2016 Election in the Hands of Outdated Electronic Voting Machines With No Paper Trail

by Vins

In the 2016 election, about 80 percent of the US national vote will take place on outdated electronic voting machines that rely on proprietary software from private corporations, according to a September 2015 study by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. For voters, this means that their votes have no paper trail and there is no verifiable ways to make sure votes are counted accurately.

Some of the more known issues with these machines are the risk of failures and crashes that lead to long lines and lost votes on Election Day. As the systems age, the commercially produced parts that support the machines, like memory storage devices, printer ribbons, and modems for transmitting election results, go out of production. Several election officials told the NYU researchers that they have had to use eBay to find the parts.

The larger issue present in the upcoming election is the security flaws in old voting machines. Jeremy Epstein of the National Science Foundation notes that “from a security perspective, old software is riskier, because new methods of attack are constantly being developed, and older software is likely to be vulnerable”.

Virginia recently decertified an electronic voting system used in 24 of their precincts after finding that an external party could access the machine’s wireless features to record voting data or inject malicious data. Investigators found that wireless cards on the voting systems could allow an external party to access the machine and modify the data on the machine without notice from a nearby location. In some of these cases, the password for the data was as simple as “admin” or “1234”. The investigation also investigated the AccuVote TSX machine, which is used in over 20 states. In 2014, voters in Virginia Beach observed that when they selected one candidate, the machine would register their selection for a different candidate because of an “alignment problem”.

The 2016 election has the potential to be “stolen”, as many claim the 2004 election was. After the 2004 election, many independent news sources covered the issues with the voting process that was used, and how not everything added up. In his book “Fooled Again”, Mark Crispin Miller highlights the fact that Bush had won 11.5 million more votes than he had received four years before, despite drastically dropping approval ratings. Exit polls that afternoon indicated that John Kerry would decisively win the election. Voters across the country reported irregularities in the voting process, including hundreds of voters who reported pressing Kerry, but the machine recording it as Bush. In Ohio there was evidence that a company called Triad, which manufactures all of the tabulators, was systematically going around Ohio and subverting the recount, which was court ordered and in fact did not take place, despite Republicans insisting that it did. In Miami County of Florida, another key state, an extra 13 or 19 thousand votes were mysteriously added after 100% precincts had reported.

The future of America is in the programming of these electronic voting machines and voting operations with no paper trail. The only plausible solution for accountability would be to turn to universal, hand counted paper ballots. Until then, America is at the mercy of these machines and unverifiable voting practices that only leave error for fraud and shady political practices.


Norden, Lawrence, and Christopher Famighetti. “America’s Voting Machines at Risk.” Brennan Center for Justice (New York University School of Law), September 15, 2015, https://www.brennancenter.org/publication/americas-voting-machines-risk.

“Could the 2016 Election Be Stolen with Help from Electronic Voting Machines?”Democracy Now!, February 23, 2016, http://www.democracynow.org/2016/2/23/could_the_2016_election_be_stolen.

Additional Background Sources:

Freeman, Steven F., and Joel Bleifuss. Was the 2004 Presidential Election Stolen?: Exit Polls, Election Fraud, and the Official Count. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2006.

Miller, Mark Crispin. Fooled Again: How the Right Stole the 2004 Election & Why They’ll Steal the next One Too (unless We Stop Them). New York: Basic Books, 2005

Student Researcher: Amanda Woodward (University of Vermont)

Faculty Evaluator: Rob Williams (University of Vermont)