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Democracy Fund

Fact Sheet: U.S. Elections Process and Voting Machine Security

By Democracy Fund / Last Updated 2016 November 8th

Four facts you need to know about our election system and voting machines in the United States.

Our election system is highly decentralized.

  • There is no one way to administer an election. Each state governs the administration of elections independently.
  • Within each state, there are many individual election jurisdictions—totaling approximately 10,000 nationwide—that administer those elections.
  • There are more than 150,000 Election Day polling locations where ballots are cast and collected.

Voting machines are kept secure.

  • Voting machines are subjected to rigorous protocols for chain of custody and machines are regularly tested for logic and accuracy in every jurisdiction to confirm that they are working as intended, recording and tabulating votes accurately.
  • When they’re not in use, machines are held under lock and key to ensure that nobody without proper credentials can access the devices.
  • These tests are open to the public and entirely transparent, so everyone can observe; some jurisdictions even use social media to make sure that their voters can witness the process.

Voting machines are never connected to the Internet.

  • This makes it nearly impossible to otherwise hack the system, as they are connected to nothing—not even power—until they are tested and used, and then they are under constant observation.
  • Without internet connectivity, it would require a hacker to have unfettered physical access and enough time to sabotage one machine just to impact the results on one device in one polling place.
  • Machines are rarely ever connected to each other, making it difficult for one impacted machine to affect an entire polling location.

Conspirators would still have no effect on the vast majority of election results nationwide.

  • Even if hundreds of thousands of conspirators operated undetected on the diverse range of systems, defeating the testing, chain of custody protections, and getting around thousands of election officials, poll workers, and bipartisan poll watchers, it would still have no effect on the vast majority of election.
  • More than 75 percent of voters vote on paper ballots or on a device that creates a paper record, and in those states, the paper record is used for official counting purposes.
  • Every state, even those without a paper record, does a post-election reconciliation to make sure that the number of voters checked in at a polling place matches the number of ballots cast at that polling place, among other things.
  • Election night results are not the official results—the official canvas of results is certified by the state several weeks after the election. Every valid ballot cast is counted for the official canvas—absentee ballots, early votes, and votes cast on Election Day.
  • Most states have a post-election audit requirement that mandates that they match the paper record to the digital record.