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Ensuring the Sanctity of the Vote: Electronic Voting Forensics

Before the days of electronic voting, people had to fight for their right to vote at all.

Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves — and the only way they could do this is by not voting. – Franklin D. Roosevelt, The Wit and Wisdom of Franklin D. Roosevelt

Even with electronic voting, physical stickers are still just as satisfying.

Even with electronic voting, physical stickers are still just as satisfying.

In FDR’s time (1882-1945, presidency 1933-1945) it could certainly be argued that the only way the American people could be deprived of the vote was by not voting. By August of 1920, the black suffrage and women’s suffrage movements had finally resulted in the hard-won constitutional right for all citizens over 21 to vote with the ratification of the 19th Amendment. In 1971, the 26th Amendment reduced the voting age to 18.

These days however, rumors of vote rigging and fears about hacked voting machines are the fodder of daily headlines and 24-hour news cycles. And unfortunately, many of those headlines are delivered with a biased political agenda.

What the average American citizen wants is pretty simple. We want assurance that when we cast our ballots that they will be counted, and counted accurately. This is a basic tenet of democracy.

In Wisconsin, this topic is a hot one, but it’s certainly not new. Controversies over the Voter ID law, allegations of voter fraud, election place mismanagement, and vote recounts have grabbed our attention through the past several election cycles. Voluntarily choosing not to vote is one thing, but the idea of elections stolen or manipulated by compromise of voting equipment? That’s much more nefarious, and threatens the foundations of our democracy.

As a digital forensic examiner, the security (and insecurity) of electronic voting machines is an area of great interest. I’ve followed the conspiracy theories and Wikileaks rumors about Smartmatic voting machines, and their alleged use in Wisconsin. (Incidentally, Smartmatic says their machines won’t be used in any US voting place for the 2016 presidential election.  The Wisconsin Elections Commission’s website confirms they won’t be used in Wisconsin.) I’ve watched the testimony to Congress and to the House Science, Space, and Technology committee about voting machine cyber security. And, I’ve looked at valid concerns over aging voting equipment and the potential for malfunctions in registering votes. There’s a lot of information and a lot of misinformation out there!

What about Wisconsin electronic voting machines?

Before the days of electronic voting, people had to fight for their right to vote at all.

Before electronic voting became common, people had to fight for their right to vote at all, including these protesters in support of changing the legal voting age to 18. This became law with the ratification of the 26th Amendment in 1971.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the State of Wisconsin Elections Commission posts a full listing of current voting equipment used by Wisconsin municipalities. More importantly, the site lays out the security protocols used to ensure the integrity of Wisconsin elections. Wisconsin municipalities use a number of different brands of voting machines and optical scan tabulators that all undergo testing. Security protocols used by Wisconsin include initial logic and accuracy testing of the programming of voting systems, public testing, post public testing, and election day security measures designed to protect voting equipment and all associated memory devices. Random post-election audits are conducted, comparing electronic tallies to paper ballots. But is all of this enough?

Unfortunately, there is no such thing as perfect security. Wisconsin is among several states where the vote count is likely to be hair-thin this year. LitForce, LLC reached out to Gillware Digital Forensics this week to partner up and assist in the event voting irregularities or disputes crop up related to electronic voting. We’ll be on hand to provide expertise and consultation related to the forensically sound handling of Electronically Stored Information, data integrity, and chain-of custody if needed.

So get out there and vote! Because it’s your right as a citizen. If necessary, we’ll be there after the fact to help be sure your vote gets counted correctly.

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