THE MAGAZINE

Machine Politics

By Laura Spadanuta
“There has been a lot of tightening of standards but the most serious problems are as serious as they ever were,” he says.

Jefferson says that new DREs are not being designed or certified. According to Verified Voting statistics, four states still have completely paperless voting but have enacted laws to end the use of DRE machines. These electronic machines that once appeared the natural next step in voting could someday join the lever voting machines as relics of the past.

About 33 states now require paper records of voting, according to Verified Voting. Typically, paper ballots are counted by optical scanner machines. The paper records are then stored in case of a recount.

“The paper ballots, which are marked by the voter and checked by the voter, they are the final record of what the voters intended,” says Jefferson.

“I think this might be one area where in terms of the technology, simpler is better. To my knowledge there hasn’t been an improved technological approach that would eliminate all of the security concerns,” says Moynihan.

Optical scan issues. The combination of a paper ballot and an optical scanner also tends to be a cheaper solution than fully electronic voting machines. However, the scanners can be less convenient than DRE machines. Someone will have to look at the ballot and fill it out. This often provides less versatility than DRE machines, which can be programmed to be read in different languages, for example, and have their fonts adjusted.

And optical scanners are not immune to security challenges. They have been hacked as well. Johnston says he’s sure his team can pull off the same man-in-the-middle attack on optical scanner machines that was so successful on DRE machines. The critical difference is that, with optical scanners, the paper ballot creates a paper trail.

Five years ago, New Hampshire, which uses both hand counting and optical scanning machines, conducted a study of optical scanning machines to determine vulnerabilities and adopt safer procedures. One issue they discovered was that there “were certain ports in those machines that modems could be attached to,” says David Scanlan, New Hampshire deputy secretary of state. “So we physically disabled those ports…. And it just takes away that opportunity if it did exist, to be able to remotely get into those machines.”

Another way that New Hampshire attempts to keep things simple is to never hook the machines up to any network or central tabulation system. While central tabulation might be quicker, it opens the vote count up to more vulnerability.

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