When Will We Learn Our Lesson? Get Rid of Electronic Voting Machines!
a lever-operated voting machine showing Barack Obama and John McCain
An old lever-operated voting machine. (AP)
It was way back in 2007 when as the county executive in Suffolk County, N.Y., I brought a lawsuit to prevent the feds from forcing our county to switch from lever voting machines to an electronic alternative.
I didn’t have to be Nostradamus to accurately predict that these electronic machines were eventually going to lead to attempted hackings and an undermining of the public’s confidence in the integrity of our electoral process.
I thought it was simply mind-boggling that Congress felt the need to pass the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in 2002 in an overreaction to the hanging chad fiasco in South Florida during the 2000 presidential election.
Simply because some fool in that single county devised a confusing ballot, federal do-gooders were commanding that every county in the nation expend ridiculous sums to purchase electronic machines.
Our county asked, “What was wrong with the tried and true lever machines that we had been using for decades? Why were the feds demanding we fix something — at enormous cost — that wasn’t broken?”
Part of it was to show that they were doing something — anything — to avoid another Florida debacle. The other reason stemmed from the huge money that many players, including the politically connected machine manufacturers, would rake in. And, of course, they would thereupon heap lavish amounts of campaign donations to the officials who were doing their bidding.
It is simply common sense that once something goes electronic, it is inviting mischief from all sorts of unsavory characters. And it’s not just the candidates and the political parties themselves. It’s also foreign actors.
Like clockwork, the usual suspects were always available for a sound bite to assuage our concerns of hacking. Fear not. It’s impossible, they would crow. There are so many safeguards in place, it’s foolproof, they assure us. Of course, these hucksters are the same self-interested folks who manufactured the machines.
Every time I hear one of these reassurances I harken back to spokespeople at Equifax and eBay who said their customer info was totally secure. Yet the private information of over 145 million people in these companies was compromised due to successful hacks.
For goodness sake, we even saw federal agencies successfully hacked. A list of the top 10 governmental data breaches can be seen here.
Whether or not such malfeasance as vote changing is proven relative to this past election, that possibility should scare the hell out of any red-blooded American.
Opposition to these machines has nothing to do with partisanship. Either major party can be victimized.
In fact, in 2016, it was Democrats who were concerned that the Russians were trying to manipulate the tally to benefit their supposed Manchurian candidate, Donald Trump. Those fears prompted me to write the following passage in a 2019 article titled, “We can easily prevent election hacking by Russia or anyone else.”
Isn’t it ironic that the hysteria related to Russia potentially hacking our election system has been totally created by American politicians? If this is indeed an existential threat to our democracy, why aren’t our leaders simply suggesting that we return to the good old-fashioned lever machines or paper ballots (without the scan) that were totally reliable, far cheaper than their electronic counterparts, and totally immune to hacking?
Warning signs were available to us once again in the 2020 primary season. You may recall that the “new and improved” apps created by manufacturers were supposed to improve the electronic voting process. Their glitches led to unprecedented delays in retrieving the ultimate results in our first caucus in Iowa. In response, I wrote an article titled “The Iowa Voting App? Newer Not Always Improved.”
You won’t recall major delays in 2016 when old fogeys tabulated votes the old-fashioned way — by counting hands and paper ballots, and calling in the results in a relatively prompt fashion.
The old system never kept us in the dark as to the outcome, nor did it have us praying that nefarious actors would not seek to hack the integrity of our voting system. (While there is no belief there was any hacking in Iowa, the possibility, however small, remains a concern in other elections around the nation.)
Our voting system is decentralized, meaning it is implemented county-by-county or state-by-state. Thus, defenders of the status quo stress there is no single federal network that can be altered. That is true, but we have seen that national elections can tilt-based upon a mere 500 votes in a single state, as was the case in Florida in 2000.
The concerns raised about electronic machines have nothing to do with Donald Trump or Joe Biden. It has everything to do with our future elections and whether Americans on both sides of the aisle will accept the results. If they don’t, our democracy will be in a very dangerous state.