Reports this week of Russian intrusions into U.S. election systems have startled many voters, but computer experts are not surprised. They have long warned that Americans vote in a way that’s so insecure that hackers could change the outcome of races at the local, state and even national level.
Article by Craig Timberg and Andrea Peterson
Multibillion-dollar investments in better election technology after the troubled 2000 presidential election count prompted widespread abandonment of flawed paper-based systems, such as punch ballots. But the rush to embrace electronic voting technology – and leave old-fashioned paper tallies behind – created new sets of vulnerabilities that have taken years to fix.
“There are computers used in all points of the election process, and they can all be hacked,” said Princeton computer scientist Andrew Appel, an expert in voting technologies. “So we should work at all points in that system to see how we make them trustworthy even if they do get hacked.”
The alleged Russian hacks to voter registration systems in Arizona and Illinois exposed one of the major weak spots in election systems. Deleting or altering data on voter rolls could cause mayhem on election day, disenfranchising some voters. Many voting machines themselves also are vulnerable, especially touch-screen systems that do not create a paper record as a guard against fraud or manipulation.
Several swing states, including Pennsylvania, Florida and Virginia, are struggling to rid their polling stations of insecure touch-screen systems. Other states, such as Georgia and New Jersey, still use them at every polling station.
At stake are not just the results themselves. Faith in the reliability and transparency of balloting, experts say, are crucial to democracy, especially in a year when allegations of voting irregularities already have been aired by politicians, most notably Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
While there are few documented cases of electronic systems producing flawed voting results in the United States, experts say fears of potential hacks by foreign intelligence services are legitimate. Government databases of all sorts have been routinely pilfered by hackers for years, meaning that voter rolls likely are vulnerable too.
Read more at chicagotribune.com