Guarding Presidential Election Vote Integrity Presents a Daunting Task

By Robert Lemos  |  Posted 2016-08-31 Print this article Print
Election Integrity

The party issued a formal public apology to the Sanders camp for the leadership's failure to remain impartial. 

In August, Russian hackers were also implicated in attacks on the voting registration systems for two states, Illinois and Arizona, according to a leaked FBI memo.

Playing to his core constituents, Republican nominee Donald Trump warned in August that he would "not be surprised" if the election was "rigged."

Yet, rigging a U.S presidential election is a tall order. While theoretically possible, almost all states have implemented in the last decade some sort of paper trail. Only five states do not have any voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT), the minimum standard for verification of vote via paper receipt. Another 10 states have an uneven mix of paper ballot and electronic systems that do not leave a paper trail, according to Verified Voting.

Those 15 states whose voters cast some portion of their ballots via electronic, paperless voting—known in the industry as direct recording electronic (DRE) voting—should concern election officials, Vanessa Teague, voting security expert and senior lecturer in the department of computing and information systems at the University of Melbourne, Australia, told eWEEK.

"In the short term, the number of paperless DREs in the U.S. is a cause for very serious concern," she said. "I wish that the concerns of [U.S.] e-voting and security experts had been heeded in time to fix them before the upcoming election."

Given the suspected involvement of a foreign power in the current hacks of election sites and the DNC, election officials should also worry about the impact of the equivalent of a denial-of-service attack on the election system. Even if attackers could not change the results, deleting votes or causing discrepancies in the vote tally could cause disruptions and increase distrust in an already-fractured political environment.

"Even if it is not a close election, it would not be hard to do something disruptive," UM's Halderman said. An example would be "making the machines not work in a key state. We absolutely need some way of catching fraud and error, if they occur."

To do that, we need regular, random election audits. Unfortunately, more than half the states in the United States do not have adequate auditing processes. Only a single state, New Mexico, has an excellent process for auditing the vote and triggering a recount, according to Verified Voting. Another seven states have processes considered "good."

"The crucial issue is, 'If something went wrong, would we know?'" University of Melbourne's Teague said.

The focus on the machines and voting will be good in the long run, and no election official wants to be the equivalent of 2016's Florida, says Verified Voting's Smith.

"One thing I do know is that election officials are working hard to make sure there is trust in their elections," she said. "Election officials do not want it to go wrong, and this news cycle has been challenging because everyone is starting to pay a lot more attention."

In the end, the contentiousness in U.S. politics may turn small discrepancies into larger issues, leaving election officials will a common hope, Smith said.

"The prayer of election officials is for large margins," she said.


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