Voting isn’t a game, of course, and we need to trust the machines that count our votes. Especially this year. Donald J. Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, raised the possibility of “rigged” elections, and his former adviser Roger J. Stone Jr. has warned of a “blood bath” in such a case. A recent poll found that 34 percent of likely voters believed the general election would be rigged. It’s unclear what mechanism the Trump campaign envisions for this rigging. Voter fraud through impersonation or illegal voting is vanishingly rare in the United States, and rigging the election by tampering with voting machines would be nearly impossible. As President Obama pointed out in a news conference last week, where he called charges of electoral rigging “ridiculous,” states and cities set up voting systems, not the federal government. That’s true, and it means the voting machine landscape is a patchwork of different systems, which makes the election hard to manipulate in a coordinated way. But it’s still a bleak landscape.
… Since 1996, Georgia has voted for the Republican candidate in presidential elections, but this year a batch of recent polls have painted a tight race — with some polls even indicating that the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, may have an edge. If the race is close, and the outcome questioned, voters in Georgia will have no means to audit the results. Other potential swing states, like Pennsylvania and North Carolina, also use electronic machines with no paper trail, at least in some counties. According to the nonprofit Verified Voting, people in at least a dozen states could encounter that same situation.
We have also seen concerns about foreign nations meddling directly in United States elections, via hacking or other means. This is an unlikely scenario; however, the fact that people are even voicing such concerns makes it all the more urgent to dispel them. As Matthew Green, a professor at Johns Hopkins University who specializes in cryptography and cybersecurity, said, “There is only one way to protect the voting system from a nation-state funded cyberattack: Use paper.”
Fortunately, there is a reliable and transparent method that combines convenience and the ability to perform an audit: paper ballot systems with optical scan counting. Avi Rubin, an expert on election security who is also a professor at Johns Hopkins, testified about a decade ago that when properly put into effect, these systems have many advantages. People can keep voting even if the equipment fails; it’s possible to audit results; and the systems are easy to use.