WinVote Machine

A woman demonstrated the touch screen feature of the WINVote in 2004, right before it was used at precincts in Richmond, Henrico County and other parts of Virginia. The state decertified the machines in 2015.

A woman demonstrated the touch screen feature of the WINVote in 2004, before it was used at precincts in Richmond, Henrico County and other parts of Virginia. The state decertified the machines in 2015.

How did voting in our country become such a debacle?

The confusing 2000 punch card, known as the “butterfly ballot,” was a paper disaster. Some Florida voters picked more than one candidate for president, a candidate other than they intended or none at all.

The AVS WinVote touchscreen machines, used in three Virginia presidential elections, were an electronic stain on the commonwealth’s record. Passwords and encryption keys were simple as “abcde” and “admin.”

Voices inside and outside of government are making a difference. In 2017, a new forum called the Voting Village gathered at the DEFCON conference in Las Vegas to address election security issues. After year three, the group of hackers, academics, technologists, government officials and others captured Capitol Hill’s attention with a wide-ranging report on some core vulnerabilities.

At Thursday’s unveiling in Washington, D.C., organizer and co-author Matt Blaze of Georgetown University said we need election systems that ”tolerate imperfection.” Key findings included:

Voting system hardware in the U.S. is still vulnerable. Participants were able to find or replicate ways to hack machines, including altering vote tallies, changing ballot appearances or manipulating devices’ software.

Paper ballots and risk-limiting audits help counter electronic dangers. If disrupted, touchscreen voting machines lack an adequate backup to salvage compromised data.

Infrastructure and supply chain deficiencies breed security issues. Local offices administer elections but lack resources and funding to keep pace with threats. For example, counties might have to use contractors for information technology services, rather than full-time employees.

On Sept. 19, we were glad to see Congress introduce an amendment that would provide $250 million in federal election security grants. But an August Brennan Center report estimates at least $2.1 billion is needed to reach an acceptable nationwide election security baseline.

Perhaps Congress could adopt the Voting Village’s honest message of “tolerate imperfection.” The news of having millions to spend is no respite for voters, unless projects are executed that safeguard fair and free elections. We admittedly have a long way to go.

Chris Gentilviso

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