Friday, December 09, 2022

Associated Press explains: US voting systems are reliable

Former President Donald Trump and his allies have launched a relentless campaign of attacks against voting equipment since their defeat in the 2020 election. Nearly two years later, no evidence has emerged that voting machines were rigged or widespread fraud to steal the election. ,

However, conspiracy theories spread online and in forums across the country have undermined public confidence in voting machines and election results, while prompting some counties to consider hand-marking and counting the equipment in favor of ballots. has prompted.

Elections have been held across the country this year during a very busy primary session. Although bugs do occasionally occur and devices can crash, no major problems have been reported. Voting equipment is tested before and after to identify any problems, while post-election audits confirm that it is working properly.

The Associated Press explains how we got to this point, efforts to increase voting security, and the consequences of the false claims surrounding the 2020 presidential election.

Voting technology in use in the United States

The types of voting equipment used across the United States vary by location. To vote in person, most people fill out ballots by hand and those ballots are inserted into an electronic table. Sometimes this happens at the polling place. Elsewhere, ballots are collected from a secure ballot drop box, containing rules governing chain of custody, and taken to an electoral office for electronic tabulation.

In some places, voters use a special computer to mark their ballots electronically. Those ballots are printed, reviewed by the voter to ensure accuracy, and then put into a table at their polling place. A lawsuit in Georgia is challenging the use of these “ballot marking” machines because they use barcodes to record votes.

Tabulators also count ballots sent to the local election office. Very few jurisdictions, mostly small towns in New England, do not use tables and count their ballots by hand.

How has it changed over the years?

After the chaos of incorrectly punched ballots in the 2000 election (the so-called “Hanging Chad”), Congress provided funding to reform the voting system. Many jurisdictions have turned to electronic voting machines to replace their punched ballot system. But those machines didn’t create a paper record: instead, all votes were cast and recorded electronically.

For years, election security experts have expressed concern about these “direct registration” machines and the potential for someone to tamper with them. A more secure method, he says, is a system that uses paper ballots and electronic tabulation, along with post-election review and testing, to ensure that machines accurately record voters’ choices. .

Over the past decade, state and local governments have begun to replace their paperless machines, a process that intensified after the 2016 election and revelations that Russia had scanned the US voting system for vulnerabilities. Currently, paperless machines are only used in Louisiana and a handful of jurisdictions in Indiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, Tennessee and Texas, according to Vote Verified, a group that tracks voting technology in the United States.

post 2020 election claims

In the weeks following the 2020 election, Trump and his allies made several baseless claims about voting machines, including that his computer program was built overseas and designed to swap votes for desired candidates. : “By spinning the remote or turning a chip, you can push a button for Trump and it goes to Biden,” Trump said in a December 2 speech.

These claims have focused largely on Dominion Voting Systems, one of the few companies that dominate the US voting technology market. In response, Dominion has filed defamation suits against conservative media outlets and Trump attorneys Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani, stating that “the lies and misinformation have seriously harmed our business and reduced credibility in the media.” has occurred.” US election.

But instead of spreading the conspiracies around the voting machine, it has increased. Trump aides have traveled the country speaking at conferences and with community groups equipped with algorithms and graphs to show the machines have been tampered with in some way.

Election technology expert Kevin Skoglund said part of the challenge is that the voting system is complex. Obviously, some people have been persuaded that when nothing happened, something nefarious happened.

“If you’re a non-technical person, if someone tells you that machines are playing tricks on you, you might believe it because you don’t understand how the system works,” Skoglund said.

Are voting systems secure?

Any device that runs software – cell phones, laptops or voting systems – is vulnerable to hacking. That’s why election experts have insisted on replacing paperless voting machines.

Experts say the United States has taken steps to improve election security in recent years. This includes designating America’s voting system as a “critical infrastructure” in 2017 – on par with the nation’s banks, dams and nuclear power plants.

Congress has sent nearly $900 million in election security funding to states, used to replace outdated voting systems, hire cybersecurity personnel, and strengthen cybersecurity defenses.

“There is no such thing as an impenetrable system,” said Larry Norden, election security expert at the Brennan Center for Justice. “That doesn’t mean we can’t do better. We always have to see how we can do better, but you can’t eliminate risk.”

False claims fuel doubts and safety concerns

False claims have not only undermined public confidence in elections. They have also committed security breaches at some local election offices in Colorado, Georgia and Michigan.

Shortly after the 2020 election, Trump aides took advantage of a bug in Michigan County and gained legal access to its voting system through the courts. But a copy of the county’s election management system was made available at an August 2021 event hosted by Trump’s aide, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, according to attendees.

A copy of the system used in Mesa County, Colorado was also presented at that event. Details of another alleged breach surfaced recently: in Coffey County, Georgia, as Trump aides explored ways to reverse the outcome of the January 2021 presidential election. Michigan officials are investigating after polling teams were made available to unauthorized persons in some counties.

Those developments have raised concerns that rogue polling activists sympathetic to the conspiracies could use their access to voting equipment and knowledge to launch an insider attack. A polling worker in Michigan was recently charged with inserting a personal USB stick into an electronic voter registry during the state’s primary election, as Colorado officials investigate a case in which a voter was charged at the start of an election. A voting machine is suspected of tampering. this year.

US Cyber ​​Security and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) director Jane Easterler told reporters on October 3 that election security threats have never been more complex – and she cited misinformation, insider threats and harassment of election workers.

“Safe” option

Following the 2020 presidential election, a coalition of federal election and cybersecurity officials, along with state election officials and representatives of voting machine companies, issued a statement calling it “the safest in United States history.”

The group stated that “there was no evidence that any voting system removed or lost votes, shifted votes, or was compromised in any way.”

This was largely due to available paper records of about 93% of the total votes cast and a system of post-election checks to test the accuracy of electronic tabulators. In Georgia, the presidential vote was counted three times – once entirely by hand – with each count confirming President Biden’s victory in the state.

“It doesn’t matter what happens in the machine,” Norden of the Brennan Center said. “We have a piece of paper that tells us whether the votes were recorded correctly.”


Associated Press technology journalist Frank Bajak in Lima, Peru, contributed to this article.

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