The persistent specter of election rigging, voter fraud and potential Russian hacking of U.S. election systems is dominating the headlines. It’s also keeping people like Merle King, executive director of the Center for Election Systems at Kennesaw State University, in the media spotlight.
In fielding questions from at least a dozen journalists trying to determine if claims of possible rigging or hacking have any merit, King has consistently assured that, at least in Georgia, chances are slim to none.
Since 2002, the Center has been under contract with the Georgia Office of the Secretary of State to verify, certify and support the state’s election system. Its services include training poll workers, auditing vendors, testing the various components of voting technology and building the ballots.
“…virtually error free”
Georgia is among a handful of states using a uniform system of technology and procedures, King explained. Vote capture is done using 27,000 direct recording electronic devices (DRE) across the state’s 159 counties. Each county uses an election management system (EMS) to prepare the machines for voting and tabulates the votes from the memory cards of touchscreens and optical scanners. An electronic poll book is used to check in registered voters at each of the state’s precincts and make sure they get the correct ballots.
King’ s confidence in Georgia’s “time-tested” system stems primarily from its performance: In the 14 years the current voting system has been in place, more than 8,000 elections have been conducted and upwards of 45 million votes have been tabulated virtually error free.
An election of high integrity relies on accuracy, completeness of processing, accessibility and security, King said. He conceded that the security of the voting system is increasingly an issue in the current election and today’s political environment.
Critics of electronic voting have taken aim at the devices’ inability to leave a paper trail of the votes cast. Even so, King says, there are many safeguards in the current system, including the ability to produce an audit trail of the votes.
In fact, King noted, several layers of security are protecting Georgia’s voting system, ensuring that voter intent is actually captured, tabulated and reported accurately.
When it comes to protecting elections against hackers, King said it is important to note that there are really three distinct systems across the electoral spectrum, and each is a different domain using different data.
In the final analysis, King said the issue of securing the voting system boils down to the question of probability versus possibility, especially when it comes to expending the state tax dollars.
“We Americans place a high value on our democracy, and we talk about how important voting is as an engine of our democracy, King said. “We also place a high value on education, spending about $11,000 to educate each child. By contrast, we spend about $1 per voter in elections, which leaves election officials with limited resources.
“Is it possible that we could have a nation-state hack of our voting capability? Absolutely. But we know there is a high probability of hurricanes and other natural disaster impacts on our system. We just had to assess the voting machines in 30 coastal counties impacted by hurricane Matthew and retest the machines in Chatham County as a result. As stewards of the state’s tax dollars, we have to array resources against probable threats. It would be irresponsible if we shifted resources away from threats we know will occur and began chasing hackers down rabbit holes on the possibility they may be noodling around on the edges of our voting system.”