CHEYENNE — It’s been nearly 18 years since the “hanging chads” debacle in the Florida recount ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court.

The result was the election of Republican President George W. Bush over Democrat Al Gore. The battle also set in motion a move away from paper ballots.

To bolster that move, the federal government invested about $3 billion in electronic voting machines.

But now those machines are more than a decade old. Many states that lack the money to repair or replace them are turning to the pencil-and-paper method of old, regardless of the danger of hanging chads.

The Presidential Commission on Election Administration has warned that the deterioration of voting machines is an “impending crisis,” but House Republicans say the issue should be left to the states, according to a published report.

Secretary of State Ed Murray recently announced the creation of a task force on election equipment replacement.

The group that includes legislators and representatives of the county clerks office and secretary of states’ office will identify the type of equipment to be acquired and how to pay for it.

In making the announcement of the task force, Murray again assured Wyoming voters of the integrity of the voting process.

He sent the same message before the 2016 general elections, saying that state elections would not be rigged or hacked.

Among a number of other safeguards, he said every ballot cast in Wyoming can be verified by a paper audit trail that can be used to confirm the accuracy of every vote while maintaining the secrecy of each ballot.

But it was the 2016 presidential election that stimulated a faster push to paper ballots when the U.S. Office of Homeland Security reported Russia’s efforts to influence the election by meddling with the process in 21 states.

Also fueling the movement were the highly publicized hacks at Sony, Equinox, and he U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

These hacks have supported computer scientists who warned that very few computerized systems are truly secure.

One of those scientists is 76-year-old Barbara Simons, who had been a pioneer in computer science at IBM research.

Simons believes that the electronic systems in vogue after the 2000 elections were shabby and easily hacked and that software could be manipulated to rig elections.

She wrote opinion pieces in obscure journals and badgered public officials warning them of the danger. Many regarded her as a crank.

The 2016 presidential election and the Russian influence changed all that.

Now retired, Simons and her views on voting have been vindicated.

Yet Simons is not gloating.

She said she would rather have been wrong, according to an article in the new issue of The Atlantic “ magazine.

In July at the annual Def Con hacker conference in a room at Caesars Palace Las Vegas, she addressed a staged attack on voting machines, called Voting Village.

The target of the attack was four voting machines, including three types still in use. One team of hackers used radio signals to eavesdrop on a machine as it recorded votes

Another team found a master password online.

Within hours of starting the teams found vulnerabilities in all four machines.

Simons told reporters that anything that happened to the machines there have already been done by people intent on undermining the integrity of our election systems.

Critic of mock attacks on computer systems like the one in Las Vegas argue the demonstrations are like laboratory tests and are unlikely to work in a real world setting.

And most of Russia’s probing during the election appears to have been aimed at databases of registered voters, not the machines that record the votes.

Simons, however, believes that the failure to heed the warnings has left states in grave danger with weak points that hackers will probe before they can be fixed.

Paper, Simons said, is the single technology available that is invulnerable to hacking.

“There is no malware that can attack paper,” she said.

Wyoming has always had clean, well-run elections.

Hope the hackers don’t spoil that record.

Contact Joan Barron at 307-632-2534 or jmbarron@bresnan.net.

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