As Election Day in the U.S. rolls ever closer, a Penticton entrepreneur is looking back on his time developing voting software for Texas.
“That was back in the debacle in 2000,” said Keith MacIntyre of Big Bear Software, referring to the election that made George Bush Junior president and hanging chads a part of our vernacular. Macintyre wasn’t working on the mechanical machines that lead to so many questionable ballots in Florida, but a touch-screen voting device General Dynamics was developing for use in Texas.
“Ours worked flawlessly. There were no hanging bits or bytes on ours.” said MacIntyre, who said the experience he had in Texas launched his career into building writing software for startups and building products.
He remembers watching the results come in during the election, the results of which were contested. “Oh look, George Bush won,’ and they would all cheer. Then a while later, ‘oh, he didn’t win. Oh, he won…’
“It kind of went back and forth. It was definitely an interesting time.”
Donald Trump, the 2016 republican presidential candidate, has made electronic voting — really, all voting — an issue with his claims that the election is rigged against him.
Read more: The man who cried rigged
MacIntyre said though it might have been possible, even in 2000, rigging an election would have been very difficult.
“All the election systems had to be rigorously tested at a place called Wylie Labs in Alabama. It was hardware and software testing. They would drop them from four feet on all the corners and they had to still function. They did rigorous software testing as well, they looked directly at the source code and you weren’t allowed to modify the source code after you left the laboratory.”
But ultimately, security of voting machines comes down how they are made and programmed. MacIntyre said theirs were well protected, including custom software to lock down the operating system so the computer couldn’t be accessed. But competing designs were not always as secured.
“I remember one time we were asked to see if we could integrate our results with another voting system. They gave us their results file and it was just an unencrypted file that would have been ridiculously easy to modify,” said MacIntyre. “From what happened in 2000, there has been a lot more checks and balances in place.”
MacIntyre said it was fun participating in the U.S. election process, meeting U.S. senators and others, including one official during the primaries who said ‘if a Texan doesn’t get elected, I am going to shoot someone.’
“I believed him.”
Another memory for MacIntyre is the complexity of the U.S. election.
“They are not just voting for president, they are voting for sheriff, I’ve even seen dog catcher,” said MacIntyre. “Their ballots get extremely complex. We might have 20 different combinations of ballots we are presenting, based on where people live in their jurisdiction. And with the primaries, it gets even more complex, then each state has their own different laws. Ours are easy, one race on the ballot, you mark an X.”
MacIntyre said that the voting machines used in Penticton, though older, are a secure system.
“I like the one we use. They’re secure. If process is followed and all the testing is done, it is very unlikely there will be a problem,” said MacIntyre, who was a candidate in the 2014 municipal election. “In a way they are more secure. There is no internet connection. Someone is going to notice if you plug an RS-232 cable into the machine.”