While Mississippi continues to largely ignore the warning that its dependence on paperless voting machines is asking for trouble, here comes word of another vulnerability that these older computerized voting systems probably have.
They use an operating system that will soon be outdated and more prone to hacking.
The Associated Press reported this week that the majority of jurisdictions nationwide use Microsoft’s Windows 7 or an even older operating system to create ballots, program voting machines, tally votes and report counts.
On Jan. 14 of next year, about 11 months before the 2020 presidential election, Microsoft is going to stop providing technical support or produce “patches” that ward against viruses or block other ways that malicious actors try to infiltrate computer systems.
For a couple of years, if customers are willing to pay a fee, Microsoft says it will continue to offer security updates before it totally pulls the plug. That may buy some time, but that’s it.
Even such temporary fixes, though, won’t address the bigger issue in states where the vast majority of voting machines leave no paper trail to verify that what voters pressed on the touchscreen machines is actually what got registered.
Security experts have been warning for years that it is risky to continue to use paperless systems, which Mississippi largely adopted when it foolishly allowed counties to disconnect the external printers with which the touchscreen machines were originally equipped because workers at the voting precincts were tired of the printers malfunctioning.
Even if you don’t buy that foreign or domestic infiltrators might try to rig or foul up an election, there is still the possibility that these aging machines will crash and lose their electronic record of ballots. Without a paper trail, there will be no way to recreate the votes cast.
Mississippi is one of the states with the highest chance of this happening. According to a report released last month by the federal Election Assistance Commission, almost 9 out of 10 voting machines in Mississippi still have no paper trail — more than double the national average.
Congress has put a little money into helping states upgrade their equipment, but even that little is not always being used as it should. Earlier this year, Leflore County was approved by the Secretary of State’s Office for roughly $15,000 of these federal grant funds to buy 30 more of the same model of paperless, tamper-susceptible machines the county already has.
It may seem old-fashioned in an age where everyone is being pushed to go paperless, but the only way to safeguard the integrity of an election is to record the vote on paper. That message sadly has yet to sink in with most of Mississippi’s election officials.