Photo credit: ChristianReitter / Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Some Voting Machines May Be Hackable After All

First, We Were Told They Weren’t


Early fears that voting machines had been hacked were initially assuaged by assurances that the machines were not connected to the outside world. Now we learn otherwise.

For weeks now, we’ve heard that voting machines cannot be hacked because they are not connected to the Internet. We now learn that is not true.

It turns out that machines which electronically record and tabulate votes are in fact equipped with modems — permitting communication with the outside world.

In an affidavit, John R. Brakey, an Arizona-based election integrity activist currently seeking a hand count in a number of Wisconsin counties that used optical scanners to recount paper ballots, states his knowledge that:

“…many of these counties are vulnerable to insider or sophisticated hacking because election results are transmitted through a cellular modem that is connected to the Internet.”

Brakey says that he and others working with him have confirmed that the scanning machines used in at least three Wisconsin counties — Milwaukee, Waukesha (suburban Milwaukee) and St. Croix (western Wisconsin) — contain a cellular modem to allow results to be sent over the Internet.

This, he says, makes them vulnerable both to insiders (including machine suppliers) and to sophisticated hackers.

They’re checking to see if this is the case with other counties.

As long as there is such communication, the possibility of hacking, and of remote control and manipulation of that machine, remains very real.  (And please see our story on the unexpected spike in internet traffic coming from Russia and its former republic Kyrgyzstan, suggesting the possibility that someone was checking the hackability of voting machines in Wisconsin.)

Kathleen O. Novack, clerk of Waukesha County, confirmed to WhoWhatWhy that the county’s DS200 optical scanners, manufactured by ES&S, do contain modems. “The modems are separate systems that transmit results on election night,” she said.

Novack noted that recount results were printed out on tapes, not transmitted.

Whether a machine could theoretically have been hacked prior to, during, or after the apparatus has scanned or tabulated votes — and how that might impact a recount using the same machine later, when the recount results were not transmitted over a modem — is not clear.

One thing this development reveals, in any case, is the complexity and lack of transparency characterizing the voting system itself.

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from sound wave (Omegatron / Wikimedia – CC BY-SA 3.0) and modem sound.


  • Russ Baker

    Russ Baker is Editor-in-Chief of WhoWhatWhy. He is an award-winning investigative journalist who specializes in exploring power dynamics behind major events.

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