Tuesday, June 06, 2017

So. Will Your Vote Be Counted in 2018? In 2020?

The leaked NSA hacking report and the woman, Reality Winner, who allegedly leaked it are all over the news.  The whole case reminds me of a large Spanish onion, with many layers, and each of them worth a closer look.

But let's look at the very core of that onion, the part which I find most indispensable to examine: 

Are future US elections safe?  How can you tell if your vote is not going to be altered at some later point in the process?  And what would be so bad about paper ballots and real people counting them?  It would be a lot harder for both foreign powers and either of the domestic parties to meddle with that process.

I have followed the US elections since the Florida debacle in 2000, and have spotted an odd aspect of the elections integrity debate:  Nobody, but nobody, is willing to even entertain* the possibility that the software in the voting machines could be manipulated.  Even the Democrats refuse to entertain that possibility.  Even anonymous people online mostly refuse to entertain it.**

Nobody should assume that the machines have been hacked by the Russians, say, without evidence that it happened.  Rationality requires that.  But neither should almost everybody assume that the machines have never been hacked by anybody, that they cannot be hacked, that even querying the possibility turns one into a member of the tinfoil hat brigade.

I keep reading that the voting infrastructure in this country is safe, but when I ask for the evidence on transparency, on how we can verify and double-check votes, I'm given answers such as the one where voters get a paper receipt of their vote.  To take home.  Which is then not available for verification of the later total machine counts.

Here I lift my tinfoil helmet long enough to look into your eyes, without blinking, while I firmly state that I do not necessarily believe that the voting machines were manipulated in 2016.  But neither do I believe that someone with political motivations would go all out to influence everything about the elections, including hacking the voter registration rolls, and then suddenly face his or her conscience and decide not to affect the votes themselves.

If it can be done, it will be done, by someone, somewhere.  Given that, the systems should be inspected to see if they truly are safe from manipulation, and we should be given thorough reports which prove that nothing comparable can take place in 2018 or 2020, whether it's the hacking of voter rolls or the hacking of the machines themselves or the suppression of the votes of people with African ancestry and/or of students and so on. 


* Even in an intimate dinner party with no leaks to the press.

**  I get some of the reasons for that.  First, some sites commenting on vote fraud in the past have turned out not to have strong evidence, thus sliding into the tinfoil sphere.  Second, if the elections themselves are meaningless in, say, the trigger states, then American democracy is already dead, and most of us don't want to even think that, let alone entertain it in our homes.  Third, it could be (and here I firmly step into the tinfoil territory) that both parties have always gently massaged the results and so nobody really wants to change the system.  Well, nobody in power today.

I don't believe that last sentence, but unless I am clearly shown how transparency in the voting system is guaranteed, in every single district, I have no way of refuting what it says.