During the 2020 presidential election, voting machine security became an issue widely characterized as the exclusive obsession of right-wing “conspiracy theorists.”
But a new bill proposed by House Democrat Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) concedes numerous concerns about voting machines that were of bi-partisan complaint both prior to and after the presidential election.
The “For the People Act of 2021,” or H.R. 1, as it currently stands in the 117th Congress, contains major reforms to the use of voting machines in United States elections.
In Section H of the bill encompassing the “use of voting machines manufactured in the United States,” it permit voters who do not wish to use voting machines the right to request and cast hand-marked paper ballots that are counted by hand and not voting machines.
The following analysis of the current bill provided by the Brennan Center for Justice confirms the proposed federal regulations over voting machines:
“This subtitle would require all jurisdictions to use paper ballots that voters can mark by hand or with a ballot marking device. Voting machines and other infrastructure are likely to be a target for hackers and others looking to disrupt or otherwise interfere with U.S. elections, including those working for foreign governments. Paper ballots are an important safeguard against such threats, because they create a tangible record of each voter’s selections that the voter can use to ensure their choices have been accurately recorded and that election officials can use to verify electronic results. Ballots that can be marked by hand also provide insurance against ordinary equipment failures that can result in long lines at the polls. Since the 2016 election, many jurisdictions have replaced outdated paperless voting equipment — but as many as 16 million Americans may still end up casting their votes using paperless machines in 2020. This subtitle aims to eliminate the risk of paperless voting machines in all federal elections.”
The Brennan Center points out about Subtitle F “Promoting Accuracy, Integrity, and Security Through Voter-Verified Permanent Paper Ballot”:
This subtitle would, among other things:
- require state and local officials to:
- conduct federal elections using “voter-verified paper ballots”— i.e. ballots that can be marked either by hand or a ballot marking device and inspected by the voter before the ballot is cast;
- give voters the opportunity to correct any errors on their paper ballot before it is cast;
- give voters the option to mark their ballots by hand;
- preserve paper ballots for recounts or audits;
- count ballots by hand for recounts and audits; and
- provide individuals with disabilities the opportunity to vote privately and independently using paper ballots;
The Brennan Center also provides numerous credible research articles on the issue of voting machine security.
The Democrats’ bill proves that voting machine security is still of concern to Republicans, Democrats and Independents. It is not, contrary to widespread public perception, a partisan issue.
The Washington Post reported that new guidelines for voting machine security have already been issued:
“The Election Assistance Commission, an independent government body that issues voluntary voting guidelines to states and voting machine vendors, unanimously passed a new set of recommendations for voting machines,” the Post reported. “Voluntary Voting System Guidelines 2.0 is the first major change to the commission’s recommendations since they were first established in 2005,” it continued.
It is the first change to the commission’s recommendations for over 15 years. Let that sink in.
The Post also reports, astoundingly enough, that these proposed reforms do not go far enough for many Democrats.
“They worry they leave loopholes allowing voting machine companies to skirt best practices and leave machines vulnerable to interference,” the Post reported. “They were approved as some of the nation’s most prominent voting machine companies are suing Fox News and top lawyers for Trump because of their unfounded fraud claims related to their machines.”
In addition, various members of Congress, including Democrats, are concerned about the EAC guidelines. Particularly, rules regarding Internet connections.
“In a letter led by Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.), more than 20 members of Congress are asking the EAC to reconsider its recommendations. The letter expresses concerns about how the guidelines frame the use of machines with parts that can connect to the Internet,” the Washington Post notes.
“This is extremely troubling, as computer security and networking experts have warned that merely disabling networking capability is not enough,” they wrote. “Benign misconfigurations that could enable connectivity are commonplace and malicious software can be directed to enable connectivity silently and undetectable, allowing hackers access to the voting system software.”
Unsurprisingly, the EAC guidelines were changed without a transparent process allowing for last-minute feedback from Watchdog groups.
“More than two dozen election security experts and voter advocacy groups also have criticized the language, accusing the agency of pulling a last-minute switch from draft guidelines that went through a public comment process before approval. (The new language did not go through the comment process),” the Post notes.
If one is under the impression that the Washington Post’s report is an outlier, given the recent coverage of the issue, that assumption is mistaken. Indeed, numerous mainstream publications questioned U.S. voting machine security and elections integrity prior to general election results showing Joe Biden had been declared the winner.
A sample of these publications and presentations are listed below:
- The voting technology problems that could trigger panic at the polls (Politico: 11/2/21)
- ‘Online and vulnerable’: Experts find nearly three dozen U.S. voting systems connected to internet (NBC News: 1/10/20)
- Officials raised concerns for years about security of US voting machines, software systems (Washington Examiner: 11/9/20)
- Security vulnerabilities in voting machines show America still isn’t ready for the 2020 election (QZ: 1/12/20)
- As Georgia rolls out new voting machines for 2020, worries about election security persist (WaPo: 1/23/19)
- Kill Chain: The Cyber War on America’s Elections (HBO: 2019)
- Voting Machines: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO: 11/4/2019)
- Cyber Experts Warn Of Vulnerabilities Facing 2020 Election Machines (NPR: 9/4/2019)
- America faces a voting security crisis in 2020. Here’s why – and what officials can do about it. (Politico: 8/16/2019)
- Election Security Is Still Hurting at Every Level (Wired: 6/6/2019)
Indeed, California Democrat Zoe Lofgren laid out numerous concerns about voting machines with the three major voting machine company heads at a hearing in early 2020.
The For the People act is not simply about voting security, however. There are concerning sections that would effectively federalize control over U.S. elections and normalize the 2020 election debacle.
One of the key provisions of the act is it would regularize counting ballots after Election Day.
“Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to prohibit a State from having a law that allows for counting of ballots in an election for Federal office that are received through the mail after the date that is 10 days after the date of the election,” the bill says.
Mass mail-in and no-fault absentee ballots are a feature of the 2020 election that the Democratic Party seeks to make a permanent feature of national life. It may be that the voting machine reforms are merely a negotiating tactic to keep Americans from adopting identification measures that would legally ensure that each qualifying U.S. citizen is entitled to one vote per candidate in each election.
This week, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that a bill advanced in the Georgia state senate that would demand prospective voters include their “driver’s license number, state ID number or a copy of photo ID when requesting an absentee ballot.”
In late January, the state of New York’s assembly voted to turn down re-certification of a certain voting machine model. It is a sign that there is a heightened awareness of the need for voters to be able to trust the vote.
Americans need to be able to believe in the legitimacy of their elections. For many citizens, private voting machine companies using secret source codes should not come in between them and trusting their votes in elections.
OPINION: This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion.