Q&A of the Day – Are South Florida’s elections being run on unsupported software?
Each day I’ll feature a listener question that’s been submitted by one of these methods.
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Today’s entry: @brianmuddradio a story on referencing the installation of a software tabulating patch to Broward Voting Machines by Microsoft (unsolicited). As a resident of #FL23 all too familiar with statistical anomalies any news on your end???
Bottom Line: The crux of this question and concern comes down to Windows 7. For all of the work to improve election security/integrity in Broward and Palm Beach counties after the 2018 debacles which led to the ouster of both elections supervisors – could it be that the computer operating systems themselves could be compromised? Just as tens of millions of Americans are running Windows 7, so are many counties across the country – including in Florida. The concern with all computer systems running the dated OS is that Microsoft ended its support on January 14th, yet as of August – over 22% of active computers in the US were running it. This should serve as a reminder to you – if you happen to be among those still using Windows 7. If you’re still using that OS you should only use that computer offline. So how does this factor into our local elections? The answer is it really doesn’t.
Microsoft created an initiative called the Defending Democracy Program. As part of this program there is a designated support team created to provide free security updates for federally certified voting systems running Windows 7 through the 2020 elections. The referenced update was part of this program. As for what these updates entail here’s Microsoft’s explanation: Since we announced our Defending Democracy Program, we’ve focused on bringing the best of Microsoft’s security products and expertise to political campaigns, parties, the election community and democracy-focused nongovernmental organizations. This includes our AccountGuard service, which we offer at no additional cost, and ElectionGuard, which we’re making available for free and open source.
Skepticism is understandable given Broward and Palm Beach County’s election history, however, this likely isn’t an issue to be concerned with this year. One of the big misconceptions involving elections systems is that they live online and thus can be tampered with by hackers – they don’t. The only time votes are accessible online is when they’re being transmitted to the state. With Microsoft maintaining security for all voting systems, systems seldom being online and paper ballot backups – concerns over online hacking or tampering are minimal. The biggest threat remains the same for this cycle as in cycles gone by – the legal tabulation of the ballots themselves.