One of the topics we’ve talked about longer than any other topic on Techdirt is the problems with basically all electronic voting systems out there. Remember the good old days of Diebold, the well known voting machine maker? We wrote dozens of stories about its insecure machines starting back in 2003 and continued to write about the problems of electronic voting machines for years and years and years. We’ve gone through four Presidential elections since then and lots and lots of other elections — and while the security on e-voting machines has improved, it hasn’t improved that much and still is subject to all sorts of risks and questions. And those questions only serve to make people question the legitimacy of election results.
And, for all those years, it appeared that basically no one in Congress seemed to have any interest in actually doing anything. Until now. A new bipartisan bill has been introduced, called the Secure Elections Act, that would actually target insecure e-voting machines. The ideas in the bill are not revolutionary — they’re just what almost all computer security professionals have been calling for since we first started writing about e-voting machines all those many years ago, namely:
- Strongly encourage states to get rid of paperless e-voting machines so that there is a verifiable paper trail that can be checked to make sure the electronic votes were counted accurately.
- Do post-election audits of the machines to make sure that the machines accurately counted votes (i.e., not just in recount situations).
There’s more in there as well, including a lot about information sharing on possible cybersecurity threats, which could be potentially quite useful, since elections are not run in any centralized way, but with locals (who often don’t have much in the way of computer security knowledge) handling the details. This bill could help standardize some pretty key security practices that would make sure that the machines are safer and that the votes are more credible.
While some have raised concerns about the costs of getting rid of the older e-voting machines, the bill also allows for a grant-making process to help election agencies make this work — and, really, the cost of botching elections seems like a bigger deal to me. The bill doesn’t force states to get rid of the old machines (which Congress probably doesn’t have the authority to do…), but does certainly give plenty of incentives (i.e. $$$$) for states to do the right thing.
The article (linked above) over at Ars Technica quotes a few e-voting system experts who are excited about the bill, but note that Congress should act fast if it wants states to actually follow through by the next election. And, of course, Congress is not exactly known for acting quickly. Still, this is a rare instance where it seems to have (finally) figured out how to take on an important issue and to do so intelligently.