By: Gillian Davis – Diverge Media contributor
Written on: 2022-06-04
The Ontario Provincial Election happened yesterday and although the outcome wasn’t a complete shocker, there were certainly some surprises. Not least of which was the appearance of Dominion Tabulating Machines at the polling stations.
You would think that the controversy’s of recent years would make Elections Ontario think twice about using these machines. Diverge Media has covered in detail the concerns over their use in the U.S. election in 2020 and their use in provincial elections in Canada.
A letter sent to Elections Ontario by an early voter reads:
“I recently voted at an Advanced Poll here in Toronto… and my concerns about my recently-cast vote are as follows:
1) My vote was counted by an electronic counting machine and I’d like to know why that is the standard practice at provincial polls (we do not do similarly for the federal polling station, and I know this intimately because I worked the 2021 Federal Election myself) — the personnel in attendance could not satisfactorily respond to my query regarding this matter and I felt that was a bit of a “red flag” for me. Can someone kindly advise?
2) is there going to be a backup “hand count” for the ballots cast at that polling station in advance of June 02, 2022 (ON Election Day)? If yes, does that reconcile any potential discrepancies between the physical and electronic counts, if any crop up?
If I might kindly receive some feedback re: that issue in order to allay some of my concerns — given the problems we have seen in other jurisdictions (not just in Canada) regarding electronic counting machines.”
Others were surprised when they learned that the machines were having “technical Issues” at the time of casting their vote. Apparently there are two slots the ballot can be put into – if the one isn’t working they have a backup slot which the staff had been “using all day because the main slot isn’t working”. In some polling stations across Ontario, they had to switch to paper ballots due to these ‘technical issues.”
Looking for an expert opinion on the validity of these machines, I spoke with a CTO of a tech company and graduate with an MSc in Software Engineering from the University of Oxford. He told me “I think one primary security challenges of any digital voting system relates to who has access to administrative privileges and control of log files. Privileges can be easily granted to administrative users to modify data and remove changes in the log files. I believe Dominion voting machines use Microsoft SQL Server, which in itself is secure, but can of course be freely modified by administrators without detection.
I believe the solution to the issue of unauthorized editing of database files can be found through use of open source decentralized blockchain technology where edits to voting records can not be modified without detection. The use of digital voting machines which use closed source code and proprietary technology should not be allowed. I believe this has been discussed in great detail in academic circles even prior to the 2020 election when many of these issues came to light. Simple vulnerabilities like SQL injection can easily be detected and are likely not of great concern. Most simple attack vectors like this are easily tracked and would not pass basic security audits of digital voting software performed by governments who implement these systems.
Most security breaches in the public sector come from internal sources and are often not detected or publicized. In fact, in one of the cyber security courses I took at Oxford, it was mentioned that the number one vector of attack and vulnerability came from internal sources who had administrative access to databases or file systems who could cover up their tracks through precise deletion of log files. Use of technology that allows modification without detection are irresponsible and should not be used for use cases as important as elections when far better technology exists.”
He continues “I’ve heard a lot of rumor and conjecture around Dominion voting systems and it was hard to decipher what was truth or fiction. I honestly think it would be hard to know exactly unless there was an actual whistleblower who worked at Dominion since their code is closed source.”
I told him my experience with voting in the election. The staff told me that they had “technical difficulties with the machine. There are two points where you insert the ballot. You use the one normally and if it doesn’t work we use the other one.” They told me they were having to use the second entry point all day because of this “technical difficulty”.
He responded “You see with sketchy stuff like that happening, it makes you wonder if your ballot will even be counted. It also makes you wonder in which areas these “technical difficulties” occur. More conservative part of town? More liberal? Honestly though, if a system is used in an election it should have been so well tested and verified ahead of time that there should be no issues at all. Especially considering how much money the government spends on these machines and technologies. Inexcusable.”
Bottom line – if the election had have gone hard to the Liberals or the NDP, or there were ridings where the vote suddenly swung, it would be questionable. As it stands, Doug Ford won the predicted majority. It was an unpredicted but not surprising landslide victory with approximately 83 seats compared to the 76 he won in 2018. Both Liberal leader Steven Del Duca and NDP leader Andrea Horwath announced they are stepping down as leaders of their parties. The leader of the Green Party, Mike Schreiner is still the lone MPP for his party. The upstart New Blue and Ontario Party made Valliant attempts but didn’t win any seats this time around.
Best story of the night is that of Bobby Ann Brady in the Haldimand – Norfolk riding. Long time MPP for the PC party, and her former boss, Toby Barrett backed Bobby Ann over the PC choice of Ken Hewitt – she won! Kind of a Cinderella, feel good story if ever there was one.