To Protect Voting, Use Open-Source Software

R. James Woolsey and Brian J. Fox | The New York Times | August 3, 2017

Although Russian hackers are reported to have tried to disrupt the November election with attacks on the voting systems of 39 states, the consensus of the intelligence community is that they were probably unsuccessful in their efforts to delete and alter voter data. But another national election is just 15 months away, and the risk that those working on behalf of President Vladimir Putin of Russia could do real damage — and even manage to mark your ballot for you or altering your vote — remains.

Since the debacle of the 2000 election (remember hanging chads?) American election machinery has been improved to reduce the chances of mis-tallying votes, outright fraud and attacks by hackers. These improvements brought with them a new concern: lack of software security. Most voting machines’ software can now be easily hacked. This is in large part because the current voting systems use proprietary software based on Microsoft’s operating system.

One post-2000 change — a useful one — was to move away from all-electronic touch-screen balloting, with no paper record indicating how someone voted. Nearly half of voters are registered in jurisdictions that use optical-scan systems that read marked paper ballots and tally the results. But one-quarter of voters still use direct-recording electronic voting machines, which produce no paper trail. At polling places where voting machines don’t provide this backup record, there’s no way for election officials to run an effective recount if the electronics are hacked...