When working correctly, computers make many tasks easier, quicker, and more accurate. But even well-managed computers can be accidentally or deliberately mis-programmed. Sometimes they just malfunction.
Election security isn’t complicated—you already know the basics. In a secure, well-managed voting-machine system:
- Vendors would manufacture only equipment that meets the highest current security standards. They would cooperate eagerly with the federal Department of Homeland Security in monitoring security of their own operations, and would keep state and local election officials well-informed about any threat or risk.
- Federal agencies would maintain up-to-date regulations protecting the security of voting equipment, and would reliably enforce those requirements. Testing labs would aggressively protect their independence and perform thorough work.
- State election agencies would provide thorough training in voting-machine security to local election officials; would continuously monitor their compliance; and be able to take action to correct lapses.
- Local election officials would routinely use our paper ballots after every election to check the computers’ accuracy and make sure they had identified the correct winners before declaring election results final.
None of that is rocket science. But unless you’ve been paying very close attention, you probably don’t know all the basics about election security in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin elections use two completely systems: One for voter registration; the other for counting votes.
Wisconsin’s voter-registration system, WisVote, is among the most secure in the nation. It was designed and is owned and operated by the State of Wisconsin, not out-of-state vendors. And it’s protected by the best security feature of all: Same-day registration at the polls. If a computer glitch, human error, or hacked ever does mess up your voter registration record, you can re-register on the spot. The beauty of that is the deterrence value. Why would hackers mess with a registration system when the worst they can do is irritate the voters?
Wisconsin’s vote-counting system is another story altogether. Not one of the four basic elements listed above is currently in place.
It’s a stretch even to call it a ‘system.’ Four private companies maintain and program at least 3,500 separate voting machines in more than 1,800 cities, villages, and towns, plus 72 central computers, one in each county elections office. Two of these companies, ES&S and Dominion, sell equipment here that national cybersecurity experts consider seriously flawed. For example, certain voting machines were designed with the capability of being programmed to make marks on paper ballots after the voters have cast the ballots!
Authority to secure the vote-counting machines and their software is fractured. The voting-machine companies control some security; the counties control some; and the municipalities control some. The Wisconsin Elections Commission has no authority to direct or oversee security practices for any of them–company, county, or municipality. They’re each on their own.
The one and only measure that can protect Wisconsin’s final election results is routine hand-counted audits, during the county canvass. These audits need only verify that the right winners were identified, and they must be completed while there is still time to correct any miscounts the audits might discover. National authorities unanimously recommend such audits, and Wisconsin county clerks already have the authority and resources to conduct them—if they choose to do that.
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