Our Analog Future: Election Hacking puts Paper Ballots back in Vogue

Virginia is reverting from electronic to paper ballots while Rhode Island’s legislature this week passed a law to mandate audits comparing paper and electronic voting records.

One of the natural responses to an increasingly digital world is to fall back to non-digital and electronic alternatives to digital technologies that we’ve become too dependent on. This blog has actually written about this quite a bit. For example, in May we wrote about a MITRE report urging the US to maintain both copper  telecommunications lines and pneumatic systems for operating things like water distribution networks.

That was before the 2016 Presidential election, when the FBI documented as many as 39 states that had their election systems scanned or targeted by Russia. Now election security is the latest arena where faith in digital technologies like DRE (Direct Recording Electronic) voting machines is plummeting. The August DEFCON hacking conference in Las Vegas, which featured a full-fledged Voting Village populated with common (and insecure) voting hardware, allowing some of the world’s best hackers to try their hand at manipulating vote tabulation. Needless to say, the results weren’t encouraging.

Paper Ballot being deposited.
Rhode Island and Virginia are the latest states to strengthen the role of paper ballots in voting, following reports of hacking during the 2016 Presidential Election.

States and municipalities are beginning to take actions to address the risks. Virginia is just the latest. That state announced earlier this month that said it would revert to paper-based voting. And, earlier this week, Rhode Island’s legislature passed a law mandating audits that compare electronic voting records be audited next to paper ballots. That bill, which is expected to be signed, will phase in “risk-limiting” audits after each election that will allow officials to compare the paper ballots filled out by voters with vote totals reported on Election Night.

Additionally, a Georgia lawsuit is trying to force that state to use paper ballots, citing demonstrated insecurity in electronic voting systems.

The use of analog systems in place of corruptible digital alternatives is getting interest from the US Department of Defense as well.  It devoted some $36 million to a program called LADS – Leveraging the Analog Domain for Security. That program, run through DARPA, is tasked with developing “enhanced cyber defense through analysis of involuntary analog emissions,” including things like “electromagnetic emissions, acoustic emanations, power fluctuations and thermal output variations.”

Source: Paper ballots are back in vogue thanks to Russian hacking fears and Rhode Island adopts risk-limiting election audits.

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