The conservative case for election security reform
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

Good news: Most Americans still have at least some degree of confidence in our voting system. We have not devolved to the level of a third-world banana republic — yet.

But Americans' faith in elections has diminished considerably, and I believe justifiably. Now, only four in 10 citizens have "strong confidence" that their votes are counted as cast. Among Republicans, the proportion of people with faith in voting has fallen to just about a third.

Just the mere perception of a rigged system undermines the most basic foundations of our republic. America's incoming government has an obligation — and an opportunity — to restore the faith in our voting systems.

American elections used to be all about simplicity. You picked your candidates and marked off their names. Officials tabulated the results, and, if there was a problem, the officials conducted a simple review.

But no longer.

After the "hanging chad" fiasco of the 2000 election, the federal government stepped in and spent more than $2 billion to "upgrade" American elections. A major part of the federal "solution" was the purchase of computerized voting machines without paper ballots — or even paper trails — and few, if any, cybersecurity defenses.

ADVERTISEMENT
As with so many big government interventions, this action created a host of unintended consequences. By throwing money at the perceived problem, the federal government emphasized speed and convenience over security and integrity. We now have serious vulnerabilities on our hands.

 

More than 10 years ago, the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team found vulnerabilities that could permit malicious agents to alter our vote counts. The risk isn't so much Russia as it is rogue hackers, including collectives like Anonymous.

Beyond tampering with vote counts, attackers could also, in the future, seek to launch a "denial of service" attack, crashing systems and forcing voters at targeted precincts to wait hours or disrupting central tallying operations to create confusion.

The threat isn't just traditional hacking. A Princeton professor was recently able to manually manipulate a voting machine in just a matter of minutes in order to demonstrate their vulnerability. In counties across America, machines are left out in precinct places for days with little or no protection.

No private-sector information security executive would tolerate this state of affairs.

According to recent studies, 43 states use electronic machines that are at least a decade old — perilously close to the estimated lifespan for most computers. Many elections machines run on positively ancient software systems like Windows 2000. Such outdated machines are not only more prone to bugs and breakdowns but also naturally less secure.

The risks get more serious with each election as the equipment gets more obsolete and the threats get more sophisticated.

So what's the solution?

President Reagan said it best: "Trust but verify." We should be able to trust that Americas voting systems work, but we should also be able to verify that they do. Tens of millions of American voters in 14 states now use machines that do not provide paper records. Without such records, it is impossible to verify election results — we can't check the totals provided by the voting machine and identify incorrect results. A complete and verifiable "audit trail" that tracks one vote to one person must be established.

As a conservative, I believe we must retain maximum local control and execution of election process so that the federal leviathan cannot consume more power. While the Congress can't solve the problem, it can undo the damage it did through its big-money giveaway more than a decade ago by setting practical standards for elections as a condition of any new federal election funding for states.

The aim of such standards? Get back to the elegant simplicity that once defined American elections: plain old paper ballots, hardened cybersecurity protection, no more Wi-Fi machines — and inexpensive automatic post-election vote audits in randomly selected areas to scan for irregularities.

As many conservatives have noted, we also need to stop the use of secretive and proprietary election software that even elections officials can't access when they need to spot security breaches. Companies naturally want to know how technology functions when they allow into their sensitive business processes; election technology should be no different.

We need to strengthen the concept of "one person, one vote." We can do this by hardening the security of our election systems.

On Election Day, President Trump went on Fox News and explained the issue simply and clearly: "There’s something really nice about the old paper ballot system," hschae said. "You don’t worry about hacking." He should work with Congress to protect the process and help rebuild faith in in the foundations of our republic.

Tony Shaffer is a retired Army lieutenant colonel, a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and a frequent contributor to Fox News.


The views of contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.