.
When the EAC put out voluntary guidelines in 2005, it gave manufacturers and states only two years to make their equipment compliant. Voting experts say it takes at least four years to adequately develop, test and deploy new voting equipment.
… One option that other groups have floated is Internet voting. Although disability and armed service groups are pushing for Internet voting as way to increase turnout and bypass aging machines, security experts agree that such a system would introduce more flaws than solutions. Although people can bank relatively safely online, fraud and theft still occur. Online banking and electronic transactions accounted for nine percent of fraud and losses in 2012, totaling $153 million. Also, not all fraud is detected and certainly not immediately. Whereas money can be replaced months after the fact, elections and votes aren’t as simple, experts say. “The fact is that Internet voting is fundamentally insecure,” Simons said.
Full Article: Voting’s ‘impending crisis’ | Al Jazeera America.