By Warren Richey
Christian Science Monitor
November 3, 2017
First of a three-part series.
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.—A year after a presidential race roiled by allegations of attempted Russian meddling, the Monitor is seeking to answer the question: Just how vulnerable are the mechanics of American elections? In a three-part series that begins today, we examine how an attack by hackers might happen, the tensions between preventing fraud and securing voters’ rights, and the means to safeguard an accurate vote.
Election officials in Florida have apparently tapped into the regenerative powers of Ponce de León’s fabled Fountain of Youth.
The proof is available on voter rolls in Broward County.
Among those on the official list of registered voters is Henny M. Nelson, age 131.
So is Lillian E. Nicoletti of Davie, at 128 years old. And Sophie C. Golub of Sunrise, 118.
Could you pass a US citizenship test?
The oldest known living person on Earth is believed to be 117. So something truly remarkable must be afoot in the voting precincts of Broward County.
Lawyers for a conservative election integrity group say there is a more plausible explanation: Broward’s voting rolls are bloated with deceased voters, duplicate registrations, and people who moved away long ago without notifying the elections office.
In a court case in Miami, officials with the American Civil Rights Union charge that the county’s supervisor of elections is violating a federal law that requires the county to maintain “accurate and current” voter rolls.
The case is significant because it seeks to establish a national standard for the maintenance of voter registration lists as a way to guard against election fraud. Voter list maintenance is no small issue. The US Supreme Court is set to take up a similar case from Ohio early next year.
But the case is significant for a second reason. It arises at a time of intense national concern over alleged Russian-backed efforts to meddle in the November 2016 presidential election. A special prosecutor is investigating election interference, including whether there was any collusion with Donald Trump’s campaign. At least one former campaign adviser is cooperating in the probe. In addition, Senate and House committees are also investigating that politically explosive charge.
Against this backdrop, The Christian Science Monitor set out to examine key vulnerabilities in the US election system and whether they might allow someone to secretly manipulate the vote. What we found was an election system whose very modernity and reliance on voter-friendly technology has made it staggeringly vulnerable to manipulation. In the same vein, we found that at least a partial solution may be remarkably simple. But a year after the presidential election, little has been done to effectively address these threats.
Broward as a target
In 2016, computer hackers tasked by Russia attempted to break their way into America’s election system, according to US intelligence officials. There is no evidence that they compromised vote tallying software to electronically award more votes to one candidate or shave votes from another.
But there is evidence of repeated attempts to break into another critical part of the election system: voter registration rolls.
The implications are potentially severe. Whoever controls the list of registered voters, controls who gets to vote.
Which brings us back to Broward County and the quality of its registration rolls.
Is it possible that 131-year-old Henny Nelson could become an unwitting pawn in Vladimir Putin’s alleged attempt to undermine the essence of American democracy?
There are easier ways to fix an election, but experts acknowledge that a large number of deceased or otherwise dormant voters on a registration list could help give cover to a malicious attack that might be exceedingly difficult to detect.