Explainer

How vulnerable are voting machines?

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Voting technology has become controversial–particularly after the 2020 election. There are 11 voting machine manufacturers in the U.S., according to the Election Assistance Commission. The companies offer a variety of products, including optical scanners, ballot marking devices and direct recording electronic systems.

Greg Miller is the co-founder and COO of the OSET Institute–a non-profit working to improve voter technology. According to Miller, the machines currently in use are vulnerable to hacking.

“If there is a USB port, where I can stick a data stick, or there is a radio card that allows me to do a WiFi connection or a plug it allows me to connect in an internet cable, if I can introduce anything into that machine that makes that machine inherently modifiable,” Miller said.

One safeguard against tampering involves physical protection, which includes security guards and trained poll workers.

Another security tactic involves paper ballots, which can be used as backups for voting technology.

“It’s really just impossible to have, you know, results being compromised or flipped or switched or changed by external devices, satellite servers overseas,” Miller said. “It just doesn’t work that way. Because the fact is, the results lie in the paper.”

SHANNON LONGWORTH: VOTING MACHINES–THEIR SECURITY WAS CONTROVERSIAL EVEN BEFORE 2020.

DONALD TRUMP: “WITH THE TURN OF A DIAL OR THE CHANGE OF A CHIP, YOU CAN PRESS A BUTTON FOR TRUMP AND THE VOTE GOES TO BIDEN. WHAT KIND OF SYSTEM IS THIS?”

LONGWORTH: IT COMES DOWN TO INTEGRITY, AND WHETHER THIS MODERN TECHNOLOGY IS EFFECTIVELY CARRYING OUT AMERICAN DEMOCRACY.

SO, HOW DO THEY WORK? AND ARE THEY ACTUALLY VULNERABLE TO HACKING?

LET’S GET THIS STRAIGHT.

THERE ARE 11 VOTING MACHINE MANUFACTURERS IN THE U.S. WE KNOW THAT BECAUSE THEY’RE REGISTERED WITH THE ELECTION ASSISTANCE COMMISSION.

ELECTION SYSTEMS & SOFTWARE HAS THE MOST, FOLLOWED BY DOMINION VOTING SYSTEMS AND HART INTERCIVIC.

EACH COMPANY OFFERS DIFFERENT PRODUCTS.

OPTICAL SCANNERS ARE ONE TYPE.

YOU FILL OUT A BALLOT BY HAND AND FEED IT INTO THE MACHINE, WHICH SCANS AND RECORDS THE CHOICES.

ALTERNATIVELY, BALLOT MARKING DEVICES LET YOU VOTE ELECTRONICALLY

AND PRINT OUT A PAPER BALLOT.

YOU FEED THAT PAPER BALLOT INTO AN OPTICAL SCANNER, OR A BALLOT BOX.

THEN, THERE ARE DIRECT RECORDING ELECTRONIC SYSTEMS. THEY LET YOU PICK YOUR CANDIDATES ON THE SCREEN AND STORE YOUR VOTE ON A MEMORY CARD–OR OTHER DEVICE. SOMETIMES, YOU’LL FILL OUT A PAPER BALLOT, IN ADDITION, FOR AUDITING PURPOSES.

GREG MILLER, WITH THE OSET INSTITUTE–A NONPROFIT WORKING TO IMPROVE VOTING TECH–SAYS THESE MACHINES ARE CLEARLY VULNERABLE.

GREG MILLER: “IF THERE IS A USB PORT, WHERE I CAN STICK A DATA STICK, OR THERE IS A RADIO CARD THAT ALLOWS ME TO DO A WI FI CONNECTION OR A PLUG IT ALLOWS ME TO CONNECT IN AN INTERNET CABLE, IF I CAN INTRODUCE ANYTHING INTO THAT MACHINE THAT MAKES THAT MACHINE INHERENTLY MODIFIABLE.”

LONGWORTH: NOW, OF COURSE, THERE ARE SAFEGUARDS AGAINST TAMPERING. ONE IS PHYSICAL PROTECTION–LIKE SECURITY GUARDS AND TRAINED POLL WORKERS.

ANOTHER IS PAPER-BALLOT BACKUPS.

MILLER: “SO IT’S REALLY JUST IMPOSSIBLE TO HAVE, YOU KNOW, RESULTS BEING COMPROMISED OR FLIPPED OR SWITCHED OR CHANGED BY EXTERNAL DEVICES, SATELLITE SERVERS OVERSEAS. IT JUST DOESN’T WORK THAT WAY. BECAUSE THE FACT IS, THE RESULTS LIE IN THE PAPER.”

LONGWORTH: THAT’S WHY DIRECT RECORDING ELECTRONIC SYSTEMS WITHOUT PAPER TRAILS ARE THE LEAST-USED VOTING METHOD IN THE COUNTRY, ACCORDING TO THE 2020 ELECTION ADMINISTRATION AND VOTING REPORT.

AND THE MACHINES THAT DO USE PAPER BALLOTS–OPTICAL SCANNERS AND BALLOT MARKING DEVICES–ARE THE MOST-USED.

MILLER: “IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO SAY THE RISK IS ZERO. THE THREAT IS THERE, THE PROBABILITY OF IT’S LOW, BUT IT IS, IT IS SOMETHING THAT THE BEST WAY TO ELIMINATE IT AS A SUBJECT MATTER FOR A DISINFORMATION OR MISINFORMATION ATTACK IS TO IMPROVE UPON ITS DESIGN AND CAPABILITIES SO THAT WE CAN REDUCE THAT RISK, PERHAPS EVEN TO ZERO.”

LONGWORTH: MILLER’S IS JUST ONE OF SEVERAL ORGANIZATIONS WORKING TO ELIMINATE THE RISK, BUT FOR NOW–IN 2022–GOOD OLD PAPER IS ONE OF THE BEST TOOLS WE HAVE.

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Voting technology has become controversial–particularly after the 2020 election. There are 11 voting machine manufacturers in the U.S., according to the Election Assistance Commission. The companies offer a variety of products, including optical scanners, ballot marking devices and direct recording electronic systems.

Greg Miller is the co-founder and COO of the OSET Institute–a non-profit working to improve voter technology. According to Miller, the machines currently in use are vulnerable to hacking.

“If there is a USB port, where I can stick a data stick, or there is a radio card that allows me to do a WiFi connection or a plug it allows me to connect in an internet cable, if I can introduce anything into that machine that makes that machine inherently modifiable,” Miller said.

One safeguard against tampering involves physical protection, which includes security guards and trained poll workers.

Another security tactic involves paper ballots, which can be used as backups for voting technology.

“It’s really just impossible to have, you know, results being compromised or flipped or switched or changed by external devices, satellite servers overseas,” Miller said. “It just doesn’t work that way. Because the fact is, the results lie in the paper.”

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