A central concern of this election season has been election fraud. While both sides have lobbed wild and unsubstantiated allegations of fraud to suit their own agendas, election fraud can no longer be written off as a conspiracy theory. During this election season, Wikileaks released documents proving that DNC staff violated the impartiality clause of their charter by colluding with the Clinton campaign to sabotage Bernie Sanders. Furthermore, an audio recording emerged in which Hillary Clinton proposed rigging a Palestinian election. Faced with the undeniable truth that the political elite has no qualms about violating the will of the people, one cannot help but become suspicious of electronic voting machines. Many of these machines leave no paper trail, and we are thus forced to simply accept the recorded vote totals. In addition to the very real possibility of hacking, machines are prone to glitches and malfunctions. The fact that our country allows unaccountable, error-prone machines to tally the votes and effectively decide the outcomes of our elections is outrageous. The solution is to immediately switch to hand-counted paper ballots. Many countries around the world use such a system with remarkable success, and with election after election marred by fraud, counting paper ballots by hand is the only way to ensure that our elections are truly clean.
Electronic voting machines arose in 2002. Following the 2000 Presidential election debacle in Florida, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act of 2002, which created a fund of nearly four billion dollars to incentivize states to adopt new voting machines, including digital touch-screen machines. All fifty states accepted the money. However, the machines demonstrated problems from the very beginning. In 2002, voters in Florida were forced to stand in line for hours, with many eventually throwing in the towel and going home, when machines malfunctioned and failed to turn on. That same year, nearly a quarter of the votes in Bernalillo County in Albuquerque were erased due to faulty software. An investigation into a school board race in Virginia the following year revealed that one vote was subtracted for every one hundred votes cast for one of the candidates on ten different machines. A few years later, in a hotly contested Florida congressional race, 18,000 votes mysteriously went missing, in an election that was decided by less than four hundred votes. And just a few years ago, a West Virginia voter’s finger pressure on the screen selected an entirely different candidate. Further finger pressure caused the machine to go haywire.
Since the rise of electronic voting machines, a team of computer science and cyber security experts at Princeton has proven without a shadow of a doubt that these machines are extremely insecure and vulnerable. In a demonstration of the vulnerability of electronic voting machines, Princeton professor Andrew Appel simply bought a model in use for $82 and summoned one his graduate student’s to hack it. In just seven minutes, the student successfully picked the lock, removed the four ROM chips and replaced them with ones of his own capable of throwing off the results. The team has shown that virtually every voting machine is susceptible to hacking, the most notable one being the Diebold TS machine. Cyber security experts are unable to study the codes of machines because the voting machine companies have declared the code of the machines as “intellectual property.” But in 2003, a Diebold employee mistakenly left the code for the voting machine on a public website. Computer scientists quickly moved in, and after studying the code, their findings were startling. The machine’s smartcards could be jerry-rigged to vote more than once, poor cryptology left the voting records vulnerable to manipulation and weak safeguards meant than an employee of the company could easily flip the vote. In another instance, the Princeton team was able to hack a Diebold machine in less than a minute and program it to swing an election for Benedict Arnold over George Washington. And just a few years ago, a team at the Argonne National Laboratory of the Department of Energy investigated a newer model of the Diebold voting machines, which was used in this past election in several key battleground states, and found that virtually anyone could tamper with it. The Princeton team’s findings on top of constant malfunctions and errors prove that electronic voting machines are wholly unreliable. Out of the eight European countries that experimented with electronic voting machines, six reverted to paper ballots. Given the proven unreliability of these machines, the United States should follow suit.
The voting irregularities, anomalies and outright fraud in this past presidential primary warrant exploration. Amid the widespread allegations of voter fraud and suppression, including documented instances released by Wikileaks, several academic researchers decided to investigate the fraud and publish their findings. Axel Geijsel of Tilburg University and Rodolfo Cortes Barragan of Stanford University published the most groundbreaking research paper, which concluded that Hillary Clinton’s primary win was fraudulent. The researchers examined the discrepancies between exit polling data and official vote counts., and in all eleven states in which these discrepancies exceeded the margin of error, Hillary Clinton was the beneficiary. The researchers found that the probability of nearly all these discrepancies favoring Hillary Clinton by such a large margin is 1 in 77 billion; in other words: statistically impossible. The researchers also discovered that the states that used easily hackable voting machines without a paper trail overwhelmingly favored Clinton, whereas states that used machines with a paper trail favored Sanders. In addition, a study published by professional statisticians found evidence that “vote flipping” may have occurred during the heated congressional race between Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the former DNC chair who effectively functioned as a Clinton surrogate, and Sanders-backer Tim Canova. Such rampant electoral fraud is an obvious affront to this nation’s supposed democracy. Given the mounds of evidence indicating the untrustworthiness of electronic voting machines and the very real fraud that they have perpetrated, the choice to switch to the old-fashioned way of hand-counting paper ballots is an obvious one. Voting on paper ballots and counting them out loud by hand clearly enhances transparency, eliminates the risk of hacking or computer malfunctioning and protects the “one person, one vote” principle.
There are several arguments that are routinely made against the hand-counted paper ballot system. Opponents commonly cite the high cost of producing, storing and disposing of the millions of used and unused ballots to discredit the system. However, ballots only cost around thirty cents each, and with around 146,000,000 registered American voters, the cost of paper ballots amounts to around $45 million. Surely a country that can spend over a trillion dollars on an F-35 program can shell out a measly $45 million to safeguard the integrity of its elections, the foundation of a democracy. Another common argument against using paper ballots is the time-consuming and painstaking process of counting all the ballots. It is true that counting paper ballots by hand may not provide a rapid result for ratings-hungry news networks, but the goal of an election should be accuracy, not speed of counting. And one need not even look overseas to witness the success of the hand-counted paper ballot system. Several precincts in New Hampshire count paper ballots by hand, and the entire process is a community affair. After polls close, bi-partisan counting crews are ushered into each district to count the ballots by hand. Fellow citizenry closely monitor the counting to make sure that the process runs smoothly. The counting is usually completed before midnight on Election Night. The process is simple, straightforward and, most importantly, transparent.
Election fraud is a very real problem, and electronic voting machines lie at the heart of it. These unaccountable and unreliable machines are prone to glitches and errors and are highly vulnerable to hacking. Not only have electronic voting machines thwarted the will of the people and subverted democracy but they have also consistently kept the power in the hands of establishment, corporate politicians who dutifully serve the elite, generating anger and disdain among the public and creating the basis for the ascendancy of dangerous right-wing demagogues. In these times of uncertainty and trepidation, establishing clean elections, the bedrock of a democracy, is of the utmost importance. A law mandating a hand-counted paper ballot system is a simple and practical reform that can begin to cleanse the electoral system of corruption and put the power in the hands of the people where it truly belongs.