Hardly anyone noticed, but in April 2015, the State of Virginia confirmed that the premise of popular entertainment pieces like Scandal and Turnover—massive electronic vote theft—was not just so much fiction.
I’ll confess to never have watched Scandal, but as the author of Turnover and its sequel, TurnAround, the research shows pretty conclusively that stealing an election via massive electronic vote theft is not only possible, it makes you wonder if it hasn’t happened already. Although Turnover has enough suspense, mayhem, and murder to keep readers awake, for many people, the mechanics of voting produce little else but yawns, and that’s exactly what the thieves in the ether will count on.
This piece is not a book plug, however, but a plea to take seriously one of the most important rights we have, and it’s not freedom of religion or the Second Amendment. The right to vote—freedom of speech—is what secures all those other rights and if we let it be stolen from us, well, who’d be to blame for that?
Keeping it simple, in this country, nearly all of us vote in about four different ways besides an old-fashioned townhall meeting, absentee paper ballot, or maybe, via the internet:
- The old bedsheet paper ballot—marks are still counted manually in a few places.
- DRE (Direct Record Electronic) Systems with voter-verified paper records (VVPR).
- DRE with voter-verified paper audit trails (VVPAT).
- DRE with no paper and no auditable data.
It’s Number 4 that’s the problem, for all the obvious reasons, and it suits the plot for Turnover’s political villains because most states do not yet require auditable voting. Of course, Number’s 2 and 3 are huge problems if no one ever takes a second look—and the fact is, the state’s secretary of state can waive many audits. According to one watchdog organization, only seven of our fifty states have “Good” or “Excellent” records in conducting risk-limiting audits of randomly selected precincts.
It’s 2016 that matters, so if the miscreants haven’t yet stolen a national election, thoughtful citizens should wonder if audition thefts will occur this November 3, when we elect commissioners, dog catchers, and local judges. It’s likely that less than 40% of eligibles will go to the polls, so few will think twice about the results, except in the close races.
Looking back over the 2000, 2008, and 2012 presidential contests, you don’t have to be a political scientist to know that 2016 will not be settled in most fly-over states, or even in the dozen or so purported battleground states. If the past tells the future, the outcome will be decided in one or two of five states with a total of 113 electoral votes: FL-29, VA-13, OH-18, NC-15, and TX-38.
Texas is attractive to Democrats for the first time in decades because it has reached the demographic tipping point: According to “Texas QuickFacts from the US Census Bureau,” those claiming Asian (4.3%), Latino (38.4%), or Black (12.4%) descent typically do not vote Republican and neither does all of the White population (44%). Only 16% claim “foreign born” so it is hard to tell if they are legal or illegal immigrants. It doesn’t matter. Texas is in play, legitimately or otherwise.
All but Virginia have audit laws on their books, and search all you want, you’ll find few actual audits of significant elections that occurred in Florida (one Congressional election in 2006), Ohio (crickets?), North Carolina (no auditable ballots until 2019), or Texas (crickets?), despite the fact that all five states use two of the same principal vendors: ES&S and Dominion.
That Virginia discovered a big hole in its electronic voting platform was a fluke. According to the April 14, 2015, report of the “Virginia Information Technology Agency,” (VITA), “During a recent election, one precinct reported unusual activity with some of the devices used to capture votes.” All the devices in question were identified as “Advanced Voting System WINVote machines,” and VITA concluded, “the combination of weak security controls used by the devices would not be able to prevent a malicious third party from modifying the votes recorded by the WINVote devices.”
What VITA discovered were weak or embedded passwords, outdated encryption systems, and a lack of standard security software or firewalls. As a consequence, in a rigidly controlled test election, the system was attacked using relatively simple technology, “proving that the vote data could be remotely modified.” Of course, WINVote was decertified in the State of Virginia.
So if you think that’s boring, think about foregoing the seatbelt next time you ride a roller coaster upside down. You’ll get the thrill, but it won’t matter, and neither will your vote if your state is not serious about protecting it. It must be said there is no evidence other vendors mirror WINVote’s fatal weaknesses, but neither is there evidence to the contrary. Will your state stress test its voting systems to guarantee that your vote counts the way you intended it in 2016? Only if you insist on it.