Professor Andrew Appel of Princeton University spoke to Congress about how electronic voting machines can be easily hacked to manipulate vote counts.
Mr. Appel stated in a testimony, “I don’t represent my employer [Princeton]. I’m here to give my own professional opinions as a scientist, but also as an American citizen who cares deeply about protecting our democracy. My research is in software verification, computer security, technology policy, and election machinery. As I will explain, I strongly recommend that, at a minimum, the Congress seek to ensure the elimination of direct recording electronic voting machines, sometimes called touch screen machines.”
The professor continued, “Installing new software in a voting machine is not really much different from installing new software in any other kind of computer. Installing new software is how you hack a voting machine to cheat. In 2009, in the courtroom of the Superior Court of New Jersey, I demonstrated how to hack a voting machine. I wrote a vote-stealing computer program that shifts votes from one candidate to another. Installing a vote-stealing program and a voting machine takes seven minutes per machine with a screwdriver. I did this in a secure facility and I’m confident my program has not leaked out to affect real elections.”
Mr. Appel also said, “But really, the software I built was not rocket science, any computer programmer could write the same code. Once it’s installed, it could steal elections without detection for years to come. Voting machines are often delivered to polling places several days before the election to elementary schools, churches, firehouses. In these locations, anyone could gain access to a voting machine for 10 minutes. Between elections, the machines are routinely opened up for maintenance by county employees or private contractors. Let’s assume they have the utmost integrity. But still, in the U.S., we try to run our elections so that we can trust the election results without relying on any one individual. Other computer scientists have demonstrated similar hacks on many models of machine. This is not just one glitch in one manufacturer’s machine. It’s the very nature of computers. So how can we trust our elections when it’s so easy to make the computers cheat? 40 states already know the answer. Vote on optical scan paper ballots.”
Professor Appel urged election officials to opt for a system that uses backup paper ballots to verify machine counted votes.
He also opposed connecting voting machines to the internet which exposes machines to foreign and domestic hacking.
Professor Appel’s solution, “So what must we do? In the near term, we must not connect the voting machines to the Internet. The same goes for those computers used to prepare the electronic ballot definition files before each election that are used to program the voting machines. That is, we must not connect the voting machines, even indirectly, to the Internet. Many able and competent election administrators already follow this best practice. I hope that all nine or ten thousand counties and states that run elections follow this practice and other security best practices, but it’s hard to tell whether they do consistently. So what we must do as soon as possible after November is to adopt a nationwide, what 40 states have already done, paper ballots marked by the voter, countable by computer, but recountable by hand.”
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