Tuesday marked another secure election for Louisiana, but officials say the state’s outdated voting machines are on borrowed time.
Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin reported no irregularities or complaints of voter fraud as more than 1.38 million people voted in the 2022 election.
Election day was not without surprises. Some of the Secretary of State’s online tools were unavailable to voters for a few hours Tuesday morning due to increased traffic. Authorities had to move a polling station in Kenner after a bomb threat, later found to be unfounded and unrelated to the election, was made.
However, reports from Louisiana and across the country indicate that Election Day was held securely, as it was in 2020 despite false allegations of widespread voter fraud by former President Donald Trump. and its most ardent supporters.
In an interview Tuesday evening, Louisiana Secretary of State spokesman John Tobler said Louisiana’s voting systems and procedures have a number of redundancies and security measures that make attempts to hacking and fraud difficult to succeed.
How current machines work
Louisiana’s voting machines date from 2006. Unlike newer machines, they do not connect to the Internet or have USB ports that would connect to devices such as smartphones or tablets. Each machine uses two computer memory cards to store voting data. All unused ports are sealed to prevent tampering.
Before voters arrive on polling day, poll workers set up each machine and print a “zero receipt” to verify that no votes have yet been cast for the election. Each machine also has a protection number, a record of all votes cast in previous elections on that machine during its lifetime.
Comparing a voting machine to a car, Tobler said the protection number is like the permanent odometer and the zero receipt is the daily odometer. Protection numbers serve as a check against the votes the Secretary of State recorded for previous elections. Workers post each machine’s zero receipt for the public to see at the polling place throughout the day.
At the close of voting, poll workers print a second set of receipts from machines showing the total number of ballots cast. They are also displayed for the public at the end of the election.
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Both memory cards in each machine contain exact copies of the voting data. Poll workers keep a card with the machine and its receipts. They place the second card in a sealed bag, which the workers carry to the ward clerk.
The clerk plugs the cards into a secure laptop connected to a network controlled by the secretary of state’s office that is “isolated,” meaning it is physically isolated from the public internet. The clerk uploads the voting data to this network.
The Secretary of State then posts a separate copy of the unofficial results on his public website.
After an election, Ardoin’s office collects voting machines and memory cards left with them, then checks this data against unofficial statements.
Current system vulnerable
Because Louisiana’s outdated voting system is offline, it has eliminated much of the risk of online hacking, though no system is 100% secure, Tobler said.
The most imminent risks to the system are related to errors and maintenance, he said. Replacement parts can be hard to come by, and other states have long since decertified the types of machines Louisiana still uses.
Dan Wallach, a computer science professor at Rice University whose research focuses on electronic voting system security, said the types of machines Louisiana uses tend to have more voting errors. Touchscreens sometimes don’t respond or respond in a way the voter didn’t intend, which is a problem in elections that are very close and the margin of victory comes down to a handful of votes , did he declare.
Wallach testified on such a matter in an election-related lawsuit that ultimately prompted Florida to decertify the same machine models in 2008.
Although not connected to the Internet, the Louisiana machines still have a number of security vulnerabilities that bad actors could exploit if they had physical access to them, Wallach said. Such an attack would likely involve malware and come from an insider threat, either at a polling place or in a warehouse where the machines are stored.
Although Louisiana’s voting machines do not connect to each other, a single memory card could spread malicious code to other machines if all memory cards are read by a common shared device such as a laptop computer. secured at the clerk’s office, Wallach said.
However, Wallach pointed out that there had been no reports of such an attack ever occurring in Louisiana or anywhere else in the United States.
“There is no evidence that any of these machines were ever hacked,” Wallach said. “As far as we know, in the wild there has never been this class of security attack.”
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Although there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud affecting US elections, there have been a few instances of voter deception. The Secretary of State’s spokesman, John Tobler, said the few cases he knows of in Louisiana generally involved vote buying or false voter registration.
In July, federal authorities reached a plea deal with former Amite Town Police Chief Jerry Trabona and current Amite Councilman Kristian Hart in a vote buying case. They pleaded guilty to conspiring to pay voters in the 2016 and 2020 elections.
The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, has documented several cases of people arrested for electoral fraud, mainly for local elections, although some occurred during the 2020 presidential election.
A Connecticut Democrat has been found guilty of 14 counts of forgery after submitting forged mail-in ballots for a local election.
Last year, Nevada resident Kirk Hartle claimed someone voted on behalf of his late wife. Republicans initially cited the case as evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election until Hartle, a registered Republican, pleaded guilty to committing the fraud himself.
A similar case occurred in Pennsylvania, where a man pleaded guilty to throwing a fraudulent ballot for Trump in the name of his deceased mother. According to Philadelphia plaintiffthe man said he had “listened to too much propaganda and made a stupid mistake”.
Neither Tobler nor Dan Wallach, an election systems expert, said they were unaware of any cases of voter fraud involving sophisticated hacking measures that would affect large numbers of ballots.
Status of substitutes
Since Ardoin took office in 2018, he has been trying to buy new voting machines but continues to face various obstacles, some political, some self-inflicted.
A contract to buy new machines four years ago was scrapped after suppliers complained the auctions were rigged. Another sourcing attempt was stalled last year when conspiracy theorists launched a campaign to eliminate current provider Dominion Voting Systems from the competition.
These bogus 2020 fraud allegations led the Republican-dominated Louisiana Legislature to create a new commission last year to assess options for the voting system. Ardoin, a Republican, has adamantly defended the legitimacy and accuracy of Louisiana’s election results, but at the same time embraced those who criticize his work.
He chaired the Voting Systems Commission and allowed widely discredited conspiracy theorists to testify. One of the guests, prominent election denier and TV pillow salesman Mike Lindell, was granted special speaking privileges normally reserved for expert testimony.
The commission ultimately decided that Louisiana should use a machine-marked paper voting system or hand-marked paper ballots with automatic scanners.
It could be months or years before the state gets a new system.
Legislative committees have yet to develop standards for the system, and the secretary of state will then have to issue a request for proposals from suppliers, Tobler said, adding that there is no timeline for the purchase of a new system.
Even after the state selects a winning bidder, the process is far from over. Public hearings must be held and losing bidders can challenge the decision or take legal action to overturn it.
“It’s time for Louisiana to retire those old machines,” Wallach said. “They’re just old. Old computers break.