February 01, 2018

Midyear 2018: Panel to explore the challenges of voting security, e-voting and verification of votes

Since the aftermath of the 2016 U.S. election with allegations of foreign cyber-intervention, now more than ever, advocates are outspoken on securing all voting methods. 

Technical and legal experts will come together at the American Bar Association Midyear Meeting Feb. 1-5 in Vancouver to discuss fundamental concerns plaguing both the U.S. and Canadian voting systems.

“Democracy on the Edge: Security, e-Voting, and the Challenge of Verifying the People’s Choice” will be hosted by the ABA Criminal Justice Section. The event will be held on Friday, Feb. 2, from 1:30 – 3 p.m. at the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel in the Emerald Ballroom A/B, Level 3.

Andrew Grosso, with Andrew Grosso & Associates in Washington, D.C., is a former federal prosecutor with a master’s degree in computer technology. He said that voting technology has problems.

“Those problems have been known since technology was first suggested in voting,” he said. “They really have not been resolved.”

Grosso said since the aftermath of the election in 2000 with various recounts, many states went to electronic voting to speed things up and to make the vote more accurate.

“The problem is electronic voting itself is subject to manipulation much like your computer can be hacked these things can be hacked,” Grosso said. “And they can be hacked electronically, through the internet, manually with your hands on the machine, hacked before or after the votes are collected.”

Grosso said the question becomes: “How are you going to prevent or avoid that?” He said a lot of the technology in various states do not have protections against such manipulations.

Barbara Simons is the board chair of Verified Voting, a non-partisan/non-profit organization dedicated to advocating for legislation and regulation that supports “accuracy, transparency and verifiability of elections.”

Simons said that all citizens should be concerned about computers because they are vulnerable to software bugs, malware and hackers.

Simons said that only since the aftermath of the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the uproar over Russian interference have state governments been seriously interested in what she has to say about the issue.

Simons, an expert on electronic voting and the co-author of the book, “Broken Ballots: Will Your Vote Count?” a book about voting machines, will also address Canadian municipal internet voting, which she deemed as one of the most insecure voting systems. “It’s incredible irresponsible to hold any kind of government election over the internet,” she emphasized.

However – she’s not against electronic voting, but said its use should also include paper ballots marked by the voter, with use of a scanner and checks to ensure that scanner is “behaving properly.”

“We need the confidence and assurance that the candidate who was declared the winner was the actual winner,” she said.

Simons said Verified Voting has a campaign to get paper ballots in all states. Currently, five states are entirely paperless.

“States like Georgia…it is impossible to conduct a recount. You can claim to conduct a recount by asking the computer to repeat what it already told you, but that’s not a meaningful recount because it doesn’t check what the computer has told you is right,” Simons said.

Another eight states are partially paperless.

Simons, a retiree from IBM Research, also co-authored the July 2015 report of the U.S. Vote Foundation’s, “The Future of Voting: End-to-End Verifiable Internet Voting.”

Simons added that she hopes participants walk away with a better understanding for the need to check on computers in elections.

Also on the panel is Russel Michael, an investigative journalist, who produced a documentary on HBO on the issues of secrecy surrounding elections, missing votes and instances where there were more votes than people who casted votes.

The panel will also include Judge Virginia Covington, a U.S. district judge, in Tampa, Fla., who will discuss what is involved in the legal procedures for challenging votes. Marian K. Schneider, president of Verified Voting in Philadelphia is the only practicing lawyer on the panel and will discuss the movement towards correcting existing voting issues.

Grosso hopes attendees will come away from the program, “being very, very afraid.” “I know what you can do with a computer. It’s not a black box that you put data in and you get the correct results out. Its’ a question of what goes on in the inside.”

“It’s very important in our democracy that we are able to have confidence in the outcome of elections and I think any one sitting in this panel will walk away with the idea of maybe we don’t have as much confidence as we think we do,” Grosso said.