The Verified Voting Blog

This blog contains posts authored by the Verified Voting Team and by members of the Verified Voting Board of Advisors.

Trump’s claim the election is rigged is unfounded

I serve as President of Verified Voting, a voting security organization that seeks to strengthen democracy by working to ensure that on Election Day, Americans have confidence that their votes will be counted as we intended to cast them. Election officials, security experts and advocates have been working together around the country toward that goal, at a level that also is unprecedented.

Elections are administered by local officials. America doesn’t have one monolithic national voting system the way there is in other countries. We have thousands of them, operating under state and local supervision.

In recent years, the way in which America votes has trended toward increasingly reliable and verifiable methods. More than 75 percent of Americans will vote this election on paper ballots or on voting machines with voter verifiable paper trails. That’s more than in past elections, including 2012 and 2014. (You can check out how your local area votes on our map of voting systems, at ) That means more voters than ever will be voting on recountable, auditable systems.

Why is that important? Because it offers officials a way to demonstrate to the loser of an election and the public that yes, they really did get fewer votes than their opponent or opponents.This is a nonpartisan issue. If you lose an election because something went wrong with a voting system somewhere, that’s fundamentally unfair. The more checks and balances we have in place (such as paper backup trails and audits), the greater our ability to withstand tampering or just general malfunction.

That’s not to say that our systems have no vulnerabilities. We have a higher degree of reliability in our election systems than in the past, but there’s still work to be done. What’s notable is that more is being done to ensure security this year than ever before.

David Dill: Why Can’t We Vote Online? | KQED

This interview was posted at KQED on October 4, 2016, where audio of the interview can be heard.

david_dillWe can bank online and we can shop online so why can’t we vote online? To answer that question, we first need to agree on what it means, said David Dill, a computer science professor at Stanford and the founder of the Verified Voting Foundation. In other words, what do people mean when they ask: “Why can’t we vote online?”

“The reason people want internet voting is because they want the convenience to vote at home or vote on their smartphone,” Dill said. I have to agree. I want to vote online like I do everything else online. I want to vote anywhere, anytime and on any device. If that’s the case, Dill said the answer is simple: We can’t vote online because our personal devices are too easy to hack. “If we had online elections, we would never be able to trust the results of those elections,” Dill said. “These systems are just notoriously insecure.”

If you follow the news, you know that our smartphones and personal computers are constantly getting hacked. While antivirus companies try, no software can stop all viruses. In fact, you might have a virus on your computer right now and not realize it, Dill said. “Now you can imagine the impact on trying to cast a ballot on such a machine,” Dill said. “The technology does not exist for secure online voting.”

But aren’t there places that have voted online? Yes, but Dill says they’ve all been hacked.

Andrew W. Appel: My testimony before the House Subcommittee on IT

This article appeared originally at Freedom to Tinker on September 30, 2016. I was invited to testify yesterday before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Information Technology, at a hearing entitled “Cybersecurity: Ensuring the Integrity of the Ballot Box.”  My written testimony is available here.  My 5-minute opening statement went as follows:

My name is Andrew Appel.  I am Professor of Computer Science at Princeton University.   In this testimony I do not represent my employer. I’m here to give my own professional opinions as a scientist, but also as an American citizen who cares deeply about protecting our democracy. My research is in software verification, computer security, technology policy, and election machinery.  As I will explain, I strongly recommend that, at a minimum, the Congress seek to ensure the elimination of Direct-Recording Electronic voting machines (sometimes called “touchscreen” machines), immediately after this November’s election; and that it require that all elections be subject to sensible auditing after every election to ensure that systems are functioning properly and to prove to the American people that their votes are counted as cast. There are cybersecurity issues in all parts of our election system:  before the election, voter-registration databases; during the election, voting machines; after the election, vote-tabulation / canvassing / precinct-aggregation computers.  In my opening statement I’ll focus on voting machines.  The other topics are addressed in a recent report I have co-authored entitled “Ten Things Election Officials Can Do to Help Secure and Inspire Confidence in This Fall’s Elections.”


What are the post-Election Day procedures states can take to confirm the election went well?

Ensuring the accuracy and integrity of the vote count can help generate public confidence in elections. Two of the most important steps happen after voting concludes on Election Day. Ballot accounting and reconciliation (BA&R) is a not-so-exciting name for a crucial best practice. BA&R is a multi-step process that is designed to account for all ballots, whether cast at the polling place or sent in remotely, and compare that with the number of voters who voted, as the first pass. After that, the next step is to ensure that all batches of votes from all the polling places are aggregated into the totals once (and only once). This is a basic “sanity check” that makes sure no ballots are missing, none are found later, none were counted twice, etc. Most jurisdictions do a good job at this task.

Which voting machines can be hacked through the Internet?

Over 9000 jurisdictions (counties and states) in the U.S. run elections with a variety of voting machines: optical scanners for paper ballots, and direct-recording “touchscreen” machines.  Which ones of them can be hacked to make them cheat, to transfer votes from one candidate to another?

The answer:  all of them.  An attacker with physical access to a voting machine can install fraudulent vote-miscounting software.  I’ve demonstrated this on one kind of machine, others have demonstrated it on other machines.  It’s a general principle about computers: they run whatever software is installed at the moment.

So let’s ask:

  1. Which voting machines can be hacked from anywhere in the world, through the Internet?  
  2. Which voting machines have other safeguards, so we can audit or recount the election to get the correct result even if the machine is hacked?

The answers, in summary:

  1. Older machines (Shouptronic, AVC Advantage, AccuVote OS, Optech-III Eagle) can be hacked by anyone with physical access; newer machines (almost anything else in use today) can be hacked by anyone with physical access, and are vulnerable to attacks from the Internet.
  2. Optical scan machines, even though they can be hacked, allow audits and recounts of the paper ballots marked by the voters.  This is a very important safeguard.  Paperless touchscreen machines have no such protection.  “DRE with VVPAT” machines, i.e. touchscreens that print on paper (that the voter can inspect under glass while casting the ballot) are “in between” regarding this safeguard.

The most widely used machine that fails #1 and #2 is the AccuVote TS, used throughout the state of Georgia, and in some counties in other states.

Steven Bellovin Joins Verified Voting’s Board of Advisors

bellovin-300Verified Voting is pleased to announce that noted computer scientist Steven M. Bellovin has joined our Board of Advisors. Bellovin is the Percy K. and Vidal L. W. Hudson Professor of computer science at Columbia University and member of the Cybersecurity and Privacy Center of the university's Data Science Institute. He is the Technology Scholar at the Privacy and Civil Liberties Board. He does research on security and privacy and on related public policy issues. In his copious spare professional time, he does some work on the history of cryptography. He joined the faculty in 2005 after many years at Bell Labs and AT&T Labs Research, where he was an AT&T Fellow.

Prof. Bellovin received a BA degree from Columbia University, and an MS and PhD in Computer Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. While a graduate student, he helped create Netnews; for this, he and the other perpetrators were given the 1995 Usenix Lifetime Achievement Award (The Flame). Bellovin has served as Chief Technologist of the Federal Trade Commission. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and is serving on the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. In the past, he has been a member of the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Advisory Committee, and the Technical Guidelines Development Committee of the Election Assistance Commission; he has also received the 2007 NIST/NSA National Computer Systems Security Award and has been elected to theCybersecurity Hall of Fame.


New Report: Internet Voting Threatens Ballot Secrecy

Casting a secret ballot in the upcoming election might not be so secret or secure depending on where – and how – you vote, according to a new report The Secret Ballot at Risk: Recommendations for Protecting Democracy. The report was coauthored by three leading organizations focused on voting technology, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), Verified Voting and Common Cause.

Caitriona Fitzgerald, State Policy Coordinator for EPIC and a co-author of the report, said, "The secret ballot is a core value in all 50 states. Yet states are asking some voters to waive this right. That threatens voting freedom and election integrity. This report will help safeguard voter privacy."

This year 32 states will allow voting by email, fax and internet portals – mostly for overseas and military voters. In most states, voters using Internet voting must waive their right to a secret ballot.

Giving up the right to a secret ballot threatens the freedom to vote as one chooses, argue the report authors. The report cites several examples of employers making political participation a condition of employment -- such as an Ohio coal mining company requiring its workers to attend a Presidential candidate’s rally - and not paying them for their time.

“On Election Day, we all are equal. The Secret Ballot ensures voters that employers’ political opinions stop at the ballot box,” said Susannah Goodman, director of Common Cause's national Voting Integrity Campaign. “The Secret Ballot was established for a reason. The Secret Ballot ensures that we can all vote our conscience without undue intimidation and coercion.”

Marc Rotenberg, EPIC President, agreed, “The secret ballot is the cornerstone of modern democracy. The states must do more to protect the privacy of voters.”

Security against Election Hacking – Part 2: Cyberoffense is not the best cyberdefense!

This article was originally posted at Freedom to Tinker on August 18, 2016.

State and county election officials across the country employ thousands of computers in election administration, most of them are connected (from time to time) to the internet (or exchange data cartridges with machines that are connected).  In my previous post I explained how we must audit elections independently of the computers, so we can trust the results even if the computers are hacked.

Still, if state and county election computers were hacked, it would be an enormous headache and it would certainly cast a shadow on the legitimacy of the election.  So, should the DHS designate election computers as “critical cyber infrastructure?”

This question betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of how computer security really works.  You as an individual buy your computers and operating systems from reputable vendors (Apple, Microsoft, IBM, Google/Samsung, HP, Dell, etc.).  Businesses and banks (and the Democratic National Committee, and the Republican National Committee) buy their computers and software from the same vendors.  Your security, and the security of all the businesses you deal with, is improved when these hardware and software vendors build products without security bugs in them.   Election administrators use computers that run Windows (or MacOS, or Linux) bought from the same vendors.

Security against Election Hacking – Part 1: Software Independence

This article was originally posted to Freedom to Tinker on August 17, 2016.

There’s been a lot of discussion of whether the November 2016 U.S. election can be hacked.  Should the U.S. Government designate all the states’ and counties’ election computers as “critical cyber infrastructure” and prioritize the “cyberdefense” of these systems?  Will it make any difference to activate those buzzwords with less than 3 months until the election? First, let me explain what can and can’t be hacked.  Election administrators use computers in (at least) three ways:

  1. To maintain voter registration databases and to prepare the “pollbooks” used at every polling place to list who’s a registered voter (for that precinct); to prepare the “ballot definitions” telling the voting machines who are the candidates in each race.
  2. Inside the voting machines themselves, the optical-scan counters or touch-screen machines that the voter interacts with directly.
  3. When the polls close, the vote totals from all the different precincts are gathered (this is called “canvassing”) and aggregated together to make statewide totals for each candidate (or district-wide totals for congressional candidates).

Any of these computers could be hacked.  What defenses do we have?  Could we seal off the internet so the Russians can’t hack us?  Clearly not; and anyway, maybe the hacker isn’t the Russians—what if it’s someone in your opponent’s political party?  What if it’s a rogue election administrator?

To maintain voter registration databases and to prepare the “pollbooks” used at every polling place to list who’s a registered voter (for that precinct); to prepare the “ballot definitions” telling the voting machines who are the candidates in each race.
Inside the voting machines themselves, the optical-scan counters or touch-screen machines that the voter interacts with directly.
When the polls close, the vote totals from all the different precincts are gathered (this is called “canvassing”) and aggregated together to make statewide totals for each candidate (or district-wide totals for congressional candidates).
Any of these computers could be hacked. What defenses do we have? Could we seal off the internet so the Russians can’t hack us? Clearly not; and anyway, maybe the hacker isn’t the Russians—what if it’s someone in your opponent’s political party? What if it’s a rogue election administrator?

A volunteer sets up voting machines at Legend Elementary School in Newark, Ohio, November 5, 2012. REUTERS/Matt Sullivan

Why voting systems must be as secure as the U.S. power grid

This oped was posted by Reuters on August 17, 2016.

Every American has the right to have their vote counted. The Department of Homeland Security is weighing steps to help safeguard that right. The agency is considering actions to secure the voting process against cyber-threats by designating voting systems as “critical infrastructure.” In a democracy, our voting systems are critical infrastructure like our power grids, hospital systems and nuclear power plants. The U.S. government maintains its authority based on the consent of the governed.

The revelation that hackers, possibly sponsored by Russia, illegally entered the computer system of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, as well as that of the Democratic National Committee, and monitored email activity for more than one year shows the vulnerability of the U.S. political infrastructure. Emails of members of Congress were also hacked.

There have been other serious hacking episodes. Arizona’s statewide voter registration database, for example, was recentlytaken down for more than a week so that the FBI and the state could investigate a potential breach. Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan called the breach an“extremely serious issue.” The FBI described the threat as “8 out of 10” on its severity scale.

The question remains: If a nation wants to influence U.S. elections, would the hackers go directly after ballots and voting systems? If that’s the case, shouldn’t protecting these systems receive the highest priority?