Ahead of Election Day this Tuesday, November 5th, John Oliver explored the myriad ways our voting machines remain vulnerable to tampering.
Most public-facing election officials will argue that none of the machines used are hackable, with one Pennsylvania official claiming they could set up a machine in the middle of Red Square in Moscow and the Russians still couldn’t hack it. Oliver, in turn, cracked, “Well don’t do that! Because of course they can hack into it — they’re Russians! There are precisely three things that they are good at: Hacking, hockey and writing books so sad they make you want to drink a potato.”
As Oliver detailed, the current issues facing voting machines date back to the 2000 election. After the recount fiasco caused by punch-card ballots and hanging chads, Congress passed a bill allocating $3.9 billion to update machines across the U.S. The only problem was, many of those machines were never properly vetted and tested, and many remain in use today.
Oliver pointed out that not only are aging machines likely to not function properly on their own — the glue on some touch screens can degrade and slip, causing the machine to register votes incorrectly — but they’re highly susceptible to tampering. Oliver offered various examples of how easy it is to physically hack a voting machine (it can take only a few minutes, and many are often left unattended when not in use), and how flimsy the claims are that most machines are never connected to the Internet.
“So, some machines that officials insist don’t connect to the Internet, actually do connect to the Internet,” Oliver said. “And even some machines that don’t connect directly to the Internet are programmed with cards that have themselves been programmed on computers that connect to the Internet. So your voting machine isn’t connected to the Internet the same way your Alexa isn’t recording everything you say and sending it directly to Jeff Bezos.”
One of the best ways to counter such tampering, Oliver said, is to use machines that also require a paper ballot, which can then be randomly audited after an election and compared to the digital results. However, many states still use paperless machines, and an estimated 16 million voters spread across numerous states will use them again in 2020. Oliver pointed out that the solution to this problem is so obvious, he even had a clip of President Donald Trump explaining why it’s important to have backup paper ballots.
“He’s right, that’s it,” Oliver said. “He’s just all the way, completely right. It is called paper, paper is not a computer, it’s paper, and a lot of states are doing it. Now, I’m sure everything he said around those 16 seconds was some combination of wrong, racist and horny, but for a brief, glorious moment he was just absolutely right and probably slightly horny.”