8 steps to protect U.S. elections

There is no computer that can’t be hacked, there is no web site that can’t be cracked.

If that is true — and it is — why would we ever put our voting process and electoral returns online?

When we do that, we make ourselves vulnerable.

Cyber election security expert Harri Hursti

What follows is a plain vanilla discussion of how we vote, divorced from any political massage. Our democracy is too important for monkey shines from the Left or Right. Let’s rely on the best facts we have. 

Fact: The Russians hacked some U.S. elections in 2016.

The Senate Intelligence Committee reported that Russia made attempts to interfere with voting in all 50 states. The bipartisan committee concluded, “that while there was no evidence that any votes were changed in actual voting machines, ‘Russian cyber actors were in a position to delete or change voter data’ in the Illinois voter database.” All U.S. security agencies agreed — but more than one professional hacker insisted the results could have been changed. Some viruses cover their tracks to leave no trace of what they have done.

I am not interested in arguments about which candidates the Russians attempted to help. We do not know it was Donald J. Trump — and we don’t know why. Russia’s true aim is not to elect a specific person, but to undermine Americans’ faith in their democracy. That is far more valuable to them than having a temporary “friend” in the White House.

It’s not just the U.S. Our European allies report Russian interference with their elections. 

“We are more vulnerable to this subtle, hard-to-attribute attack than we are to tanks, airplanes, and ships,” says Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, U.S. ambassador to NATO, 2013-’17. 

Much of what I will report was drawn from an HBO documentary called “Kill Chain: The Cyber War on America’s Elections,” released around the time of the 2020 election. It’s 90 minutes and you can see it here.

Nothing much has changed since then other than this — after Trump won the 2016 election, he stopped his ceaseless complaining that the election was “rigged.”

He dropped that like a hot rivet after he won. Four years later, he returned to his default, that the 2020 election was “stolen,” using almost the same words and presenting the same absence of evidence as he did four years earlier. 

What I have just written is not “political.” They are the facts of his behavior. There is no denying he claimed both elections were rigged. When Republicans deny that, they undermine their credibility.

It is false that he coordinated with the Russians, who supposedly were in his corner. Democrats must stop acting as if it is fact. It is not. They harm their own credibility.

Now, to the central theme: The “Kill Chain” documentary revolves around Finnish cyber election security expert Harri Hursti, who acts as the narrator and says, “Everything is hackable. Always.”

For a 2006 HBO documentary, Hursti hacked four voting machines and demonstrated security flaws in the Diebold Election Systems machines. 

Voting machines “are nothing more than obsolete computers,” agrees Sandy Clark, security researcher, University of Pennsylvania.

“The problem is, once you understand how everything works,” says Hursti, “you understand how fragile everything is, and how easy it is to lose this all.” The documentary backs up this opinion with interviews with Democrats, Republicans, cyber and military experts. 

One expression of confidence in our election system comes from its diversity, from it not being a system at all. Each state is responsible for its own elections, and often passes regulation to the counties. Because they go about it in a myriad of ways, the system is too diffuse and complicated to allow penetration by a foreign actor. 

That is a reasonable thought, except for this: Only three main vendors — Dominion Voting, Election Systems and Software, and Hart Interactive — produce the election machinery used across the U.S., and some of the machines can be bought on eBay and reverse engineered. None of the three companies agreed to be interviewed for the documentary. 

If you can penetrate one or all of these systems, you have the key to the door. 

“Kill Chain” presents a chilling picture of the present and near future. While the docu itself does not list “cures,” they can be intuited from the factual material. 

So what are the solutions? Here are 8. 

1- No voting machine should have digital or online capability. 

2- Voting machines can be electronic, and have touch screens, but must not be allowed to connect with the internet.

3- Each machine must produce a paper tape that will be stored.

4- No voting except at state-run polling places.

5- No free-standing drop boxes.

6- No “harvesting” or collecting of ballots by anyone other than state-elected or appointed officials. 

7- Never put a computer between the voter and the ballot.

8- No bar codes, no QR codes. Voters have no idea what info they contain and they can be manipulated. 

23 thoughts on “8 steps to protect U.S. elections”

  1. Stu, what you said makes a lot of sense. I wish it could be done. It is unfortunate though that even if it were implemented you would have certain people who would bitch and complain like Trump, and others are still doing.

    1. I choose to be optimistic. As Churchill said, you can count on Americans to do the right thing after they have tried everything else. And, of course, he was half American.

      1. Optimism can be disastrous. Consider the guy who fell out of the 30th floor window. Each window he passed on his way down he was heard to say, “So far, so good!”

  2. By this column, Stu, you validate that trust in the honesty of all future elections has vanished forever. Very scary thought.

  3. This is such an important topic; perhaps the most in addition to proof of citizenship being required in order to vote! This is at the very heart of what our nation is all about!

    Your message must be heard; you articulate it so well! I will post on my FB page. thank you, Stu!

  4. What else is new? Even the old mechanical lever machines had their “hackability”, all be it the hackers were U.S. citizens. How? After the polls closed an elector (in Philly, usually a ward leaders appointee) would unseal the back of the machine and read the tally, total votes recorded for each candidate. These numbers could be manipulated by the elector simply by reading out the incorrect results. Later, the machines were shipped to an unsecure location and stored in the event results needed recounting.

    1. Greg, the safeguards are the poll watchers who can view the opening of the back of the machine and the report to election HQ — AND the paper tape which is locked away. No system is foolproof, but having several sets of eyes from different parties helps secure the system.

  5. Sounds like a good plan. Unfortunately the people in charge can’t see the forest for the trees.

    Not bad for an old timer ! Naturally, you hit the nail on the head when you said,” poll watchers”. By law, you can/should be challenged on your first vote at a new address or you’re a newbie. I don’t believe that you can be challenged in addition to those two reasons, but I believe the right (law ) to challenge should be changed. It only takes a minute to verify a voter.
    Out here in Chester County, we fill in the blanks on the ballot sheet. It then goes into a counter that is probably electronically connected to West Chester. Each machine contains its own count and is checked several times during the counting process. As you said, nothing is fool proof and money can buy just about anything.
    Mostly, it always comes back around to basics. The poll watchers are there to….watch the polls.

  7. Stu–
    Numbers 4,5,6 would all be considered racist because it’s a disadvantage to minorities and the disenfranchised. Just like requiring an ID to vote or to demand in-person voting. Naturally I think it’s nonsense, but that’s where we are today.
    Cheat by mail is where we are today.

    1. Bill, you said “𝘊𝘩𝘦𝘢𝘵 𝘣𝘺 𝘮𝘢𝘪𝘭 𝘪𝘴 𝘸𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦 𝘸𝘦 𝘢𝘳𝘦 𝘵𝘰𝘥𝘢𝘺.” Do you have proof to back that up? Let me add, do you have proof of rampant cheating where it changed the count enough to change the outcome of a major election?

      1. Cheat by mail is where we are. Why don’t we just go back to in person voting? Absentee voting should be for those who absolutely cannot make it to the poll in person. What about the postal truck driver who delivered a truck from NY to a hub in PA the night of the election. He wasn’t even a Republican or Democrat. He said something wasn’t right about the shipment upon receipt. He’s allowed to have suspicions. Or the people who received numerous ballots in the mail. Addresses didn’t match but signatures did. It’s out there. You just have to find it, if you care to. If not, then you might be part of the problem. One LIVING person, one ballot, one vote. In person. That’s it. What’s so wrong with that? Its not a Trump thing OR a Biden thing. But when there is definitely more at stake to not only the integrity of the election, but exactly WHO wants power, EVERYONE should be concerned and demand fair elections.

        1. Janeen, the only thing in your post are suspicions and innuendo. Did the USPS driver say what his suspicions were? If so was he proved to be right? How do you know the driver was not a Democrat or Republican? I have a suspicion as to authenticity of that story.

          How about proof from legitimate places that do not have an axe to grind either way.

          1. HAPPY MONDAY !!!
            ‘not for nutt’n’. I believe that that driver was contract and he was new hire. Picture a trailer load of open metal crates with supposedly nothing but mail ins, bundles in packages.
            I don’t remember the outcome. I don’t remember him getting a book contract nor a hollywood script.
            You know as well as everyone. If the people in D.C. wanted to fix the ‘sustem’, it would have been done a long time ago.
            Meanwhile, there is money to be made at everyone’s expense………….

          2. Tony, thank you for the post. I have looked up information on this and after reading a lot about this I find what the driver said to be very suspicious. I am not saying he is lying but I am saying I do not believe hi, for various reasons.

            I do agree with you, Tony, on the comments you made about not fixing the system and if there were money to be made.

  8. Consider that you win. No, I do not have proof, but there were so many examples of voting irregularities that it just leads me to feel that way. I also do not wish to turn this into a back and forth debate. As I say, consider it a victory for you.

    1. Thank you for your honest answer Bill. I am not looking for wins nor am I looking for a debate.

      I do agree with you about there being voting irregularities. These irregularities were on both sides. I am reasonably sure such irregularities can be found in most, if not all, elections. One would have to naive to believe otherwise.

  9. do not believe for a second that the mail system is reliable. all over the city and suburbs mail is being stolen out of the blue collection boxes every night. granted they are looking for checks but they steal all the mail. they dont leave anything behind. each post office has a key that is unique to their zip code. this is why robberies happen in all different sectons of town. i know the president claims mail in voting is safe and secure. quite the opposite.

    1. It’s a matter of risk assessment. Are drop boxes better?
      Thieves hit mail boxes looking for checks. How would thieves know which mail boxes contain ballots? They know drop boxes contain ballots

  10. HAPPY MONDAY !!!
    boys and girls,
    Think about this for a sec.
    Since the beginnings, there has always been a divide. Rather than congratulate you for getting ahead, some people curse you. etc, etc, etc. Voting has always been that way. Most people vote from the heart, rather than the head. Think about that for a sec. Back in the ’50s, votes were bought. Still. Politicians promise you a job, etc and they have your vote. City employees are promised the moon when ever a politician walks into their break room. The union puts out a letter to TELL you who to support. Most people do as they’re told. Union construction. Your brother could be running for office and he’ll get the vote of all of the family. He may know didly squat about the actual union business but he gets the job. Think about it for a sec.
    So here we are talking about the pros and cons of mail in voting. I’m gonna go out on a limb ( HA ! ) and say that mail in voting is here to stay. My point is this. You know it’s here and we’re stuck with it. Use it as a tool, not as a disadvantage. All through the last two elections, the republican parties had negative words for mail in voting. Question. Who won, who lost the last two elections ? We LOST ! No one stole the elections. Out here in Chester County, the vote keeps swinging dimocrat. Why is that ? Maybe we need a change at the Top and middle and everywhere. The old school bad mouthing and cheap tricks do not win elections. Try attacking the problem. Try running some real candidates that are for the constitution, there, they are for the people. Try ‘getting the word out ‘ !

  11. I agree with Tony Clark mail-in ballots are here to stay. If that’s the case which I believe to be true, let’s make this process a safe & reliable voting system. Mail-in ballots are written ballots that can be hand counted. The election board can add some security placements on individual ballots. Such as a (PIN) Personal identification Number, similar to a ATM card. They can place a specific area for the voter’s thumbprint on the ballot. Prior to the initial issuance and certification for mail-in ballots, the voter must provide valid identification (birth certificate, driver’s license, etc) and appear in person at each County’s Board of Elections. Additionally, the mail-in voter should provide several hand written signatures. These signatures can be compared with each mail in ballot for each election. Mail-in voting is convenient especially for working people and those who live in rural areas that are a distance from the polling location. Each election Board should promote mail in voting. Every Post Office should have a drop off box inside their station. The board of elections should pick up the mail in ballots twice a week, 30 prior to each election. A log of the number of ballots received by the board of elections and the post office station employees overseeing the transfer of ballots should be kept for review. The US, PA and Philadelphia can institute these safeguards to ensure the integrity of our voting system.

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