Stanart on Harris County Ballot Security: What, Me Worry?

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Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart held a press conference Thursday, October 6, 2016. The media alert explained:

Election Integrity and Recent Voter Fraud

Can one’s vote be hacked? How can we know our vote is secure? With so much in the news about Russia hacking election records in other states and concerns about one’s vote being accurately recorded, what is the story in Harris County? With as many as 1.4 million (1,400,000) voters anticipated to vote in the November 8 Election, how can we know that one person, one vote is the standard for Harris County Voters?

Currently, the most contentious issue in ballot access in Texas is the state’s recalcitrance in complying with the district court’s instructions to educate voters about the expanded list of documents citizens enrolled to vote can use to confirm their identification at the polls.

This press conference was not about how Harris County is complying (or not) with the court’s order. It was about how votes get counted, and whether that process is vulnerable to attacks from the outside.

As far as the equipment that is used for voting in Harris County goes, things seem relatively secure.

Relatively, because the gist of Stanart’s argument for why our machines are un-hackable—at least when it come to Russians—is that they are never hooked up to the internet and the equipment is so old it isn’t susceptible to current hackers’ attack tools. 

I’m not sure ‘so old that it isn’t sophisticated enough to be hacked’ is entirely comforting. Stanart, however, seems comfortable with it, so that’s what Harris County voters get.

Stanart walked the audience through how votes move from the individual voting machines up the chain and eventually into multiple databases. By the time the files are on a system where the might be vulnerable to hacking via the internet, there are duplicate counts in other places that, in theory, would reveal any discrepancies if a concern were raised.

KUHF provides a more detailed description from the press conference of how the equipment functions.

The hardware may not be hackable from the outside, but what if the call is coming from inside the house?

Repeatedly, Stanart stressed that the system’s greatest strength is the number of human eyes on the process. He did not say nearly as much about how those humans are checked and balanced.

How easily could someone on the county staff undermine ballot security?

That’s what seems to have happened in the obliquely-referenced “recent voter fraud.” There was, however, surprisingly little information provided given the headline billing it got in the release.

The first court date is still to come, and between what Stanart said and what can be found in the record, we know little more than the name of one of the two people, that they were indicted for illegal voting, and the fact that they were working for the county to administer the election, most probably as temporary help hired just for that purpose.

It seems premature to speculate about the details of what happened or why it has gotten so little attention.

It seems reasonable to wonder, however, why Stanart showed such restraint.

Time will tell.

For now, as you are keeping your eyes on the security of the machines, perhaps we should make sure a few additional eyes are on the humans that work those machines.





About Author

Andrea Greer

Andrea, an activist, fundraiser, feminist, writer, and baker, is not as tall as you think she is. She's been at this a long time, and wants to know what you are doing to make the pie higher and raise more hell. Her mother would like you to know she's got a law degree.

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