Last Updated:April 16 @ 10:11 pm

Overseas voting in 24 states vulnerable to hacking

By Josh Lederman

WASHINGTON (AP) - Remember the term "hanging chads?"

Few could forget the weekslong hubbub over vote-counting in Florida in 2000 that led to a recount, a Supreme Court ruling and a national debate about the veracity of the system by which voters cast their ballots.

But 12 years later, the voting system is still far from fail-proof, according to a state-by-state report released Wednesday.

Almost half of states use voting systems for overseas and military voters that could be susceptible to hackers, says the report by Rutgers Law School and two good-governance groups: Common Cause Education Fund and the Verified Voting Foundation. Dozens of states lack proper contingency plans, audit procedures or voting machines that produce backup paper records in case something goes wrong.

Colorado, Delaware, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina are least prepared to catch problems and protect voter enfranchisement, the study showed. Minnesota, New Hampshire, Ohio, Vermont and Wisconsin are in the best shape.

Twenty-four states let overseas and military voters return their ballots through electronic means - such as the Internet, email or fax - that could fall victim to hackers or infringe on the right to a secret ballot. When the District of Columbia experimented with an online voting system in 2010, hackers broke in and changed votes to fictional characters.

"People understand cyber security threats," said Susannah Goodman of Common Cause. "They understand you don't send an email with your Social Security number as the subject line."

And yet, Goodman said, states are asking people to send in emails with the subject line "Here's my ballot."

In 16 states, at least some polling places are using electronic voting machines - largely put in place to eliminate the hanging-chad issue of 2000 - that don't produce a paper record as a backup. That means there's no independent way to verify the voter's intention if the machine malfunctions or a recount is necessary.

Dozens of other states lack proper contingency plans in case electronic machines fail, or audit procedures to make sure ballots don't disappear or emerge out of thin air.

With Election Day less than four months out, there's little states can do to correct the problems before Nov. 6. But the report's authors said many states are already moving to ensure their voting systems have as little vulnerability as possible.

No states are moving to buy new paperless voting systems, and many states are replacing aging equipment with more verifiable systems. More states also are making audits part of their standard postelection routine.

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6 Comments

  1. Colleen FontenotComment by Colleen Fontenot
    August 2, 2012 @ 9:56 am

    Everyone who lives in one of the states that are not rated as secure from hacking need to send this article to your legislator, governor, and head of the voting section ASAP.

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    • noveldogComment by noveldog
      August 2, 2012 @ 10:27 am

      Good suggestion.

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    • theoldsargeComment by theoldsarge
      August 2, 2012 @ 4:55 pm

      That is all well and good. The writer states that there are 24 states that allow Military voters to return their ballots by electronic means. At least 16 states use electronic voting but don’t produce a paper backup. Dozens of states don’t have plans in case of machine failure or auditing safeguards to prevent ballot box stuffing. The writer does not identify any of these states. The voters need to contact their state governments and find out what safeguards are in place or find out if your state is among the 24, 16 or dozens of states that have problems the writer warns about. That four letter word “WORK” pops up again. If you can read this you have that ability to do that research. All of our electronic systems are vulnerable. No matter how sophisticated the safeguards are, hackers can still find ways around them. Everything we use has been designed, made and assembled by human beings. I am reminded of What General George S. Patton once wrote about fortifications that holds true to technology. “If mountains and oceans can be overcome, anything made by man can be overcome.” The more legitimate people vote, the harder it will be to stuff the ballot boxes.

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  2. longscoutComment by longscout
    August 2, 2012 @ 10:25 am

    Any federal/state or local election that does not use a manual system that leaves a secure record, or any federal/state of local election that uses a new “electronic” system that does not leave a secure record is an invitation to unscrupulous people to abuse the system – and their fellow citizens. What is the question that states the basic standard by which they might be called secure ~ “Would an inspector be able to go back at the end of an election and ‘prove’ that the actual vote matches what has been recorded?” If not…it is not a secure system. Check you state: different users will find their mileage may vary. (How are you folks in NY doing?) Ugh!

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  3. Mort_fComment by Mort_f
    August 2, 2012 @ 6:48 pm

    Rather wonder why any individual ‘overseas’ voter needs to use electronic voting. In the case of the military, the military facilities do include highly secure transmisssion facilities, and there should be no good reason that those cannot be used as data portals.

    As far as non-miltary individuals are concerned, they are fully aware of their need for absentee ballots sufficiently in advance of the election to use the mail system. Perhaps a State Dept collection, and transmittal, system should be established. But few, if any, private individuals can be considered to have adequately secure electronic communication systems.

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  4. longscoutComment by longscout
    August 2, 2012 @ 6:55 pm

    Judging from what I’ve read, most voter ballots for men and women in uniform are processed for mailing to them LATE, and therefore the return of them is also late…beyond the deadline for counting them. The result is they are trashed. “Gee, I wonder how THAT happens?” Pretty sweet deal for the current crop in control of that system.

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