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After Chaos In Iowa, How Secure Are Our Elections?

Precinct captain Carl Voss holds his iPhone that shows the Iowa Democratic Party's caucus reporting app Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa. (Charlie Neibergall/AP Photo)
Precinct captain Carl Voss holds his iPhone that shows the Iowa Democratic Party's caucus reporting app Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa. (Charlie Neibergall/AP Photo)

A digital fail severely delays the Iowa Democratic caucus results. Is it time to completely rethink electronic voting of all kinds in American elections?


Jessica Huseman, lead reporter for ProPublica’s “Electionland” project, which helps newsrooms across the country cover ballot access issues. (@JessicaHuseman)

Alex Halderman, professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Michigan. Director of the University of Michigan’s Center for Computer Security and Society. (@jhalderm)

Anthony Brooks, WBUR senior political reporter. (@anthonygbrooks)

Megan Messerly, political reporter for the Nevada Independent. (@meganmesserly)

From The Reading List

ProPublica: “Iowa’s Lesson: Political Parties Are Not as Good as Government Officials at Counting Votes” — “Here’s the takeaway from the Iowa fiasco: Beware of caucuses run by political parties. But don’t panic about the integrity of most primaries and the general election, which are run by state and county election administrators.

“As Tuesday morning wore on without results from Iowa’s Democratic caucuses, the long-awaited first test of the strength of President Donald Trump’s would-be challengers, both public officials and enraged commentators stoked fears that Iowa was a harbinger of chaos for the rest of the 2020 campaign. Some said it raises alarms about the broader condition of election security and the reliability of computer systems that record, tally and publish the votes. Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale even suggested on Twitter Monday, without evidence, that the process was ‘rigged.’

“But there’s a marked difference between the Iowa caucuses and the upcoming primaries in New Hampshire and South Carolina, as well as the 14 state primaries on Super Tuesday. The Iowa Democratic Party ran the caucuses, much as its counterparts in Nevada, Wyoming and several territories will do in the next few months. Party officials have less training and experience in administering the vote than do state and local election administrators who oversee most of the primaries.”

The New Yorker: “The Iowa Caucuses And The Menace Of Untested, Privately Owned Election Technology” — “As the Iowa Democratic Party scrambled to sort out winners and losers from Monday’s comic caucuses, the real victor could be the American people, who got to witness, in real time, the menace of relying on untested, privately owned election technology. It’s not that we haven’t seen problematic election technology before. In 2016, fourteen states voted using electronic devices that did not provide a record of voter intent; seven will still be using those machines in 2020.

“Many states have voting systems that offer election officials—and therefore hackers—remote access, and a significant number of systems are connected to the Internet and vulnerable in other ways. The Iowa caucuses always capture the attention of the entire country, but this year the focus is not just on the delegate counts but on a defective mobile app, which was supposed to streamline the reporting of the results, and on Shadow, the little-known, for-profit company that built it.”

Politico: “America faces a voting security crisis in 2020. Here’s why — and what officials can do about it” — “Paperless voting machines are just waiting to be hacked in 2020. And ‘upgrading’ to paper-based voting machines may sound like an oxymoron, but it’s something cybersecurity experts are urging election officials across the country to do. A POLITICO survey found that in 2018, — and almost half of the counties that responded to the survey said they don’t plan on changing that ahead of 2020. Security experts said paperless voting machines are vulnerable to hacking because they leave no paper trail and there’s no way to reliably audit the results when an error occurs.

“Thousands of Redditors joined us as cybersecurity reporter Eric Geller and voting security expert and University of Michigan professor J. Alex Halderman . We chatted about voting methods in various countries from the U.S. to how much the transition to paper ballots would cost, and even ‘Star Wars.'”

NPR: “What We Know About The App That Delayed Iowa’s Caucus Results” — “Iowa’s Democrats had hoped that a new smartphone app designed to collect the results of its caucuses would let the party get the count out to the public more quickly.

“But as of Tuesday afternoon, the state’s Democratic Party was still struggling to report the outcome of Monday night’s caucuses, blaming the delay on problems with that app. Finally, shortly after 5 p.m., the party began releasing results.

“Shortly before releasing the results, Iowa Democratic Party chair Troy Price said Monday night’s reporting mishap was ‘unacceptable’ and offered an apology. He reiterated that his priority is the ‘accuracy and integrity’ of the results.

“DNC Chairman Tom Perez said in a statement Tuesday evening that the issue ‘should never happen again.’ He said the app would not be used during the primary election process and that the vendor ‘must provide absolute transparent accounting of what went wrong.’

“Shadow Inc., the company that developed the app for the party, apologized for the delay in a series of tweets Tuesday afternoon.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.