The University of Connecticut Center for Voting Technology Research (VoTeR) will be conducting audits on tomorrow’s midterm elections as it has done for elections in the past.
“The state law in Connecticut calls for auditing a certain percentage of the tabulated outcomes of the precincts,” VoTeR director Alexander Russell said. “(The state) draws (the tabulated outcomes to be audited) randomly after the election and the center has written some software to help with that auditing process.”
A memory card that is slipped into voting machines is used to audit the randomly chosen precincts, Russell said.
“There’s a company that programs those memory cards, sends them to the precincts, then the precincts send one of them to us and we look at the card, make sure we agree that what’s on the card is the right thing, then the precinct carries out the election,” Russell said. “At the end of the election they send us the card that they used for the election, and again, we can examine the card and make sure it looks like the right thing happened during the election.”
Russell said that process will begin in late November or December, when VoTeR will begin to ensure the machinery worked correctly and the polling staff followed the correct procedures.
“We can see that machines were tested...before Election Day and the results of the logs on those cards give us some picture of the actual procedures that the registrants of voters that run the machines are carrying out,” Russell said. “We check that we’re doing a good job of training them and making sure that they know what they’re doing.”
The audits are also able to catch whether there were problems with the equipment used to cast ballots, Russell said.
“Connecticut, like most states, bought all of the equipment at once,” Russell said. “The equipment ages over time, and so you can imagine a situation where you begin to get some kind of erratic errors happening on equipment across the board, and if that were to happen, audits can help you catch that, help you detect that.”
The last thing VoTeR ensures is that the results of an election were not hacked, which Russell said is an important step.
“There was some very compelling press coverage in 2016 of, not tampering directly with tabulators, but there was press coverage in 2016 that was discussing people attacking, or trying to get, data out of voter registration databases,” Russell said. “I think one thing to keep in mind is that, if someone is trying to interfere with an election, there’s a lot of ways to do this.”
Though Russell said trying to change the vote tallies of an election would be very difficult to do in Connecticut, he said there are many other ways to tamper with an election.
“You can imagine just making sure the power is off at polling stations,” Russell said. “You can imagine other ways to launch what you might call a denial of service attack, to just make it difficult for people to get to the polls. Even that I think one should consider an attack on an election.”
Russell said he thinks it’s a good thing that people have begun paying more attention to the issue of election hacking in recent years.
“Basically, I think that it really pays to be cautious,” Russell said. “I’m a pretty firm believer in democracy.”
Gabriella DeBenedictis is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.