On Election Day this November, about 1 in 4 Americans will vote using a device that never lets the voter see a copy of his or her vote on paper. The idea of relying on such machines has troubled some security experts for years. And this year the stakes may be even higher, because one candidate is charging that the election is rigged, and government officials have warned that state election systems have been targeted by foreign hackers with ties to Russia. Five states exclusively use voting machines that lack the kind of independent paper trail needed to do a convincing recount, according to a nonprofit, nonpartisan group called Verified Voting. Those states are New Jersey, Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana and South Carolina. “And then there are another nine states that have paperless voting machines in some jurisdictions,” says Pamela Smith, president of Verified Voting. In Pennsylvania, considered a battleground state, those machines are used in a majority of counties. “On a scale of all of the states, I would say that Pennsylvania would be my biggest concern,” says Smith.
Pennsylvania also worries Avi Rubin, a computer security expert at Johns Hopkins University. “What do we do if, at the end of the election, it comes down to Pennsylvania and there’s a challenge saying, you know, these machines were corrupted?” Rubin asks. “We can’t do recounts. We don’t have paper ballots. We just have to live with those machines.”
… “They don’t have a separate record that the voter got a chance to see and confirm was correct at the time that they voted,” says Smith, who notes that this type of machine gives you “nothing independent of the software in the machine.”
Computer security specialists note that many jurisdictions use equipment provided by a small number of vendors. “So an attack that works against one county will work against many counties,” saysDan Wallach, a computer scientist at Rice University who studies voting machine security. Plus, other nations are surely aware of how the Electoral College system works and could target battleground states in clever ways, says Wallach, adding that he finds it disquieting when election officials simply dismiss concerns.