DHS Confirms That Optical Scan Vote-Counting Machines Easily Hacked by Russians or Otherwise

Updated on June 28, 2017
Jeh Johnson, Director of the Department of Homeland Security
Jeh Johnson, Director of the Department of Homeland Security

In testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, the head of the Department of Homeland Security confirmed what citizen election integrity activists have been saying for many years, that the type of optical scan vote-counting machine in use across much of the country can be hacked, and vote totals can be changed in ways which, absent manual counts of the paper ballots, cannot be detected.

The testimony flies in the face of insistence in the major media, over the course of the 2016 presidential campaign season, that it would be nearly impossible to swing a US primary or general election by hacking. The progressive magazine The Nation called allegations of vote flipping "crying wolf about rigged elections."

Optical scan vote-counting machines count votes on a paper ballot my means of an electronic eye, without a human ever viewing the ballot.

The Washington Post said in a report on testimony by Jeh Johnson, Director of the DHS and an Obama appointee:

"Much of the conversation around Russian interference in the 2016 election has centered on two core topics: the Trump campaign's possible collusion with Russian officials, and whether Russia was actually able to change vote tallies by hacking into state election databases or voting machines."

The testimony affirms the validity of the movement of most industrial democracies away from machine-counting ballots, to counting them by hand. The manual counting of ballots is the standard in 54 countries, including Germany, Canada, France, Ireland, Italy, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Russia, Sweden, and Spain. In UK most ballots are also counted by hand.

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Election integrity activists such as Bev Harris, a pioneer in the movement and founder of BlackBoxVoting.org, have long maintained that the most hack proof voting system is the hand counting of paper ballots, which is in use in only a relatively small number of US jurisdictions. In nations employing the manual counting of ballots, counting commences immediately after polls close by a new shift of polling station workers, in public.

Results are usually not complete until the early hours of the following morning, but are rarely challenged.

The latest country to switch back to all manual counting of paper ballots is the Netherlands, this year, partly as a result of the American 2016 elections.

In a comment to an article "Let’s All Drive Putin Crazy, and Vote With Hand-Marked Paper Ballots, Counted by Hand in Public!" published in NakedCapitalism.com, Harris states:

"Hand counted paper ballots are counted immediately after an election and results are knowable the same night. It is the cheapest, fastest, most accurate evidence which we should adopt now, though we still need to address Registration Voter Rolls being purged, long lines, etc."

The DHS testimony took place in response to allegations in the US intelligence community that the Russian government had an interest in and took steps to sway the US presidential election, mostly by hacking embarrassing emails from the DNC and Clinton campaign manager John Podesta, the latter of whom has become the center of an affair called "Pizzagate."

Typical optical scan vote-counting machine
Typical optical scan vote-counting machine

The recipient and publisher of both sets of emails, the DNC's and Podesta's, was Wikileaks. With respect to allegations that the Russian government was behind the leaks, the founder of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, has multiple times denied that the Russians were his source, and hinted that the emails were leaked by domestic players.

Suspicions were aroused that the leaker was slain DNC database guru Seth Rich, when Wikileaks posted an unprecedented $20,000 reward for information leading to Rich's killer or killers. Rich was murdered last summer in Washington, DC, just before the Democratic Convention.

The DHS has said that Russian hackers had probed 21 states' election systems, but that to its knowledge no changes to vote totals had been made. The DHS nevertheless made clear that such hacking was eminently within the realm of possibility.

In a parallel hearing in the Senate Intelligence Committee on the same day, Alex Halderman, professor of computer science at the University of Michigan, testified:

"My conclusion from that work is that our highly computerized election infrastructure is vulnerable to sabotage, and even to cyberattacks that could change votes...I know America's voting machines are vulnerable because my colleagues and I have hacked them."

Laws governing elections fall to the state houses in America with the exception of some anti-discrimination laws. Election integrity activists continue to call on state houses and the US Congress to bring US in line with election standards around the world, mandating the use of manually counted paper ballots in all elections.

The ease of hacking vote counts on optical scan vote-counting machines was graphically demonstrated in the award-winning HBO documentary "Hacking Democracy." (clip below.)

ALSO READ: U.S. Election Officials Fight to Keep True Vote Totals Secret

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