The Netherlands is a nation in love with technology. In a country where they experiment with data servers as hot water heaters for their showers and computers are employed to improve everything from traffic flow to farming, it is an anomaly to find anyone hesitant to embrace technology.
Therefore, it is a surprise when the Dutch go to the polls to vote that they do it the old-fashioned way. They check a box with a pencil. The Dutch government has opted for all-paper elections with manual ballot counting. Fears of Russia hacking an election — similar to those being investigated in the United States — prompted officials to eschew the convenience and efficiency of technology. Instead, they chose the reliability and trust that accompanies physical ballots and human tallies.
Around the globe, electronic voting machines, especially those without any recording capability or the assurance of a printed receipt, are suffering from severe public trust issues. Government officials and watchdog groups are also questioning the safety and security of counting machines connected to networks.
At the annual DEF CON conference in Las Vegas two months ago, it took some computer scientists, professors, tech professionals, and hackers only minutes to access the EVMs on display in the exhibit halls. They were able to bypass security measures undetected and enter administrative areas — showing how vulnerable a nation’s elections are to foreign and domestic digital invaders.
Once they had gained access to the most sensitive areas of each machine, hackers were able to recover old voting records (from storage devices that had allegedly been wiped clean), delete or add votes, and manipulate overall results. In many instances, they were able to access the machines remotely from a laptop Wi-Fi connection. Several machines used in the demonstration are the types still being used in states and municipalities across America.
The DEF CON example should have struck fear into every person in America and elsewhere who values and cherishes the fundamental right to vote for a candidate of their personal choosing. In other nations, especially those in Europe that are much closer to the sphere of Russian influence, election interference is perceived as an imminent threat to sovereignty and individual rights. In America, the Trump regime seems to be looking on the threat as an annoyance rather than an actual danger.
The Netherlands banned electronic voting in 2007, and today is still seeking a reliable computer-based system for counting ballots. They have not found a system yet than can resist invasive and manipulative corruption. Some critics have called the Dutch response drastic. However, in light of the on-going U.S. investigation and technological vulnerabilities exposed at DEF CON, others consider foregoing electronic voting and counting as a prudent means to protect their democratic institutions.
Several countries’ governments and leaders have expressed serious concerns about EVM tampering. In 2009, the Republic of Ireland declared a moratorium on the use of EVMs and Italy followed soon after. Germany’s Supreme Court declared that the use of EVMs violates the nation’s constitution and the right to transparency in elections.
As the questions of efficiency and convenience versus reliability and transparency become the key arguments for and against EVM use, courts, governments, and people are likely to err on the side of a tamper-proof paper trail. It is better to wait a few days for an accurate and representative vote count, than to never know if the results are true.
In America, government officials, historians, and the people may never know whether the 2016 election was correct. Whether Donald Trump acted alone will become another answerless question in the annals of U.S. history — right next to the mystery of Lee Harvey Oswald’s independence.
Almost a year after the 2016 presidential election, the United States is grappling with the results of possible EVM tampering. The current political crisis demonstrates more than the vulnerability of voting machines and counting in either the Netherlands or the U.S.
It reminds us that some things in life are too precious and too personal to entrust to technology: a family photography, a child’s birth certificate, or a hard-earned diploma are more comforting in hand than in the cloud. When it comes to the security of a nation, paper is an even more valuable currency that preserves our rights, announces our independence, and is proof that when we vote, there are no errors but our own.