Democrats Must Take Electoral Reform Seriously, As GA06 Shows
With the new revelations that Russian hacking of the last presidential election was far deeper and broader than anyone had imagined and that the Russians were capable of distorting that election result by hacking the voter rolls, Politico’s report last week that the voting system to be used in tomorrow’s election in Georgia’s 6th were also open to hacking have raised real concerns about the validity of the vote.
The Politico story detailed how important information about the entire voting process was left totally unprotected on a server run by a university group that programs and tests the systems used in the state of Georgia. Among the unprotected information was instructions and passwords for logging into the state’s central election database, software for the ExpressPoll poll books that monitors use to verify a voter is actually registered and eligible to vote, and the databases to create ballots and actually tabulate the votes. In addition, the server did not have up-to-date antivirus software, meaning that the entire server was capable of being controlled by hackers.
If this server had, in fact, been hacked, then malware could have been planted that would infect county computers that accessed that server and software files distributed to counties for elections. As Politico notes, “If someone were to alter the files, machines could be made to record votes for the wrong candidate. And since Georgia’s machines lack a proper paper trail — which would allow voters to verify their choices before ballots are cast and could also be used to compare against electronic tallies during an audit — officials might never know the machines recorded votes inaccurately.”
In addition, Georgia has already seen problems with its ExpressPoll software. In last year’s election, many voters in Fulton County were turned away and told they had reported to the wrong voting precinct because of an apparent “glitch” in the poll book software. There is no indication whether that glitch was simple a software error or a potential hack. Considering that this is exactly what the Russians were hacking, it would probably be worthwhile to investigate. That is especially true because Georgia was one of two states that rejected help from the Obama administration in order to secure their voting systems after it became clear that the Russians were attempting to hack those systems. In addition, Georgia was at one point in the campaign considered to be a potentially important swing state, making it a natural target to influence the election.
As Politico notes, Georgia’s voting system makes it an ideal target for hacking, with its centralized system, reliance on computerized touch screen voting, and lack of a paper trail. What is more disturbing is that these vulnerabilities to the Georgia system were discovered by a cybersecurity expert last August. He notified the university about these vulnerabilities and was told the issues would be resolved. But another expert found the same vulnerabilities still existed in March of this year.
Issues with Georgia’s system have existed for a decade. In 2007, another security expert showed how a computer virus could be inserted into the touch screen machines and effect the tallying of the votes. At that time Georgia’s Secretary of State ordered a full scale review of Georgia’s entire voting system. But, interestingly, the university center that was responsible for programming and testing the election software, poll book, and touch screen systems were exempt from this review.
The Secretary of State at the time is none other than Karen Handel, Jon Ossoff’s opponent in tomorrow’s election. Over at the Washington Monthly, D.R. Tucker asks whether Democrats will demand a recount if Ossoff loses a close race. Says Tucker, “After the events of November 2016, validating the outcome of an election is of paramount importance. Do Democrats recognize this reality? It’s unlikely. In fact, if Democrat Jon Ossoff, leading in some polls heading into tomorrow’s high-profile race to fill Georgia’s vacant Sixth Congressional District seat, loses to Republican Karen Handel, expect Democrats, fearful of being attacked as conspiracy theorists and whining losers, to raise zero questions about whether the result was legitimate. (Of course, if Ossoff wins, Republicans will immediately yell ‘voter fraud!’)”
Democrats largely took the stolen 2000 election lying down for the good of the country and Kerry refused to demand an investigation of the irregularities in Ohio in the wake of the 2004 election. Republicans have been suppressing the vote and crying about mythical voter fraud for well over a decade and Democrats have been spent most of that time merely reacting to Republican actions and accusations.
Rather than merely reacting, Democrats need to make major reform of our electoral system a critical part of the party’s message. This includes valid paper trails for all votes. More importantly, it requires making the entire electoral system more democratic with automated registration, an election day holiday and/or weekend, rules about voting machines per population, and neutral gerrymandering. These should not be platitudes the party mouths but be repeated and harped on every chance we get, just like the GOP talks about voter fraud. Doing so would allow Democrats to demand recounts in close elections without looking like sore losers.
A more democratic system will increase voter turnout and make our politicians more accountable to their constituents. Republicans will oppose these efforts but Democrats can reasonably claim that these changes will actually make voter fraud far less likely while increasing voter participation. And that’s what democracy should really be all about. The GOP can oppose these changes at their peril.