Binary Choices

Can electronic voting ever be as safe as paper and pencil?

Wisconsin’s recount of the recent presidential race came in like a lion and went out like a lamb, with Donald Trump gaining a net 131 votes, confirming his victory here. Still, the debate in Wisconsin and around the country raised questions about how vulnerable our election system may be to hacking by a foreign power or some other malicious entity. Prior to the 2000 election, voting systems had traditionally relied on low-tech means, but the “hanging chad” fiasco in Florida spurred localities to modernize their equipment with electronic voting machines, which experts say can be infected with vote-switching malware during brief connections to the internet or software updates using thumb drives. Today, in Wisconsin, most counties outside of southeast Wisconsin rely primarily on such machines. “These systems are very vulnerable to being tampered with,” says election lawyer John Bonifaz, part of a small group of experts that encouraged the Clinton campaign to initiate the recount that was eventually funded by Green Party candidate Jill Stein. While officials throughout Wisconsin found no evidence of hacking, Bonifaz says the state should amp up its auditing practices by routinely recounting a small number of ballots by hand, and increasing that number if serious discrepancies emerge. ◆




‘Binary Choices’ appears in the February issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

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Matt has written for Milwaukee Magazine since 2006, when he was a lowly intern. Since then, he’s held the posts of assistant news editor and, most recently, senior editor. He’s lived in South Carolina, Tennessee, Connecticut, Iowa, and Indiana but mostly in Wisconsin. He wants to do more fishing but has a hard time finding worms. For the magazine, Matt has written about city government, schools, religion, coffee roasters and Congress.