It appears that attempts at hacking the US presidential election are continuing. The news reports are sensational and need to be read carefully. What has been reported this week is that attempts were made to get into voter registration records – not the voting system itself.
ABC News claims that there is evidence that attempts were made on systems in twenty states, and four were successfully breached. FBI Director James Comey, testifying before Congress, said “This is very different than the vote system in the United States, which is very, very hard for someone to hack into because it’s so clunky and dispersed.”
A friend of mine was in charge of voting systems in Santa Fe County. She explained some of this to me. Voting and its mechanisms are left up to the states, which have a great many ways of dealing with it. Registration is the responsibility of counties in New Mexico – all 33 of them. There are 3,144 counties and county equivalents in the United States. Backup files of the voting rolls are maintained.
Voting in New Mexico is by optical scanning of paper ballots. Again, the counties are in charge of the machines and tallying the results, which are then aggregated at the state level. Many checks are built into the system, starting with voters identifying themselves (by birth date and address), paper slips whose number must match the number of ballots, and hand-counting of selected precincts after it’s all over. Each machine would have to be hacked individually. I think I may have missed some of the double-checks.
Hacking into registration and scrambling the rolls could mess things up on election day. That may be the objective of the recent hacking attempts, or it could be to exacerbate the already exaggerated concerns about multiple voting by individuals. In New Mexico, returns are transmitted electronically, so there might be attempts to hack that, although those returns would be initially verified by phonecall.
The commonality of machines and procedures might allow lessons learned in one place to be applied in another. Fully electronic voting would be the most vulnerable to hacking, although it would be surprising (to me, anyhow) if there were no safeguards and checks applied to procedures.
As I noted, the US government is being open about this. What has been reported so far is a concern, but not alarming. There have been calls for President Barack Obama to confront Russian President Vladimir Putin about it, but that would inflate Putin’s importance, as he wants. It’s being dealt with at lower levels, as appropriate.
Photo credit. This is how we vote in New Mexico, although it doesn’t show the boxy machine that we put the ballot into, it acknowledges that it has counted the ballot, and then keeps the paper ballot under lock and key.