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Referring to hacking of elections, US Senator Angus King IND of Maine recently commented “everybody says that cyber is going to be the next Pearl Harbor”This is the longest windup for a punch in world history, and yet we’re not fully prepared.”
Washington has recently allocated $380 million to the states for election security, far less than the $3.6 billion Congress allocated in 2002 to replace voting machines.
With inadequate help from Washington, it’s up to the states to protect the vote count from hacking by Russia or others
If New York is any indication, the states have a lot of work to do. And quickly. New Yorkers vote on paper ballots counted by computerized scanners but candidates can’t get recounts and there are no hand counts even in very close elections. New York might as well be using the infamous touchscreen voting machines that can fail or switch votes in secret.
New York has paper ballots, but they are never 100% counted– even if a candidate loses by one vote.
Most New Yorkers believe we have hand recounts because we have seen paper ballots being counted and fought over after close elections. But those ballots are only the handful of provisional or absentee votes whose validity is contested. With the exception of New York City and Ulster County, there is no mandated automatic hand recount of all the ballots even if there is a very close vote. Last November, a Saratoga County ballot initiative failed by only ten votes. As in all previous cases, supporters had to go to court. As in all previous cases, a judge denied a recount.
New York’s audit of 3% of the ballot boxes after each election is inadequate to catch hacking
A 3% audit is statistically inadequate to find fraud. New York hand counts ballots in 3 out of every 100 ballot boxes. The ballots in the other 97 ballot boxes sit unexamined in a warehouse for 22 months before being discarded. If the ballot count doesn’t match the machine count, an audit can escalate to 100% of the ballots, but only if both the Democratic and Republican election commissioner agree to do so. Such an escalation has never happened. A commissioner whose party’s candidate is ahead on election night is highly unlikely to agree to count more votes.
Election officials insist that ballot scanners are not connected to the internet so they can’t be hacked- but they can
Ballot scanners are just as easy to hack as touchscreen machines. For example, ES&S DS200 optical scanners used in New York, Wisconsin and elsewhere can be equipped with modems. Optical scanners use memory cards that can be programmed without detection to add or subtract votes. The New York Times reports. “..a hacker could subvert telecom routers to intercept and alter election results as they pass through telecom equipment”.
At the annual DefCon computer security conference in 2017, hackers unfamiliar with voting machines easily hacked all thirty voting machines examined, including scanners.
Susan Greenhalgh, a spokeswoman for the National Election Defense Coalition, an elections integrity group said ”The incorrect assertion that voting machines or voting systems can’t be hacked by remote attackers because they are ‘not connected to the internet’ is not just wrong, it’s damaging. This oft-repeated myth instills a false sense of security that is inhibiting officials and lawmakers from urgently requiring that all voting systems use paper ballots and that all elections be robustly audited.”
What can we do?
Touchscreen voting machines must be retired immediately. Fifteen states still used touchscreen voting machines in 2016. Virginia retired theirs, but key states like Pennsylvania and Georgia may still be using them in 2020, leaving them easy targets for hackers.
States that use computerized ballot scanners like New York must change to verify the computer vote count by hand counting the ballots. Risk limiting audits (RLA) are the gold standard for audits of election, but they require funding and training and take time to implement. We need changes to recount laws now, before the crucial November elections. If an election is close, or if a candidate requests it, 100% of the ballots must be publicly hand-counted.
Changes don’t require huge federal or even state actions. Counties can adopt close-vote hand count legislation and local Boards Of Elections can hand count on their own initiative. In Columbia County, New York, the 3% audit meant only one ballot box in the whole county would be examined. The two election commissioners there felt they could not in good conscience certify elections which were essentially not audited, so Columbia voluntarily hand counts all the ballots in every race. They are the only county in New York to do so, but any county Board of Elections can follow their principled example.
In 2016, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein attempted to find out how people actually voted in the swing states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Unlike New York, those states had paths for any candidate on the ballot to get full hand counts. Unfortunately, Stein’s attempts to get recounts in those three states were all blocked by partisan maneuvering and Democratic indifference. Michigan blocked the counting of 75,000 votes from Detroit. Trump won Michigan by only 10,704 votes.
We are living in perilous times. If even the secretive National Security Agency with all its resources was hacked and its hacking tools stolen, it is delusional to think that cyber-security efforts by any state’s Board of Elections can protect our vote count against hacking.
To protect our democracy, we must recount all the votes in close races through automatic hand counts of all the ballots. Every candidate on the ballot must have the right to a recount of his or her race. Only then can we be sure that Russians or someone else did not hack our vote count.
Video 4 minutes: I Hacked an Election. So Can the Russians
Video 3 minutes:. This Hacker Can Breach A U.S. Voting Machine In Minutes
Video 5 Minutes: Haldeman testimony: Cyberattacks could change the results of U.S. national elections
Citizens for Voting Integrity. Westchester, New York.
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