THE DEMOCRATS aren’t going to steal your vote for Donald Trump, and the Russians aren’t going to steal your vote for Hillary Clinton, because South Carolina’s voting machines aren’t susceptible to the cyberattacks that too many people seem convinced are inevitable.
It is theoretically possible that someone could delay your ability to cast a ballot in the first place, but state election officials want you to know that they’re focused on preventing that.
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“We’re taking really extraordinary steps to protect our election infrastructure,” state Election Director Marci Andino told me recently. “We have a lot of partners: SLED, the FBI, the National Guard, Homeland Security, our state data center and private cybersecurity vendors as well.”
All of those agencies are guarding our voter registration system, which is connected to the internet, although it’s encrypted and regularly undergoes vulnerability and penetration testing, with corrections made when weaknesses are found. Frankly, the big worry here has less to do with stealing an election — although it’s theoretically possible that a hacker could make your voter registration disappear — than with the sort of threats that businesses and government agencies the world over face: The voter registration data, Ms. Andino notes, includes “all the personally identifiable information it would take to steal somebody’s identity.”
Ms. Andino makes the rounds before big elections to make sure people understand changes to the law or to voting machines. But this year she’s dealing with the additional problem that unfortunately our entire nation is probably going to face post-election: a concerted effort to undermine public confidence in the legitimacy of the vote.
She didn’t talk about individual voter fraud, probably because South Carolina passed the photo ID law that the political leaders who fear individual voter fraud assure us is the end-all, be-all protection against it. And you can be confident that the number of people who cast ballots illegally in South Carolina will be miniscule, if not zero … since that’s what it’s been for decades.
What she did talk about was the reason we don’t have to worry about our votes being stolen: They can’t be accessed online, and the machines that record them and count them can’t be accessed online. It’s probably possible that someone could change the numbers that appear on the Election Commission’s website, but before any number is even sent to the state, it has already been posted, on paper, at the precinct and at the county voting office, in plain view of everyone, including officials from both political parties. So any hacks would be easily detected and corrected.
“The voting machines are stand-alone machines,” Ms. Andino said. “They’re not communicating with anything. That cartridge that the poll worker uses to activate the machine is the one they use to extract data.” Once the polls close, poll workers download the vote totals from each machine onto a cartridge and post a printout of the results at the precinct. Then they carry the cartridge to the county voting office, where the cartridges from all the precincts are read and a printout made and posted there. Only then are the numbers entered into a computer that “never touches the voting system,” and sent to a secure State Election Commission site, where local election officials verify their accuracy before they are posted to the election night results.
In fact, the main threat to our elections is long lines, which not only disrupt our lives but drive away voters who either can’t take that much time off work or just can’t stand the thought of waiting that long just to vote against someone.
So in addition to reminding people they can vote absentee if they’ll be 65 or older or out of town or unable to get away from work on Election Day, the Election Commission has trained poll workers in queue management and deployed more laptops and bar code scanners, so poll workers can check voters in more quickly.
It’s also encouraging people to figure out how they’re voting before they step into the voting booth, with a cool new option on its website: “Get my sample ballot.” Newspapers used to print sample ballots that people could clip and take with them into the voting booth. But as we moved from at-large to single-member districts in races from the Legislature to school districts, that became impractical. In Richland and Lexington counties, for instance, there can be as many as 193 different ballot configurations.
Now the Election Commission will create your own personal sample ballot for you. If you go to scvotes.org, you’ll see that in the list of options in the top right corner of your screen. Select it, provide your county, first and last name and date of birth, and voila, you can see and print your ballot, mark it up and take it with you into the polling place, thus cutting a minute, maybe more, off your time in the voting booth.
Imagine how much less time you’d wait in line if every one of the people in front of you had done that.
Ms. Scoppe writes editorials and columns for The State. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (803) 771-8571 or follow her on Twitter or like her on Facebook @CindiScoppe.