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How Secure Is Your Vote?

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A voters casts an electronic ballot at a polling station in Washington, D.C., in 2012.

Many U.S. counties using voting machines in the upcoming presidential election lack paper trails with which to verify results in the event of allegations of voter fraud, says Suzanne Mello-Stark of Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Credit: Nicholas Kamm/AFP

If allegations of voter fraud are raised following the presidential election in November, many U.S. counties using voting machines will have no paper trails with which to verify the results, warns Worcester Polytechnic Institute professor Suzanne Mello-Stark.

She says an incomplete auditing system could shake the public's faith in the election process; the voting machines were intended to reduce human counting error and misread ballots, but they have significant security risks.

Mello-Stark notes the machines are manufactured by private companies and are not scrutinized by outside experts, and most state election officials do not bring in computer scientists to check the machines. She warns between elections routine virus updates might not be performed and machines could be kept in insecure locations.

Mello-Stark also points out machines could be hacked to delete votes and voter registration lists could be tampered with to create confusion. If a software glitch or hack was discovered after the election, little could be done if the machine lacks a paper record.

Mello-Stark cites several ways to avoid these problems, including an auditing system for voting machines and regular maintenance for machine hardware and software. "There has to be an audit process so if something goes wrong we will know what happened," she says.

From Worcester Polytechnic Institute
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