Voting machines. Our democracy relies on them to precisely report every poll. You go to the polls, you solid your vote, your voice is heard. Proper? Not so quick. “Russian attacks.” “Russian hackers.” “Russian hackers tried to break into U.S. election systems.” As a result of in 2016 — “The Russians managed to get us paranoid about the security of our own election systems.” However this yr, specialists are extra assured that — “I think it is safe to say this is the most secure election we’ve ever held in the United States.” In 2016, Russians infiltrated our voting methods in each single state. “This was one of the most successful intelligence operations in modern history.” Now, there’s no proof Russians altered votes, however — “It’s as if a cat burglar got into your house, cased the joint, but didn’t take anything.” And it raised the query — “Could the Russians actually affect the vote?” However due to a number of the machines we have been utilizing, we didn’t know for positive. So in 2020, if there’s one other cyberattack, People wish to know that their vote was counted as they solid it. Like, say, with a — “Voter-verified paper trail.” Sure, like that. A paper path. Seems just a few individuals tried to make this occur years in the past, however — “It’s a rough world out there in the elections voting system business.” To see why it took Russia’s hacking to enhance our voting expertise, we go to Texas. The Structure provides states energy to run their very own elections, and most states give counties the ability to decide on their very own voting machines. And nowhere is that this extra obvious than in — “Texas.” “Texas.” “Texas —” [mooing] “— is a microcosm of all the different voting technologies used everywhere in the U.S. Every different Texas county, different voting system, different procedures.” Dan Wallach is a pc scientist at Rice College in Houston, and he had really been warning concerning the vulnerabilities of our voting system lengthy earlier than 2016. “I’m worried about evil software in the machines flipping your vote in a way that you, the voter, can’t tell that the machine was evil.” He was most involved about direct recording digital voting machines, or DREs. “The only record of your vote is inside the memory of that machine. And that means that if something tampers with that electronic memory, you have no way to go back.” And but within the final presidential election, 28 % of registered voters used these machines. So how did some People get caught with these weak voting machines? Effectively, to seek out out, we have to go all the way in which again to 2000. The aught. Florida. It was Al Gore versus George Bush for president. “Oh my goodness. 2000. That was the election that we all thought would never end. “The presidential race is crackling like a hickory fire here. Couldn’t be much closer.” A contested vote, a recount and all of it got here right down to the chads. These pesky fragments of paper leftover when a gap is punched in a card. Not all these chads have been totally punched by, although. “There was a hanging chad.” “It’s slightly detached.” “Pregnant chad.” “Dimpled chad.” “Opening and closing chad.” Throughout the recount, ballot staff have been left to find out voter intent, and all eyes have been on the chads. “By that time, we all knew what a bad system punch-card voting was.” “In the wake of the hanging chad issues, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act in 2002. The Help America Vote Act allocated billions of dollars to help states replace antiquated voting machines.” And the states went purchasing. Some purchased hand-marked paper ballots and optical scanners. And others purchased the machines that had anxious Dan essentially the most. The very fashionable, paperless DREs. “If it were up to me today, and if I were selling voting technology, I would not sell a paperless DRE system in good conscience. I don’t think that it’s a responsible thing to do.” That is Eddie Perez. He used to promote these machines, however left the business to advocate for safer voting methods with a paper path. “I would characterize the level of federal regulation for voting technology as relatively thin. There are a lot of products that are actually more highly regulated than voting technology. Even things as mundane as ballpoint pens. Parts fail, systems get old, screens stop performing the way they are supposed to. So a voter might touch one portion of the screen to mark one candidate and the system interprets it as a choice for someone else.” “It is not letting me vote for who I want to vote for.” “There is plenty of voting equipment that is still out there whose design dates, probably, all the way back to 20 years ago.” However with most of their federal cash spent, many Texas counties have been caught. “We kept our electronic voting system for 18 years.” As Travis County Clerk, Dana DeBeauvoir is accountable for selecting the machines for voters in Austin. “The thing that was most important to our voters was to have a paper trail. But none of the voting system manufacturers would build a system with a paper trail. And it was frustrating.” And so she determined to construct one herself. “I was watching a video of a professor out of Rice University rake me over the coals.” “Such blatant security flaws. I mean, just really bad engineering.” “Instead of just getting mad, I went to that person.” “My phone rings and it’s Dana, and she says, ‘I want your help.’” “And I said to him, ‘Let’s you and I design a voting system together.’” “I’m like, seriously? All right. Can I invite my friends? We hacked up an inkjet printer and a bunch of other cheap hardware mashed into a custom steel box that we built, and we came up with a really great design.” They known as it S.T.A.R. Vote. “Computer scientists love to make acronyms out of words. First we come up with the acronym, then we try to find the words that fit.” “Secure.” “Transparent.” “Auditable.” “Reliable.” “A combination of both electronic and paper voting paper voting methods.” “S.T.A.R. Vote.” A brand new digital voting machine with paper backup ballots that assist with verification and audit. An open-source system which makes it safer and cheaper for taxpayers. The tip product, a more recent, safer voting machine. “What we were actually doing was a start-up business. And I don’t think we really realized that at the outset.” Designing a machine is one factor. Discovering somebody to fabricate it’s one other. “The voting system industry is a couple hundred million dollars a year. That’s a teeny tiny market.” “It’s difficult to get in the marketplace, and they don’t welcome anybody else coming in.” In a small market, there’s not a lot room for competitors. Simply three corporations dominate the voting machine business. “Those three major vendors are the ones that have carved out their space and made their commitment to it. And so they actually wield a lot of power in that industry.” “That market doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for companies to do innovative design and development.” “Voting technology is simply very, very slow to change.” “Current electronic voting machines have little or no security built in. Please help me and other elections administrators who want to do a better job. What we are designing is an electronic voting system. We’re ready to start building S.T.A.R. Vote.” In 2016, Dana DeBeauvoir had reached the ultimate phases of the S.T.A.R. Vote design when stories that … “The intelligence services of a foreign power intervened on a scale never seen before.” … shook America’s confidence in its voting system. It appeared like the right second for brand spanking new gamers like S.T.A.R. Vote, who’d spent years interested by the best way to get voters to belief their election outcomes. “Since we had done all the design work for them, we thought one of the regular manufacturers would pick this up. Travis County put it out to bid. Most of the big manufacturers submitted bids. However, they submitted bids that were more along the lines of, buy what we already have.” She says the distributors rejected a key safety element of S.T.A.R. Vote. “Open-source software.” Good for transparency, however having free supply code means corporations can’t cost as a lot. “Open-source systems — at least the way this one was designed, and in most cases — are low-revenue software projects.” All of them handed. With the 2020 election across the nook, Dana nonetheless had all these getting old DREs, so she was — “Running out of time. At that point, we realized that we had reached the end of our possibilities with S.T.A.R. Vote. It was probably the lowest time in my entire career. We had the secret recipe for pulling everybody together, and we still hadn’t made it happen.” However greater adjustments have been taking place nationally. After 2016, voting methods have been declared a part of the nation’s crucial infrastructure — like dams and energy crops. This meant new federal scrutiny of how People solid their vote for the primary time since 2000. “And the voting machine manufacturers began to get the message.” “Yes.” “They began to move towards systems that had paper backup because they recognized that the political pressure was tremendous.” In 2018, Congress gave the states extra money to fortify their methods and required a paper path for all newly bought voting machines. “Six months after we got the bad news that no one was going to build S.T.A.R. Vote for us, we got a dramatic turnaround in the industry for voting systems. They had in fact built a new voting system with electronic support and a paper trail. My thrill was a little bit tempered by the frustration of knowing that they could have done it years before.” And so Travis County joins battleground states like Pennsylvania and Georgia, and went purchasing. Once more. “A lot of money.” And paper is the rationale specialists are saying 2020 often is the most safe election we’ve ever held. It’s not simply concerning the voting machines. A better variety of e-poll books — that are used to check-in voters on Election Day — may also have a paper backup system. “And that’s why the Department of Homeland Security has spent a year trying to get cities and towns across America to print out those e-poll books to make sure that they had multiple backups of their registration systems.” A course of moved additional alongside by the pandemic. “You know in an odd way, the coronavirus crisis has helped us some in our election crises.” It’s pushed many states to shift to mail-in voting, which presents an computerized paper backup. In 2020, due to states shopping for new voting methods and the rise in vote-by-mail, an estimated 95 % of voters will use auditable paper ballots. That’s to not say the shift to paper has been problem-free. Some states purchased machines that produce a barcode for a paper poll, which makes it tougher for voters to confirm. “The paper that comes out of the machine — machine-marked paper — has a barcode on it that is the official vote. No human can read a barcode.” And in numerous states, there have been printing errors on mail-in ballots. “There’s a different name on the ballot that you’re supposed to send in.” Nonetheless, in the case of hacking and widespread fraud, specialists agree that paper — by mail-in voting or with a voter verified paper path — is as secure because it will get. “Having a paper ballot mailed to more and more Americans means there is a traceable way for people to vote. And a way for election monitors to audit later on that those votes were counted the way they were cast. And that they were cast by people eligible to vote.” The nation’s voting system is safer than it was 4 years in the past, however some counties didn’t make the transition and could possibly be extra weak. “The only states with significant amounts of non-paper digital ballots are states like, honestly, Texas.” Texas, a possible swing state for 2020, lags behind the remainder of the nation in election safety. Harris County, the third largest county within the nation, wasn’t in a position to buy new machines and nonetheless has their DREs from 2006. And with the Texas Supreme Court docket refusing to increase absentee voting and by permitting just one drop field per county, it places further stress on the machines to operate easily on Election Day. “A perception hack is a hack that is just big enough to create the illusion of a broad cyberattack. Because if they can manipulate some votes, registration systems, e-poll books, in just a few places, people will assume that they did so everywhere. That’s the beauty of a perception hack. And four years later, The psychological import of what the Russians did may be greater than anything that they actually hacked into, because they have managed to shake the confidence of American voters that their votes will be counted as they cast them.” That is Alex. And I’m Kassie. We produced this episode of “Stressed Election.” There’s rather a lot occurring this election, and we wish to be sure that we take a deep dive into the most important points. Stick round for the following episodes. We’re going to cowl voting rights, voting expertise, disinformation and vote-by-mail.