There’s talk on the presidential election trail about whether the upcoming fall elections could be rigged to favor one outcome or another. It’s perhaps tempting to dismiss this as conspiracy theory talk by election losers-in-waiting, and maybe that’s all it is. But as someone who’s been following the transition to electronic voting systems and the challenges and potential liabilities they represent in maintaining the integrity of elections (see here and here) I thought it would be worth looking into the “riggability” of elections, at least at the local level here in Wayne County.

I checked in with Wayne County Clerk Debra Berry, who was very helpful in providing some information about our voting equipment and process beyond what’s available on the County’s voter information website. She clarified that we’re using the Hart InterCivic voting machines, which are used by hundreds of jurisdictions nationwide.

I asked about the specific modules and firmware versions we’re using on these machines, which could be helpful to anyone wanting to make sure we’re up to date with vendor provided improvements that address any known security issues:

  • Judges Booth Controller (JBC) 10008 – Version 4.3.1
  • Disabled Access Unit (DAU) 5000 – Version 4.2.13
  • eSlate (Non-DAU) 5000 – Version – 4.2.13

I also asked about how we handle upgrades and servicing, and Berry said that “each unit is serviced before each election to ensure that they are repaired (if necessary) before they are put into the Vote Centers.” Good news.

These voting machines notably do not produce any kind of paper trail that allows voters to confirm their vote is being cast as intended, or that allows election officials to do a recount in case of voting equipment failure. There is an optional add-on module, the Verified Ballot Option (VBO) printer, that services this purpose, but Wayne County does not have these printers in use. Assuming these printers are not cheap, from a cost effectiveness standpoint this probably makes sense, and Berry notes that “[t]he State of Indiana does not require a verifiable paper trail for the voter. However, the equipment is certified both federally and by the State of Indiana and meets all requirements set forth by the Federal Government and the State of Indiana.” In other words, the system is legal, no need to go beyond that.

As someone who works with software and technology, this makes me pretty nervous given how many ways there are to unintentionally or maliciously have software behave in ways that differ from the desired use. Without a paper trail and without access to the source code that powers these machines, voters have no way to be 100% sure that their votes are being cast as intended.

VerifiedVoting.org is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that studies voting equipment, and they have a great extended profile of the Hart InterCivic voting machines in use in Wayne County. The profile covers some of the potential ways these machines could be manipulated to change voting outcomes, and it looks like most or all of those require some physical access to the machine’s ports and internals. It doesn’t seem that a casual voter could just walk up and make these machines behave differently, as they’d have do some tampering that would likely be pretty suspicious-looking and hopefully immediately trigger action by those monitoring our elections.

I asked Berry if we should be worried about this, and she replied that “[w]e take every precaution with the security of our equipment. All units are sealed, and the Inspector with the Democrat Judge runs a tape every time the machines are closed and opened to make sure that the vote cast totals are correct from the previous tape ran. We have a very secure process in place to preserve the integrity of our elections.” When I asked if there had ever been any known case of vote inaccuracies or vote flipping discovered while using electronic voting machines in Wayne County, Berry said “Absolutely not!” Again, good news.

It seems that despite some of the general potential for electronic voting machines to be manipulated, Wayne County election officials are staying on top of issues of security and voting integrity, and are committed to making sure our votes count. In the absence of a very determined and sophisticated attacker, or some broader systemic problem with these machines that isn’t specific to our area, it’s unlikely that voting in Wayne County, Indiana will be “rigged” in anyone’s favor.

Thank you again to Debra Berry for her time and help answering my questions. If you have further questions about the Wayne County voting setup, you can contact the Clerk’s office at 765-973-9220 or Hart at 800-223-4278.

 

Photo by Mike Meyers