The presidential election is still a year away, but this Nov. 5 is still an election day for many Americans. Despite being a born Brit, John Oliver did his civic duty on Sunday night’s Last Week Tonight to inform voters about the insecurity of the voting machines they use.
Oliver explains that many Americans cast their votes on direct recording electronic voting machines, or DREs, that have no paper component recording their votes. This is a problem because there is no way to take a random sample of paper ballots and check them against the electronic vote to ensure they match up. This is just the start of a plethora of issues with these electronic-only machines, which were ironically installed due to the unreliability of paper ballots. Oliver flashes back to the highly controversial 2000 election of Bush v. Gore, where a recount in Florida led to people counting votes by literally holding up papers to see if light poked through past “chads”: little bits of paper that made punch card ballots highly unreliable. “Like the third elimination in every season of The Bachelorette, it all came down to the Chads,” Oliver jokes.
Congress thus ushered in electronic voting machines that frankly weren’t ready to be used and are unfortunately still in use today, making them not only unreliable but also old technology. A manufacturer admits that the quality control test literally meant shaking the machine like you would a faulty vending machine, only the problem is that the outcome of one is a bag of chips and the other is literally a U.S. president.
Even more worrisome is the how-to clip of hacking a voting machine, which doesn’t involve spyware or even a computer—the only equipment needed is a ballpoint pen. The voting machines are so precarious that even Trump agrees on the matter. “It’s old-fashioned, but it’s always good to have a backup … It’s not complex, it’s called paper,” Trump says, finding a way to mansplain the most basic recording tool on Earth.
Oliver points out that the solution isn’t to make totally unhackable machines, which is, as he says, impossible. But there is certainly a way to monitor to make them more secure. What happens in the most powerful country in the world affects the entire world and starts at the individual level.
Watch the full clip below.