Rhode Islanders likely recently saw headlines touting the state as the fastest in the country at posting and verifying its election results for the most recent midterm elections — and in …
Rhode Islanders likely recently saw headlines touting the state as the fastest in the country at posting and verifying its election results for the most recent midterm elections — and in elections going back to 2016.
This is not only because Rhode Island is an outlier in its tiny physical size geographically speaking, but because since that election, the state has been utilizing voting machines that transmit election results wirelessly over internet modems to the state’s election headquarters in Cranston.
The obvious advantage to that system is the speed at which results can be tallied, transmitted, and posted to the Board of Elections website. As a news organization, we benefit from the speed of that system significantly, and it allows us to report on results and provide post-election analysis faster than any other state in the country.
However, we are also wary of the potential risks involved with using such a system, no matter how small they might be.
According to the state, the voting machines only connect to the internet for about 30 seconds, once voting has concluded, in order to send the results over the web to the Board of Elections. However, it cannot be guaranteed that during this short period of time that those transmitted results are completely safe from potentially bad actors seeking to hijack or alter the data.
It is important to note that the state also defends the system due to the presence of an analog redundancy — physical USB sticks that also bank the data and could be used in the event of any hacking to provide accurate, untampered results. But we have to wonder, why even risk such an episode of interference simply for the benefit of a few hours of advanced notice for results?
It may sound counterintuitive coming from an organization that benefits from the rapidity of the current system, but we find the reward of receiving results faster does not outweigh the potentially huge risk of having our elections interfered with, even if the results of that interference doesn’t pan out into serious consequences. We would argue that, should such an incident occur at all, the damage that could cause to public perception of the security of our elections would be catastrophic, even if the legitimate results are protected by the USB backup.
At the end of the day, it would take an insignificantly longer amount of time to have elections volunteers or employees run the physical data sticks to Cranston from wherever they originate in the state. It takes no more than an hour to get to Cranston from anywhere in Rhode Island, and it seems prudent to take the little bit of extra time to compile the data, rather than risk a scandalous tampering with one of our most sacred democratic functions.
We strongly advise the newly-elected Secretary of State to consider bucking speed for assured safety in our elections. We don’t mind the wait when it comes to ensuring faith in our elections.
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