ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

As Volatile Midterms Approach, Five States Move to Make Elections "Hack-Proof"

Updated on November 5, 2018

Coming one step closer to citizens being able to verify the vote counts announced by the nation's election departments, a citizen's group has succeeded in obtaining a directive from the Florida Secretary of State, to local election officials, requiring them to preserve the digital ballot images in every race in which they are available.

Ballot images are an audit feature present in about half of US voting precincts. They are images of voter hand-marked paper ballots, counted by state-of-the-art optical scan vote counting machines. Such systems are considered by transparency activists to be superior to any other technology from the standpoint of election security and transparency. (Counties which use vote-counting machines with ballot images feature.)

Source

Modern optical scan vote counting machines are those which count the votes on voter hand-marked paper ballots using a technology which generates an instantaneous image of the paper ballot, and then stores it into machine memory. The images can then be used to verify an election department's announced election results, by posting them for examination by citizens. Any discrepancies which are found can be resolved by accessing and counting the votes on the actual paper ballots.

Florida now joins Ohio, Virginia, Arizona, and New York in having directives or court rulings in place directing local election authorities to preserve what has become a hot topic in election transparency circles: the ballot images.

Election transparency activists have repeatedly gone to court, in numerous states, to force election officials to preserve what the activists say are an integral part of the public voting record. So far most state courts have agreed, even though election departments have fought hard to keep the images from public view. Some officials have claimed the authority to destroy them outright. Federal law requires all official voting records to be preserved for 22 months after an election.

An attorney for the transparency activists, Chris Sautter, said, “We are very pleased, and we consider this another victory,” as reported by WhoWhatWhy.org.

In their quest to keep ballot images secret, election officials have argued that it would be possible to piece together a voter's identity "due to the nature of the choices." Transparency activists have called this argument preposterous.

Shrill warnings of Russian and even Chinese hackers fill the
news. Candidates and party activists like Senator Bernie Sanders nevertheless continue to urge citizens to march to the polls and vote, in an historic set of midterm elections, normally sleepy affairs, which will be seen as a referendum on the policies of President Donald J. Trump.

The contradiction between urging people to vote without those people having assurances that those votes will be properly counted has not been lost on everyone. In October 2016 the New York Times reported that fewer than half of Americans had confidence that their vote for president that year would be counted correctly, according to one study. Yet political campaign workers devote thousands of hours to phone banking, sign-holding, door-to-door campaigning, and other operations involving large expenditures of time, energy, and money to get the vote out.

Sanders has never commented on the accuracy of vote-counting in America, and conservatives tend to gravitate to a different kind of fraud, voter fraud, as a major source of cheating. Transparency activists say the greatest potential for cheating lies not in persons who vote who are not qualified to, but in the hacking of vote-counting machines in order to alter vote totals. While election officials argue that their machines are subject to "logic and accuracy" tests before an election, activists counter that these are meaningless, because it only takes minutes to hack into an election after these tests have been performed.

And while some election officials maintain that their systems are unhackable because they are not connected to the Internet, activists counter that nearly every election system is connected to the Internet at some point, even if just for the transmission of local vote totals via modem. Furthermore, they say, connection to the Internet is not necessary to access a vote-counting machine. The instructions for some vote-counting machines reside on removable memory cards. A maliciously hacked memory card can be swapped with a real one in seconds. In Fresno, California, election activists were aghast to learn that election workers would be taking vote-counting machines home for two days before an election, opening a gaping window for mischief.

Bernie Sanders marching to polls with students in Florida last week.
Bernie Sanders marching to polls with students in Florida last week.

Although the preservation and posting of the ballot images is not a foolproof, be-all-and-end-all solution to hacking, because hacking is soon exposed, it would make the hacking of elections many orders of magnitude more difficult than it is now. High-resolution images of paper are difficult to hack and fake, activists like John Brakey of Audit Elections USA say.


At the DefCon hacker's conference in 2017, hackers showed that they could break into some election systems in as little as 90 minutes. In 2018, the BBC reported on an election hacking competition for children, in which election systems were replicated resembling actual, functioning systems in the US. In the article entitled "Hacking the US mid-terms? It's child's play," the BBC reported:

The first competitor to break in was 11-year-old Audrey Jones. It took her 10 minutes. “The bugs in the code makes us [able] to do whatever we want,” she tells me. "We call somebody our own name if we want to, make it look like we won the election!”

Election transparency activists have been urging citizens across the country to demand that voter hand-marked paper ballots remain the defacto standard in every state, counted by optical scan vote-counting machines in which ballot images are generated and posted for public examination.

Letter from Fresno County election officials to election workers
Letter from Fresno County election officials to election workers

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • hard sun profile image

      Don Shepard 

      19 months ago

      Very interesting Ralph. I just voted. I hit a button that put an x beside the candidate I chose. There is no paper receipt at all. This seems to be one of the most fraud prone systems. I bookmarked the Audit elections site. The hand marked ballots with recorded images certainly make sense.

      I appreciate the info on something I really knew very little about.

      This topic should be front and center in America right now.

    • ralphlopez profile imageAUTHOR

      Ralph Lopez 

      19 months ago

      Don Shepard - Thanks for your comment. Yes, the machines which take ballot images require a voter hand-marked paper ballot to have something to image. The distinction "voter hand-marked" is important because some politicians are trying to make it ok to transition to DRE "paper trail," which is basically a touch screen machine which records a vote by the voter touching the screen for choices, then the machine prints out a paper "receipt" on a spool to confirm the votes. Some problems with this are people often don't bother to check the receipt, and spools get easily lost or destroyed. Another end-run around voter hand-marked paper ballots is the "BMD" ballot marking devices, which is similar. The voter touches a screen for choices, then the machine generate a paper ballot reflecting those choices. But since these ballots lack the unique mark patterns of a hand marked ballot, they are easy to fake.

      These machines are ok for use for people with disabilities, but for the majority of voters nothing comes close to voter hand-marked paper ballots, fed into machines which take images of them and store the images. A great article going which explains this more is here: https://medium.com/@jennycohn1/touchscreens-with-v...

      I would urge you to contact the folks at Audit Elections to learn more about what's going on in your state and how to change it, they are very eager to hear from concerned citizens! https://www.auditelectionsusa.org/contact/

      Or you can always contact me.

    • hard sun profile image

      Don Shepard 

      19 months ago

      Good coverage on perhaps the most important topic in America today.

      "Ballot images are an audit feature present in about half of US voting precincts. They are images of voter hand-marked paper ballots, counted by state-of-the-art optical scan vote counting machines."

      The county where I live is not on the list of those that use ballot imaging features. So, those who are in these counties actually use hand marked paper ballots?

      Reading the auditelectionusa.org link, it seems the digital image is the key here. Are hand-marked paper ballots necessary for this system?

      I'm just trying to understand this better. Thanks!

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)