EXPLAINER: Voting systems reliable, despite conspiracies

Oct 3, 2022, 11:45 PM | Updated: Oct 5, 2022, 9:16 am
FILE - A sample ballot is shown using the Dominion Voting system Georgia will use, Sept. 16, 2019, ...

FILE - A sample ballot is shown using the Dominion Voting system Georgia will use, Sept. 16, 2019, in Atlanta, Ga. Testing before and after elections show the voting machines accurately tally the ballots, contradicting a relentless campaign of unfounded conspiracy theories that has undermined confidence in voting equipment throughout the U.S. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

(AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

              FILE - A county worker loads mail-in ballots into a scanner that records the votes at a tabulating area at the Clark County Election Department, Oct. 29, 2020, in Las Vegas. Testing before and after elections show the voting machines accurately tally the ballots, contradicting a relentless campaign of unfounded conspiracy theories that has undermined confidence in voting equipment throughout the U.S. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)
              FILE - A worker returns voting machines to storage at the Fulton County Election preparation center, Nov. 4, 2020 in Atlanta, Ga. Testing before and after elections show the voting machines accurately tally the ballots, contradicting a relentless campaign of unfounded conspiracy theories that has undermined confidence in voting equipment throughout the U.S. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
              FILE - A sample ballot is shown using the Dominion Voting system Georgia will use, Sept. 16, 2019, in Atlanta, Ga. Testing before and after elections show the voting machines accurately tally the ballots, contradicting a relentless campaign of unfounded conspiracy theories that has undermined confidence in voting equipment throughout the U.S.  (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

ATLANTA (AP) — Former President Donald Trump and his allies have whipped up a relentless campaign of attacks against voting equipment since his loss in the 2020 election. After nearly two years, no evidence has emerged that voting machines were manipulated to steal the election or that there was any widespread fraud.

Conspiracy theories spread online and in forums across the country nevertheless have undermined public confidence in voting machines and election results, while leading some counties to consider ditching the equipment in favor of hand-marked and hand-counted ballots.

Elections have been held across the country this year during a busy primary season. While programming errors sometimes occur and equipment can malfunction, no major problems have been reported. Voting equipment is tested before and after to identify any problems, while audits done after the election confirm it worked correctly.

The Associated Press explains how we got to this point, the efforts to increase security of the vote and the fallout from the false claims surrounding the 2020 presidential election.


The types of voting equipment used throughout the U.S. varies by location. For in-person voting, most people fill out ballots by hand, and those ballots are inserted into an electronic tabulator. In many cases, this happens at the polling location. Elsewhere, the ballots are collected in a secured box, with rules governing the chain of custody, and taken to an election office for electronic tabulation.

In some places, a specialized computer is used by voters to mark their ballots electronically. Those ballots are printed, reviewed by the voter for accuracy and then inserted into a tabulator at their polling location. A lawsuit in Georgia is challenging the use of these “ballot-marking” machines because they use bar codes to record votes.

Mailed ballots also are counted by tabulators at a local election office. A small number of jurisdictions, mostly small towns in New England, don’t use tabulators and count their ballots by hand.


After the “hanging chad” chaos of the 2000 election, Congress provided money for voting system upgrades. Many jurisdictions opted for electronic voting machines to replace their punch-card ballot systems. But those machines did not produce a paper record; instead, all votes were cast and recorded electronically.

For years, election security experts raised concerns about these “direct-recording” machines and the potential for someone to tamper with them. A more secure method, they say, is a system that uses paper ballots and electronic tabulation with post-election reviews and tests to ensure the machines faithfully recorded voters’ choices.

Over the last decade, state and local governments began replacing their paperless machines, a process that accelerated after the 2016 election and revelations that Russia had scanned U.S. voting systems looking for vulnerabilities. Today, paperless machines are used only in Louisiana and a small number of jurisdictions in Indiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, Tennessee and Texas, according to Verified Voting, a group that tracks voting technology in the U.S.


In the weeks after the 2020 election, Trump and his allies made numerous unsupported claims about voting machines, including that their software was created in foreign countries and designed to flip votes for desired candidates: “With the turn of a dial or the change of a chip, you can press a button for Trump and it goes to Biden,” Trump said in a Dec. 2 speech.

These claims have largely centered on Dominion Voting Systems, one of a handful of companies that dominate the U.S. voting technology market. In response, Dominion has filed defamation lawsuits against conservative media companies and Trump lawyers Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani, saying “lies and misinformation have severely damaged our company and diminished the credibility of U.S. elections.”

But rather than dissipate, conspiracies surrounding voting machines have only grown. Trump allies have been traveling the country to speak at conferences and with community groups, armed with algorithms and charts purporting to show machines have somehow been rigged.

Election technology expert Kevin Skoglund said part of the challenge is that voting systems are complex. It’s understandable that some people would be persuaded that something nefarious happened when it did not.

“If you are a person who is not technical, if someone is telling you the machines are cheating you, you might believe it because you don’t understand how the systems work,” Skoglund said.


Any device run by software — a cell phone, a laptop or voting system — is vulnerable to hacking. That’s why election experts have been pressing for the replacement of paperless voting machines.

Experts say the U.S. has taken steps to improve election security in recent years. That includes designating U.S. voting systems in 2017 as “critical infrastructure” — on par with the nation’s banks, dams and nuclear power plants.

Congress has sent nearly $900 million in election security funding to states, which has been used to replace outdated voting systems, hire cybersecurity staff and beef up cybersecurity defenses.

“There is no such thing as an invulnerable system,” said Larry Norden, an election security expert at the Brennan Center for Justice. “That doesn’t mean we can’t do better. We should always be looking at how we can do better, but you can’t eliminate risk.”


The false claims have not only undermined public confidence in elections. They also have led to security breaches at some local election offices in Colorado, Georgia and Michigan.

Soon after the 2020 election, Trump allies seized on a programming error in a Michigan county and, through the courts, gained legal access to its voting system. But a copy of the county’s election management system was made available at an August 2021 event hosted by a Trump ally, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, according to attendees.

Also released at that event was a copy of the system used in Mesa County, Colorado. Details have surfaced recently of another suspected breach — in Coffee County, Georgia in January 2021 as Trump allies sought ways to overturn the result of the presidential election. And Michigan authorities are investigating after voting equipment in a handful of counties was made accessible to unauthorized people.

Those developments have prompted concerns that rogue election workers sympathetic to conspiracies might use their access to election equipment and the knowledge to launch an attack from within. A poll worker in Michigan was recently charged with inserting a personal thumb drive into an electronic pollbook during the state’s primary, while authorities in Colorado are investigating a case in which a voter is suspected of tampering with a voting machine earlier this year.

Jen Easterly, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at the Department of Homeland Security, told reporters Monday that threats to the security of elections have never been more complex — citing misinformation, the insider threats and harassment of election workers.


After the 2020 presidential election, a coalition of federal cybersecurity and election officials along with state election officials and representatives from voting machine companies issued a statement calling it the “most secure in American history.”

The group said there was “no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”

This was due largely to paper records being available for an estimated 93% of all ballots cast and a system of post-election checks to test the accuracy of the electronic tabulators. In Georgia, the presidential vote was counted three times — once entirely by hand — and each tally affirmed President Joe Biden’s win in the state.

“It doesn’t matter what happens in the machine,” said Norden, of the Brennan Center. “We have a piece of paper that tells us whether votes were recorded accurately.”


Associated Press technology writer Frank Bajak in Lima, Peru, contributed to this report.


Follow AP for full coverage of the midterms at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ap_politics

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


President Joe Biden listens as French President Emmanuel Macron speaks before a toast during a Stat...
Associated Press

Germany welcomes Biden comments in trade dispute

BERLIN (AP) — Germany on Friday welcomed President Joe Biden’s apparent willingness to discuss tweaking U.S. legislation that European leaders say unfairly discriminates against their industries. Biden acknowledged during a visit to Washington by French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday that there were “glitches” in the Inflation Reduction Act, which favors American-made climate technology for […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Parcels with animals’ eyes sent to Ukrainian embassies

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian embassies and consulates in six European countries have received packages containing animals’ eyes in recent days, a Ukrainian official said Friday. Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Nikolenko wrote on Facebook that the “bloody parcels” were received by the Ukrainian embasses in Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Croatia and Italy, as well as […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

US cancels trip by LGBTQ envoy to Indonesia after objection

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — The United States has canceled a trip to Indonesia by a special envoy on LGBTQ rights after the country’s most influential Islamic group objected to the visit. Special envoy Jessica Stern was to have visited Indonesia next week as part of a trip to Southeast Asia. The Indonesian Ulema Council issued […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Israeli peace activists show presence in West Bank hot spot

HEBRON, West Bank (AP) — Dozens of Israeli peace activists toured the occupied West Bank’s largest city Friday in a show of solidarity with Palestinians, amid chants of “shame, shame” from ultra-nationalist hecklers. The encounter in the center of Hebron signaled the widening rift among Israelis over the nature of their society and Israel’s open-ended […]
1 day ago
FILE — South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa arrives at 10 Downing Street to meet Britain's Pr...
Associated Press

EXPLAINER: Why South Africa’s president might lose his job

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa’s president might lose his job, and his reputation as a corruption fighter, as he faces possible impeachment over claims that he tried to cover up the theft of millions of dollars stashed inside a couch on his farm. The allegations brought by a political rival have led to a damning […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Greece: Italian embassy vehicle destroyed in firebombing

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — An overnight arson attack destroyed a car used by a senior official at the Italian embassy in Athens, an incident that authorities in Greece and Italy condemned Friday. Italian Prime Minister Premier Giorgia Meloni offered solidarity to the official and expressed “profound concern for the attack against her, probably of an […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
EXPLAINER: Voting systems reliable, despite conspiracies