A Ray Of Hope For Secure Elections

President Trump refuses to acknowledge that Russia hacked the 2016 election. Republicans are too politically afraid of him and Democrats are too focused on obstructing him to make him accept it. This means he nor the Senate or Congress will likely do nothing to guarantee secure elections in 2020. Fortunately, a ray of hope has emerged from the west coast that will be used for the first time in 2020 to secure elections in America’s largest voting district, providing an example of how all of America’s voting districts can be made hack-free.

Los Angeles County, with its 5.2 million registered voters has more registered voters than 42 states making it the largest voting district in America. Realizing secure elections were not possible with a voting system that was using outdated and discontinued technology vulnerable to cyber-hacking, Los Angeles County decided to design and build its own voting system. The most important aspect of voting that the new system delivers is a complete overhaul of the voting machine.

Los Angeles County is not the only voting district who can’t guarantee secure elections due to the use of outdated or discontinued voting technology. A study by the Brennan Center for Justice shows that 38 states use discontinued voting machines that are no longer manufactured in one or more voting districts, and another seven states use voting machines that have been discontinued in all their voting districts. Most states can’t guarantee secure elections because they are using voting systems developed after the disputed 2000 hanging chad election. As Greg Miller, cofounder of Open Source Election Technology, a nonprofit that conducts election technology research, said “You have equipment that was introduced in 2005, in that time frame, how many times have you changed your mobile phone? And how many times have we replaced our laptops?”

Using voting machines with outdated or bug plagued software with no paper back-up of the votes cast can cause confusion and distrust in the vote totals. This has been the case in the state of Texas for at least a decade. The problem involves eSlate direct recording electronic (DRE) voting machines made by Hart InterCivic. During the 2018 election, Texas straight-ticket voters reported that the eSlate voting machines recorded them selecting the wrong candidate of another party, or left their vote for U.S. Senate blank.

According to the Texas Secretary of State’s office “The Hart eSlate machines are not malfunctioning, the problems being reported are a result of user error, usually, voters hitting a button or using the selection wheel before the screen is finished rendering.” But in a 2017 paper, two researchers at Rice University examined the usability of Hart’s eSlate devices, their research cites a 2008 study of 1500 voters that ranked the Hart eSlate the lowest for ease of use out of six commonly used electronic voting systems.

There is evidence, both anecdotal and experimental, suggesting that the eSlate is not particularly usable,” the paper’s authors wrote. “Counties are already spending a great deal of money on the eSlate and using the systems in elections despite potential usability issues that could lead to longer voter times… and mistakes made by voters while making selections on ballots.” Aside from these problems eSlate like most electronic voting systems provides no paper back-up of the votes it records.

A common misconception about American voting systems is that they provide secure elections because the voting machines are not connected to the internet or to each other. The belief is that the votes they record are always accurate because the machine is isolated without the possibility of an external force to hack it. Nothing could be further from the truth!!! Hackers don’t need to hack the voting machines to prevent secure elections because they can hack the computer networks that control the voting machines.

Hackers infiltrate what is called election-management systems and leave a malicious code. These are election networks of computers operated by the state government, the county government, or an outside vendor that designs what’s on the ballot and the rules for counting the votes that are cast on the voting machines. Once this is done election officials copy the design and vote counting rules onto memory cards or USB sticks for insertion into the voting machines. This provides the route for the malicious code, implanted when hackers infiltrated the computer election network, along with the design and vote counting rules to spread from the computer election network to the many voting machines in the field. The malicious code runs on the individual voting machines as just another piece of software with access to all of the voting machine’s data and instructions on how to distort it.

L.A. County’s new voting system, which will debut in the 2020 elections, does guarantee secure elections by doing away with the vulnerabilities of ALL the current voting systems. It was built with open-source technology available to everyone instead of patent technology owned by a corporation, so L.A. County will no longer have to depend on a vendor to keep producing security updates to protect the system from hacks. According to L.A. County Registrar Dean Logan, the machines are designed to be agile and interchangeable if a better part comes on the market components can be swapped out without scrapping the whole machine.

The new L.A. voting system combines a paper ballot with a touch screen. Inside the voting booth, a person makes his or her choices on the screen. The voter then reviews the choices, feeds a paper ballot into the machine, and presses an on-screen button to complete the vote. The paper ballot then drops into a secure box, becoming the official record of the voter’s selections as recorded using the interface on the Ballot Marking Device. Official ballots are counted independently on a separate tally system after the polls close on Election Day. The system accommodates write-in votes, and will also allow a voter to fill out the paper ballot manually and then feed it into the machine if the person prefers. There are also 14 different languages available, large-type and earphone options, and a screen that can adjust for voters in wheelchairs.

L.A. County’s paper ballot back-up reverses a bad trend in America, currently there are about 14 states that have voting districts where ballots aren’t being recorded on paper, Georgia, for example, is paperless throughout the entire state and is using voting machines with software that hasn’t had a security update since 2005. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine released a report that urged all states to adopt paper ballots before 2020 so that proper post-election audits for accuracy of votes cast is possible. If no paper trail exists, then it’s impossible to perform a rigorous audit. All you can do is hit the print button again on a computer program getting the same result you got the first time, whether it is true or not.

Los Angeles County, America’s largest voting district, has provided a ray of hope and America’s path to hack-free secure elections. Let’s hope and pray that President Trump, Republicans, and Democrats can stop focusing on the legitimacy of their personal elections long enough to follow L.A. County’s lead and focus on the legitimacy of all American elections, by providing the resources necessary to replace all hackable voting systems with new hack-free voting systems that are backed-up with paper ballots guaranteeing secure elections everywhere in America.

Isaac Newton Farris Jr. is the nephew of Martin Luther King, Jr. and serves as Senior Fellow at the King Center. Growing up in one of the most socially and politically active families has given him a unique perspective on current events. Drop by his website for straight talk free of one-sided political spin.

Originally published at https://isaacnewtonfarris.com on May 15, 2019.

Isaac Newton Farris Jr. is the nephew of Martin Luther King, Jr. and serves as Senior Fellow at the King Center.

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