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  1. Opinion

We must act to protect our elections | Paula Dockery

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times Employees at the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections office feed test ballots into the DS200 Tabulator which reads the ballots during a logic and accuracy test in 2018.
Published Jul. 5

We know from the Mueller Report that Russia interfered in our 2016 election and that those efforts continue today. We also know that attempts were made in at least two Florida counties to breach their voter rolls.

Before this, officials in Florida had denied that breaches had occurred. We're told by those briefed by the FBI the attempts to hack were unsuccessful and no votes or vote tallies were changed.

But is that true? Is that really what the FBI said?

Clearly, they don't want citizens to lose faith in the integrity of our elections. But there are problems, and we're not getting straight answers. Those who were briefed signed nondisclosure forms to keep that information from us.

What the hell is going on here? I don't want to be an alarmist, but I'm skeptical about past elections and about the upcoming election in 2020.

We know Russia has an interest in sowing chaos and dissension in our country. I suspect it is not alone.

They hacked into systems to steal data and worked through the Internet — especially on social media — to influence and misinform during the 2016 campaign. But what about the election itself? Were votes changed or deleted? Were tallies adjusted?

We're told no, but what evidence have we been given to assure us of that? What's really been done since the 2016 elections to make our voting more secure? The answer: Almost nothing. Why, when we know we were under attack?

To add to my mistrust, a review of experts reporting on our elections shows some troubling flaws with the systems themselves. It doesn't take an outside actor like Russia or China to hack our systems.

Jennifer Cohn, an election advocate, says that just two vendors supply 80 percent of U.S. election equipment: Elections Systems & Software and Dominion Voting.

Hart Intercivic provides another 11 percent of the voting equipment. Its e-slate machines were reported to flip early votes in the Texas U.S. Senate race between Beto O'Rourke and Ted Cruz.

This flipping on touchscreen voting machines was earlier reported in 2011 in Venango County, Pa. Experts concluded that the problem with the ES&S machines was likely a calibration error. Because these were touchscreen systems without paper ballots, it's nearly impossible to determine if it affected the outcome.

These vendors provide three main types of equipment: optical or digital scanners of hand-marked paper ballots, direct record electronic and ballot-marking devices. Experts believe all this equipment can be hacked through the Internet.

According to Cohn, "If an election management system is infected with malware, the malware can spread from that system to the memory cards and USB sticks, which then would transfer it to all voting machines, scanners, and ballot-marking devices in the county."

Hackers at the annual Defcon conference tried to hack the websites responsible for election information. An 11-year-old was successful!

Voting machine maker ES&S said it would no longer sell paperless voting machines "as the primary device" for each election jurisdiction and that voting machines must have physical paper records of votes.

But all paper records are not the same. The only paper records that can reliably be verified are hand-marked paper ballots. Paper generated by the computer can be manipulated.

Experts are alarmed by something else they found while examining the machines used to tally election results: Remote-access software had been installed.

According to investigative journalist Kim Zetter, remote-access software allows administrators to access and control computers over the Internet or an organization's internal network, making it vulnerable to hackers.

Even though we know these vulnerabilities exist, incredibly many states have replaced their aging machines with the barcoded ballot-marking devices and scanners instead of the more secure hand-marked paper ballots and scanners.

Florida is considering doing the same. We should stop that from happening.

While little is being done to address election security by the Trump administration, the U.S. House just passed the SAFE Act. That legislation would require ES&S to disclose jurisdictions where it installed remote-access software and require the option to allow voters to use unhackable, hand-marked paper ballots.

If Florida voters care about the security of our elections, we should insist that our Legislature and our county officials switch to hand-marked paper ballots, and we should call U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott to demand that the Senate pass the SAFE Act.

Paula Dockery is a syndicated columnist who served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland. She is now a registered NPA. PBDockery@gmail.com.

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