AP Explains: Reliable Voting Systems, Despite Conspiracies

ATLANTA (AP) — Former President Donald Trump and his allies have launched a relentless campaign of attacks on voting materials since his defeat in the 2020 election. After nearly two years, no evidence emerged that the voting machines were manipulated to steal the election or that there was widespread fraud.

Conspiracy theories are spreading online and in forums across the country nonetheless undermined public confidence in voting machines and election results, while leading some counties consider ditching equipment in favor of hand-marked and counted ballots.

Elections were held across the country this year during a busy primary season. Although programming errors sometimes occur and equipment may malfunction, no major problems have been reported. Voting equipment is tested before and after to identify any issues, while post-election audits confirm it has worked properly.

The Associated Press explains how we got here, efforts to increase voting security, and the fallout from misrepresentations surrounding the 2020 presidential election.


The types of voting equipment used in the United States vary by location. For in-person voting, most people fill out ballots by hand, and those ballots are inserted into an electronic tabulator. In many cases, this happens at the polling place. Elsewhere, ballots are collected in a secure box, with rules governing chain of custody, and taken to an election office for electronic counting.

In some places, a specialized computer is used by voters to mark their ballot electronically. These ballots are printed, reviewed by the voter for accuracy, and then inserted into a tabulator at their polling place. A trial in Georgia challenges the use of these “ballot marking” machines because they use bar codes to record votes.

Mailed-in ballots are also counted by tabulators at a local election office. A small number of jurisdictions, mostly small towns in New England, do not use tabulators and count their ballots by hand.


After the chaos of the “suspended chad” from the 2000 election, Congress provided money for upgrading the voting system. Many jurisdictions have moved to electronic voting machines to replace their punch card voting systems. But these machines did not produce a paper file; instead, all votes were cast and recorded electronically.

For years, election security experts have raised concerns about these “direct registration” machines and the possibility of someone tampering with them. A safer method, they say, is a system that uses paper ballots and electronic tabulation with post-election reviews and tests to ensure the machines accurately record voters’ choices.

Over the past decade, state and local governments have begun replacing their paperless machines, a process that accelerated after the 2016 election and revelations that Russia had scanned American voting systems. looking for vulnerabilities. Today, paperless machines are used only in Louisiana and a small number of jurisdictions in Indiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, Tennessee and Texas, according to Verified Voting, a group that tracks voting technology in the United States.


In the weeks following the 2020 election, Trump and his allies made many unsubstantiated claims on voting machines, including that their software was created in foreign countries and designed to reverse votes for desired candidates: “With the turn of a dial or the change of a chip, you can press a button for Trump and it goes to Biden,” Trump said in a Dec. 2 speech.

These claims have largely focused on Dominion Voting Systems, one of the few companies that dominates the US voting technology market. In response, Dominion filed libel suits against conservative media companies and Trump attorneys Sidney Powell and Rudy Giulianiclaiming that “lies and misinformation have severely damaged our business and diminished the credibility of the US election”.

But rather than dissipate, conspiracies around voting machines have only grown. Trump allies have scoured the country speaking at conferences and with community groups, armed with algorithms and charts claiming to show the machines have been rigged in some way.

Election technology expert Kevin Skoglund said part of the challenge is that voting systems are complex. It is understandable that some people are convinced that something bad has happened when it has not.

“If you’re a non-technical person, if someone tells you machines are fooling you, you might believe them because you don’t understand how systems work,” Skoglund said.


Any device managed by software – a cell phone, laptop or voting system – is vulnerable to hacking. This is why election experts have been pushing for the replacement of paperless voting machines.

Experts say the United States has taken steps to improve election security in recent years. This includes the designation of US voting systems in 2017 as “critical infrastructure” – on par with the country’s banks, dams and nuclear power plants.

Congress sent nearly $900 million in election security funding to states, which was used to replace outdated voting systems, hire cybersecurity personnel, and bolster cybersecurity defenses.

“There is no such thing as an invulnerable system,” said Larry Norden, election security expert at the Brennan Center for Justice. “That doesn’t mean we can’t do better. We should always be looking for how we can do better, but you can’t eliminate the risks. »


The false allegations have not only undermined public confidence in the elections. They have also led to security breaches in select local election offices in Colorado, Georgia and Michigan.

Shortly after the 2020 election, Trump allies caught a programming error in a Michigan county and, through the courts, gained legal access to its voting system. But a copy of the county’s election management system was made available at an August 2021 event hosted by Trump ally, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, according to attendees.

A copy of the system used in Mesa County, Colorado was also released at this event. Details recently surfaced of another alleged offense – in Coffee County, Georgia in January 2021 as Trump allies sought ways to overturn the presidential election result. And Michigan authorities are investigating after voting materials in a handful of counties were made accessible to unauthorized persons.

These developments have raised concerns that rogue election workers Conspiracy theorists could use their access to election materials and knowledge to launch an attack from within. An election agent in Michigan was recently charged with inserting a personal USB key into an electronic register during the state primary, while authorities in Colorado are investigating a case in which a voter is suspected of tampering with a voting machine earlier this year.

Jen Easterly, director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, told reporters Monday that election security threats have never been more complex – citing misinformationinsider threats and harassment of election workers.


Following the 2020 presidential election, a coalition of federal cybersecurity and election officials, along with state election officials and representatives from voting machine companies, released a statement calling it “the most secure in the world.” ‘American history’.

The group said there was “no evidence that any voting system has removed or lost votes, altered votes, or been compromised in any way.”

This is largely due to the availability of paper documents for approximately 93% of all votes cast and a system of post-election checks to test the accuracy of electronic tabulators. In Georgia, the presidential vote was counted three times — once entirely by hand — and each count confirmed President Joe Biden’s victory in the state.

“It doesn’t matter what’s going on in the machine,” said Norden, of the Brennan Center. “We have a piece of paper that tells us if the votes were recorded accurately.”


Frank Bajak, technical writer at Associated Press in Lima, Peru, contributed to this report.


Follow AP for full midterm election coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ap_politics

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