The news of attempts by Russian hackers to compromise US voting systems will forever throw into question the results of close US elections -- but that's not just because voting machines are security tire-fires, it's because they're security tire-fires whose vote-counts cannot be audited.
That's because voting machine vendors have spent a decade and a half -- the period of voting-machine replacement after the Bush-Gore "hanging chad" catastrophe -- insisting that they can't add a paper tape to their machines, which would allow voting authorities to go back and count the votes in the event that a machine crashed or was compromised.
The principle is called "voter-verified machines": after you cast your vote, the machine prints it out, shows it to you through a plastic window, then, after you press a button, the paper vote moves along, winding onto a takeup reel or dropping into a locked vote box. Of course, if the ballot doesn't show the same vote that you cast, you can raise a stink.
You don't even have to wait for the vote to go wrong to conduct an audit. Auditors could -- and should -- make sure the system is working by auditing, say, 1% of the machines at random, across multiple vendors, to make sure the machines are performing properly.
In May, voting rights advocates filed an emergency motion to compel the use of paper ballots in the upcoming 6th District runoff. Superior Court Judge Kimberly Esmond Adams dismissed the case on Friday, though, concluding that to grant it would illegally interfere with Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s authority over state elections. Since the motion named Kemp as the defendant in his role as Secretary of State, Adams also noted that he is protected by Georgia’s sovereign immunity laws.
But advocates of voting-system reform say that the case has still had a positive impact. “Lawsuits close to elections are very challenging,” Verified Voting's Smith says. “But it certainly does draw attention to the issue, and you can get some testimony on the record.”
[Lily Hay Newman/Wired]
(Image: Seattle Municipal Archives CC-BY)