Jul 28, 2017 www.sentinelsource.com/opinion/editorial/elections-integrity-the-real-threat-is-vulnerable-voting-software-and/article_19ba0e88-f0a4-5c68-a1cc-a592e6381d58.html
Donald Trump’s election last November has cast a wide spotlight on the integrity of our elections process. But somehow, the biggest threat to that integrity continues to elude the light.
The fact of Trump’s unexpected win and his actions since have kept attention focused on the election in two ways.
First came his ludicrous claim that he actually won the popular vote — once the 5 million or so “illegal” voters (all in states that he lost, naturally) are discounted. That contention has since morphed into a call for increased scrutiny on voters themselves, which in turn has led to a truly alarming development: the formation of a voter integrity panel that, so far, has only deepened fears of further voter-suppression tactics — which have spiked since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013. The panel’s call for states to hand over all information on every voter, and Vice Chairman Kris Kobach’s stated intention of releasing all that information, has privacy-rights activists and voting-rights proponents equally concerned.
The second way in which Trump’s November win has focused attention on the integrity of our elections is the specter of interference in the process by a foreign government, most prominently Russia. Trump’s Russian ties — whatever they are — are certainly a grave matter and need to be fully examined. But so far, reports of meetings with individuals with Russian-government ties to discuss how to make Hillary Clinton look bad leading up to voting have dominated the discussion. That’s a problem, for sure; but it’s not the problem.
The biggest threat of manipulation of our elections right now is via technology, and the refusal of those in power to admit that threat even exists.
We’re a society of convenience. We give up our money, private information and rights at the drop of a new mobile app. So it’s no surprise we’ve embraced machine counting of ballots. It’s incredibly fast and efficient, and far cheaper in the long run than paying people to count ballots. Many elections officials, especially in urban areas, moved to machine counting years — even decades — ago. And many of those machines are still in use.
We also know that most anything technological can be hacked or manipulated. The National Security Agency itself has been hacked, as have NASA and the Pentagon. Why, then, would anyone think it impossible to hack into voting machines or elections databases?
Among the most undereported stories of the past year was that Russian hackers tried repeatedly to get into elections software in as many as 39 states and to gain control of about 100 local polling sites. Ultimately, NSA investigators found, they either didn’t gain enough control or opted not to manipulate the polling.
The most-often given reason for this is that so many different systems are used across the thousands of polling jurisdictions that manipulating them all would be too hard. But every year, more polling places turn to machines, and there’s more uniformity in the systems being used.
Although not warning explicitly of Russian interference, a handful of Monadnock Region residents has been sounding the alarm regarding the vulnerability of voting machines in New Hampshire for several years. And the Secretary of State’s Office, inexplicably, has insisted the machines used here can’t possibly be tampered with, and refuses to even allow local polling officials to conduct cross checks on paper.
The New York Times recently noted a report by New York University law school’s Brennan Center for Justice, noting the same vulnerabilities. And that report calls for some of the same safety measures the local contingent has been pushing, including updating old voter-database software, replacing ballot-counting machines that don’t back up their totals on paper — most of the machines used in New Hampshire leave no paper trail — and audit the votes.
Perhaps smearing one candidate through fake news or the release of an “October surprise” is enough to sway a national election. But we’d bet the Russians — or anyone else interested in controlling who we elect, or otherwise undermining the entire process — could do far more damage electronically.
It’s time elections officials, both state and federal, stopped playing “voter fraud” games and started paying attention to the real danger of hacking.
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