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New evidence that suggests the Russians hacked further into our voting system than we thought has many voters asking how we can best protect a system that delivers the peaceful transfer of power.
A look at the electoral process and how vulnerable it is to an outside attack.
- Susan Greenhalgh Elections specialist for Verified Voting's initiative to protect elections in the era of cyber attacks; Verified Voting is a non-partisan non-profit organization that advocates for legislation and regulation that promotes accuracy, transparency and verifiability of elections.
- Trey Grayson President & CEO, Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce; former secretary of state, Kentucky
- Denise Merrill Secretary of State, Connecticut; president, National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS)
- Matthew Masterson Chairman, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission
On the future of voting, and voting online
Trey Grayson: “I remember when I ran in 2003, I got asked about online voting, and said it probably wasn’t ready for primetime. It’s still probably not ready for primetime. I go back to what I said earlier about how important it is that every single vote is counted the same way. We may get to have some very sophisticated security protocols at some point, but this is going to take a lot longer to get to true online voting, smartphone voting then you might think, given the way everything else goes. I’ve got to tell you, I buy everything online, so it’s not that I’m a Luddite when it comes to technology. I’m just a realist with some of the threats that are out there and the importance of making sure that our system works as it should.”
On how different voting technologies work
Susan Greenhalgh: There’s a touch screen, it’s also referred to as a DRE, voting system that looks like an ATM machine, that sort of model where you get a screen and you can go up and choose your selection. Your vote choice, in that case, is recorded digitally only, which creates security issues because, if the software is in some way compromised, your record of voter intent is reliant on that software to make sure that it is counted and available in the correct form. Then there’s a DRE that’s known as a DRE with a voter verified paper audit trail. This type of DRE prints out a paper receipt, much like you might get at your ATM behind a piece of glass so that the voter can look at the receipt and say, “yes, that’s how I voted,” and then confirm that’s how they voted. Then, that piece of paper drops into a box that can then be used for audits or recounts in the states that have them.
On balancing convenience and reliability
Greenhalgh: I think that we can strike a balance between using computer technology responsibly as long as there is that independent paper ballot that can be used to audit the election result. By using a paper ballot that provides an independent record that is not solely digitally recorded and then auditing that digitally produced, computer produced tally, we can get the speed and convenience of using technology and also have transparency how the voters can have confidence that their votes are counted correctly because they can observe the audit. We don’t have to speculate if the votes are correct if we’re auditing them across the board.
On the transparency of the voting process
Denise Merrill: One of the great things about our system is that it’s incredibly transparent. When we open the machines for the next election, there’s a public process. People can come and watch it go on, not that many people do. But I think it’s important to let the people know that you can observe at all times everything that’s going on in the election process. I think that’s one of the wonderful things about the American election system, is that there is a lot of transparency, all along the way. You obviously have the problem of the secrecy of the ballot. We want to preserve that at all costs because that may change the integrity of the system as well. But there is a lot of public process like that… the problem is, up till now, no one’s been that interested. The real problem, up to 2016, was a lack of participation.
On the president’s claim of voter fraud
Grayson: We don’t see a lot of evidence of the kind of widespread voter fraud that he’s talking about. There’s still in rural areas, especially in my home state of Kentucky, we’ll have some vote buying that takes place. But the kind of fraud that the President is alleging that took place, and the numbers that he alleges have taken place, such as people from Massachusetts crossing the border into New Hampshire and voting twice, there’s no evidence that that takes place in very large numbers. I’m a republican and I find it very disconcerting that he’s injecting doubt into our electoral system with some of these allegations, especially because he won… We’ve talked a lot about the law of large numbers. There’s so many states and jurisdictions and systems so it’s hard to commit fraud successfully. Most states have some sort of identification requirement. Whether it’s strong or weak, there is some level of that. A lot of poll workers know who their voters are. And there’s laws, and investigations. So there’s some things that take place. We can debate about where we want to move that line, but in general, that works fairly well to prevent the kind of widespread fraud that’s been alleged by the President.
On ways to be more involved
Matthew Masterson: In the end, voting in elections are a human activity. Humans are involved from poll workers to observers to political parties and candidates. There’s an opportunity for all citizens to get involved. Go be poll workers. There isn’t an election official in this country that is going to turn away poll workers. We need more. To the extent you have questions, concerns, go be a poll worker. Go watch pre-election testing. The vast majority of jurisdictions allow citizens to participate in that way. Go watch the ballot count on election night, if that’s available to you. Go watch the post-election audit in your jurisdiction, if that’s available to you, and go engage your local election administrator. I don’t know a local election administrator that wouldn’t welcome your questions and invite you in to learn the process. It really is a human centric process. It is layers of security, both logical, physical, and cyber. In the end, it comes down to the human beings interacting.
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