There are several basic election integrity truths that have escaped the attention of most Americans, even as they confront the scope of alleged Russian cyber intrusions into America’s disparately run, local elections systems. [Despite repeated assurances from U.S. officials that hackers didn’t go so far as to alter vote counts, Department of Homeland Security officials concede that they failed to run an audit in order to determine whether the 2016 vote count had been manipulated by anyone, be they hackers, foreign or domestic, from Russia or anywhere else, or by election insiders whose direct access could facilitate a malicious, or even accidental, manipulation of vote totals. The mainstream U.S. media has also raised concerns that the United States, under the Donald Trump administration, is not doing enough to prevent hacking or manipulation of the 2018 and 2020 elections.] The first basic election integrity truth is that, as The BRAD BLOG reported in 2009, following a stark presentation by a U.S. intelligence officer to the nation’s only federal agency devoted to overseeing the use of electronic voting and tabulation systems, all electronically stored and/or processed data — registration records, poll books, ballot definition scripts and, most importantly, computerized vote tabulators — are vulnerable to malicious cyber intrusions.
“I follow the vote,â€ CIA cybersecurity expert Steven Stigall warned members of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) in a 2009 field hearing in Florida. “And wherever the vote becomes an electron and touches a computer, thatâ€™s an opportunity for a malicious actor potentially toâ€¦make bad things happen.”
The second basic truth is that election system vulnerability is not confined only to malicious hackers, who may or may not be Russian. All electronic vote tabulation systems are vulnerable to election insider manipulation.
The third is that paper registration forms, poll books and hand-marked paper ballots are not, in and of themselves, vulnerable to electronic manipulation. (Paper ballots, of course, are not entirely risk free. Even before the advent of e-voting, there had been cases of ballot box stuffing. But it was the advent of central computerized/electronic tabulation that created a vulnerability to wholesale electoral theft by a “conspiracy” as large as one person, with little possibility of detection.)
The fourth is that the only way to ensure a transparent and verifiable count, one that can be overseen and confirmed the public, is to deploy what Brad Friedman aptly describes as “Democracy’s Gold Standard”: hand-marked paper ballots, publicly hand-counted with the verifiable results posted at each precinct on Election Night before ballots are moved to any other location.
The fifth is that the core issue in election integrity is not whether a given result is or is not the product of election fraud. Instead, as recently observed by Austria’s Supreme Court, the issue is whether election officials have complied with procedures that are designed to ensure the integrity of a transparent and verifiable result.