You Thought Hanging Chads Were Bad?

hanging_chadsLatest news from Yahoo News: “The FBI has uncovered evidence that foreign hackers penetrated two state election databases in recent weeks, prompting the bureau to warn election officials across the country to take new steps to enhance the security of their computer systems.”

To my surprise, Henrico County, which switched to electronic voting a couple of years ago, back-tracked in the last primary. Good move. I really don’t want Vladimir Putin, Hu Jintao or, god forbid, Kim Jung Un, deciding our next president.


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6 responses to “You Thought Hanging Chads Were Bad?

  1. paper ballots that can be optically scanned can be “re-counted” whereas the touch screen PC could only be re-checked to see if their tallied vote totals remained the same.

    so you can do a real re-count with paper ballots being fed into optical scanning machines… and these machines are pretty good – you can put the ballots in backwards, upside down.. any which way you want -and they can re-count them.

    the two issues are “undercounting” and “overcounting”

    “under-counting” occurs when someone did not mark any of the choices or marked insufficiently…

    “overcounting” occurs when people mark more than one choice.

    neither are “counted” but “over-counting” will kick out the ballot and it has to be destroyed and a new one given to the voter.

    it’s still a better way than the laptops were.

    the “hacking” is happening at the state servers… local precincts call in their results… yes.. that’s right – they call in the results.. there is no computer link.. (that I know of).

  2. I fully agree with Larry. Paper ballots that can be scanned, but also counted by hand, are the best and safest type of ballots out there today. Voting fraud must be defeated.

  3. The return to paper balloting was a necessary move, and mandated by the State Board of Elections. It was the right thing to do. On the flip side, in Appomattox, this mandate cost over $200,000.

  4. I’m reading the “specifics” of the news stories and I’m struck by the ignorance of the reporters who apparently think their readers are equally not informed.

    They somehow equate the ability to hack into a database as the same as being able to selectively and precisely manipulate the data used in voting.

    It’s one thing to hack into a database and pilfer personal data , it’s quite another to make undetected changes to voter rolls much less in any way to target demographic classes of voters or even less the way they might vote at the polls.

    yet these folks breathlessly report the “breach” of voter rolls… as if somehow changes can be made to actual voting or voting results.

    think about this – the only thing poll workers can do is verify that person to vote is on their rolls for that precinct or not. That’s it. They cannot tell how they voted in past elections… zippo – that information is never collected. Your vote is anonymous – there is no way at all to tie a vote to a person.. Think about how you vote.

    If they are in the database – they get a ballot. If they are not – they don’t without a manual procedure – a provisional ballot – at best.

    how would a “breach” affect this much less tilt voting one way or the other?

    I suppose you could ADD people but then they’d have to provide some form of identification consistent with the added info… or I guess they could delete people who would then get a provisional ballot.. but trying to do this for hundreds of voters at each precinct would be the mother of all conspiracy theories.

    If the database was corrupted big time – with large numbers of registered voters just deleted or corrupted – yep.. you’d then have a line of people filling out provisional ballots and the registrars going back to other source data besides the corrupted database to verify the voters. People forget that multiple copies of the data are kept – in different places – some of it on paper…

    I’m not saying this could never happen – I’m just saying it would be nearly impossible to do it without detection and manual procedures to reconstitute the data.

    hacking into a database – yes – changing a lot of voter data without being detected.. not at all likely – altering large numbers of actual votes – pretty near impossible except for the ignorati inclined towards conspiracy theories that make no sense what-so-ever.

    this is like the folks who think emails are kept only on one persons computer that sent or received them. Every email sits on at least two servers – and has multiple backup copies (tapes) – usually one for each day the mail still sits on the server. You cannot “delete” it… it exists on other servers… and backup copies/tapes.. In order to make that email disappear entirely – all traces of it – everywhere it was saved – is almost an impossible job involving a person having to get on different machines in different organizations at different physical sites.

    but folks believe it… because they simply do not understand the technology – something that would be easy to actually understand if they really wanted to go find out in the internet age.

    yes -you can hack into a database – … changing data on it… and no one knows.. not so easy. If you think the data is corrupted -you restore it from the last backup and if you think nefarious stuff is going on you compare the current version to the last backup version.

    we’re being overrun with conspiracy theories these days.

  5. Larry- a couple of points about your response.
    1) Yes, I agree that somebody getting access to the voter rolls results in “only” a loss of personal information. There is nothing that people can do with that information other than identity theft. (Which is pretty bad in and of itself.) The odds of anybody trying to influence the outcome of an election through manipulation of the voter rolls, either by adding or deleting voters, is pretty slim, in my estimation.
    2) Don’t make the false assumption that the back-ups are solid. I thought that my IT department was backing up my data base, until I had an issue, and the last “good” back-up was six months earlier. Restoring a data base may be harder than you make it sound.

    • JNL – re: backups – you are correct. I know from personal experience a few years back how irresponsible even govt agencies can be about backups AND hardening of security. In that experience – management was finally convinced when “tapes” were replaced with a hard-drive system that was automatic and a product known as Tripwire put on the system.

      but “backups” are also how many “copies” of something that exist on various servers…. and with voting – the data is replicated at many levels and recalculated for new totals…

      like the example with emails – there are at least two a sender and a receiver – on their devices, then on each of their servers and if the email is a chain – on them also… etc.. and if one side does backups and not the other -on the side that did backups.

      in addition for election data, cross-foot checks are done for instance tallying up across data as well as up and down it .. think many precincts added up for both candidates then separated individuals to total to see if the two add to the single total, etc.

      you would check total votes against how many were checked off at entry to the polls … total across … other ballot questions.. etc…

      the total result show on the state server – is totaled from all the reporting precincts… every time a precinct reports new totals, etc.

      I won’t say it is impossible – but it would be very, very difficult to do and to do it without detection.

      even so – they should harden their systems AND make sure they do backups and yes – anyone who works in IT knows how hard it is to convince the higher-ups how important it is to do these things – but now days – the “news” is often a “convincer”. Then the question becomes do they have real IT folks on staff that know how to do it….”right”…


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