Threats remain to US voting system – and voters’ perceptions of reality

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November 6, 2018

As the 2018 midterms proceed, there are still significant risks to the integrity of the voting system – and information warfare continues to try to influence the American public’s choices when they cast their ballots.

On the day of the election, there were a number of early hitches in voting at individual polling places, such as polling places opening late and vote-counting machines not plugged in. But there seem not – at least not yet – to be major problems across the country.

However, not all the election-related news and information voters have been encountering in recent days and weeks is accurate, and some of it is deliberately misleading. As this election’s results come back, they will reveal whether the misinformation and propaganda campaigns conducted alongside the political ones were effective.

Securing election systems

America’s electoral process remains highly fragmented, because of the country’s cherished tradition of decentralized government and local control. While this may leave some individual communities’ voting equipment potentially vulnerable to attack, the nation’s voting process overall may be more trustworthy as a result of this fragmentation. With no unified government agency or office to provide, administer and protect election technologies, there’s not one central national element that could fail or be attacked.

Across the country, though, many districts’ voters will cast ballots with the help of machinesthat have long-standing security concerns. Fortunately, 45 states keep a paper record of each vote cast – whether for fear of threats to voting integrity or just budget constraints preventing purchase of newer gear. But that means five states – Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, New Jersey and Delaware – don’t keep paper records of their voters’ choices.

Voting machine vendors have been reluctant to appear before Congress to explain their systems’ security practices – and shortcomings. However, federal agencies have helped some states reduce the likelihood of voting machines being hacked or physically tampered with.

Beyond voting machines

Election security is about much more than voting machines and vote-counting systems, though they are the most visible technologies at work on Election Day. State systems that track voter registrations, or allow users to register online, are enticing targets for hackers, too. Security firm Carbon Black reported that 81 million voter records from 20 states are available in online forums. This data, obtained by hacking various official and corporate databases, could be used to facilitate voter fraud or sow confusion at polling places on Election Day: How would you feel if you were told that someone using your name and address had already voted?

Read the full piece at The Conversation