Botched Balloting?

Recent U.S. election raises questions about voting system vulnerabilities

Ratcheted-up rhetoric or the right level of skepticism?

In the days and weeks that followed the U.S. presidential election last November, charges of voting machine tampering and hacking, and questions about vote integrity and flawed voting systems swirled around the country as several states recounted ballots.

Were these allegations justified? Is the actual vote-counting process reliable? What, if any, change is needed? Will there ever be enough change to restore faith in the process and make voters on all sides completely confident their ballots were actually counted?

Some experts believe it would be enormously difficult to hack voting machines on a large scale. In the days following the presidential election, the Obama administration confirmed reports from the Department of Homeland Security and intelligence officials that they did not see "any increased level of malicious cyber activity aimed at disrupting our electoral process on Election Day."1

The administration reversed that stance last month, however, and ordered a full review of foreign-based digital attacks that U.S. intelligence agencies say were aimed at influencing this year’s presidential election.2

Others contend U.S. voting has been rife with vulnerabilities for years. Remember the Bush-Gore deadlock and the fiasco of the Florida recount in 2000? Exit polling prematurely giving John Kerry the win and raising suspicions of fraud in 2004? Fears of hacks and stolen elections were resurrected again last summer after U.S. government officials suspected that Russian hackers had breached election databases in Arizona and Illinois.3

Months before the November elections, Elizabeth D. Clarkson, chief statistician for the National Institute for Aviation Research and a former ASQ member, said that ballot tampering is a real threat that must be addressed. "If a clever programmer were to insert malicious code in the right place in the tabulation software, he or she could flip a minimum number of votes but spread over a maximum number of polling stations," she wrote.4

This actually could achieve a win for a hacker’s preferred candidate, with the tampering being impossible to detect without an expensive and extensive audit of the results. All too often, Clarkson wrote, such audits are not even possible thanks to electronic machines with no paper trail whatsoever.5

System changes?

What should be done, if anything—by the time the next presidential election happens in four years, or even in time for the congressional elections of 2018—that might alleviate voters’ concerns, discourage hacking and preempt cheating?

There are no easy answers, in large part because voting reform and change only can take place at the local and state levels. Voting is a task largely left to the states to figure out. Election administration also can be so localized that vote-tallying methods vary from city to city.6

"We are a decentralized election system," said Dan Diorio, a voting rights expert with the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures. "We don’t run one presidential election. We run 51."7

Nevertheless, some recommendations have been revived in the wake of November’s presidential election:

Audits: Some suggest making strategic audits and records a matter of course— just as the books at publicly traded companies or millions of individual tax returns are routinely audited—to ensure the integrity of the vote.8

An audit is not necessarily the same as a recount. An auditor might inspect a statistically representative sample of votes and look for discrepancies. If none are found, the audit ends. If some are found, the audit can expand and perhaps trigger a full manual recount.9

California-based Verified Voting has called for routine audits of voting results in the United States for years. "Whether you’re in support of the winner or the loser, it’s satisfying to close that circle," said Pamela Smith, the group’s president.10

Paper trails: Too many of the electronic voting systems in place today leave no paper trail, which makes them vulnerable to hacking efforts that would be nearly impossible to detect.11

The great advantage of paper-based systems is that voters effectively generate an independent record of each ballot cast in addition to whatever ongoing tally is kept mechanically. Known as voter-verified paper audit trails, these records are essential to guaranteeing your local voting machine isn’t prone to fraud or error.12

There are many ways to generate paper trails. A machine may print a paper record of the votes you have cast underneath a glass screen. These paper records verify the digital record of voting has some nondigital analog, which can then be compared against digital records in case they are suspected of being errant or altered.13

In November, however, no state with paper records verifying the digital record of voting was "planning to actually check the paper in a way that would reliably detect that the computer-based outcome was wrong," said voting security expert J. Alex Halderman.14

"The security and integrity of the voting process is compromised for every citizen who is asked to accept someone else’s word that the vote count is accurate," Clarkson said.15

Halt expansion of online voting: "This election drew heavy security concerns about foreign players hacking into our party systems and even voter rolls, so lawmakers will likely stay away from online voting, something most cybersecurity experts agree isn’t safe yet, Diorio said.16

If officials are going to insist on computerized elections, however, systems must be put in place that allow voters to verify how their votes look to the faceless, automated systems processing them. After seeing a record of how his or her vote is recorded, it can be up to the voter to object.17

Paper ballots: One election-fraud investigator suggested going back to the basics. "In my judgment, the solution is this: paper ballots, counted by hand, in full public view, at the polling place, on election night, no matter how long it takes," Richard Hayes Phillips wrote in a paper titled, "What Constitutes an Election Audit."

"If this seems old-fashioned, so be it. When one is on the wrong path, a step backward is a step in the right direction," he wrote.18

Regardless of what you believe happened (or didn’t happen) in the most recent election, one thing is certain: "There’s a lot of voter dissatisfaction out there," said Diorio. "And maybe a way to react to that is to look at changes and think: ‘Maybe we don’t have to do things the way we always have. Maybe there’s a better way.’"19

—compiled by Mark Edmund, associate editor


  1. David E. Sanger, "U.S. Officials Defend Integrity of Vote, Despite Hacking Fears," New York Times, Nov. 25, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/nyt-hacking-fears.
  2. Brian Bennette and W.J. Hennigan, "Obama Orders Full Review of Russian Hacking During the 2016 Election," Los Angeles Times, Dec. 9, 2016.
  3. Robert Windrem, William M. Arkin and Ken Dilanian, "Russians Hacked Two U.S. Voter Databases, Officials Say," NBC News, Aug. 30, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/nbc-russians-hacking.
  4. Elizabeth Carlson, "To Avoid Vote-Counting Fraud, Use Paper Ballots," Real Clear Politics, Sept. 7, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/real-clear-politics-voting.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Frank Pasquale, "Jill Stein’s Vote Recounts Won’t Change the Election Results. We Should Do Them Anyways," Slate, Dec. 5, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/slate-jill-recounts.
  7. Amber Phillips, "How the Ugly 2016 Presidential Election Could Change the Way We Vote in Future Ones," Washington Post, Nov. 28, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/wash-post-vote-changes.
  8. Will Bunch, "Yeah, Trump Won. Here’s Why We Still Need a Recount," Philadelphia Inquirer, Dec. 5, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/philly-recount-ideas.
  9. Pasquale, "Jill Stein’s Vote Recounts Won’t Change the Election Results. We Should Do Them Anyways," see reference 6.
  10. Tom Blackwell, "Calls Grow for Recount of U.S. Vote Amid Concerns About Russian Hacking," National Post, Nov. 23, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/natl-post-russians.
  11. Bunch, "Yeah, Trump Won. Here’s Why We Still Need a Recount," see reference 8.
  12. Pasquale, "Jill Stein’s Vote Recounts Won’t Change the Election Results. We Should Do Them Anyways," see reference 6.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Carlson, "To Avoid Vote-Counting Fraud, Use Paper Ballots," see reference 4.
  16. Phillips, "How the Ugly 2016 Presidential Election Could Change the Way We Vote in Future Ones," see reference 7.
  17. Pasquale, "Jill Stein’s Vote Recounts Won’t Change the Election Results. We Should Do Them Anyways," see reference 6.
  18. Richard Hayes Phillips, "What Constitutes an Election Audit," BlackBoxVoting.org, July 19, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/black-box-audit-elect.
  19. Phillips, "How the Ugly 2016 Presidential Election Could Change the Way We Vote in Future Ones," see reference 7.

Who’s Who in Q

NAME: Kathleen M. Lyall.

RESIDENCE: Kalamazoo, MI.

EDUCATION: Master’s degree in engineering management from Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo.

INTRODUCTION TO QUALITY: Donna C.S. Summers, a professor during Lyall’s undergraduate years at the University of Dayton in Ohio, influenced Lyall’s decision to pursue a career in quality. Lyall so much enjoyed the quality course required for her major that she chose to minor in quality assurance. The professor’s classes were challenging, but Lyall enjoyed them because Summers incorporated real-world examples from her years of industry experience.

CURRENT JOB: Director-engineering, North America region supplier quality and development, Whirlpool Corp., Benton Harbor, MI.

PREVIOUS JOBS: Lyall’s career includes jobs in industrial engineering, procurement, supplier quality and development, management and leadership.

ASQ ACTIVITIES: Lyall first joined ASQ as a student member in 1996 while attending the University of Dayton. She held positions as secretary and past-chair of ASQ Battle Creek-Kalamazoo, deputy regional director of Region 10, marketing chair of ASQ’s Inspection Division and chair of ASQ’s Hromi Medal Committee. Lyall also presented several times at ASQ’s World Conference on Quality and Improvement and various section meetings.

OTHER ACTIVITIES: Lyall has run several half marathons, which satisfies her need to set big goals, develop a plan and execute that plan. She said she always has a big, hairy, audacious goal in mind.

RECENT HONORS: Elected to ASQ’s 2016 class of fellows.

PUBLISHED WORKS: Authored "Eliminate Waste in Incoming Inspection," Quality Magazine, Sept. 1, 2015.

PERSONAL: Married and has two dogs.

FAVORITE WAYS TO RELAX: Cooking and being outdoors. She and her husband also are restoring their Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired home.

Word to the Wise

To educate newcomers and refresh practitioners and professionals, QP occasionally features a quality term
and definition each month:


A quality characteristic’s departure from its intended level or state without any association to conformance to specification requirements or to the usability of a product or service.

Also see "blemish," "defect" and "nonconformity."


  • "Quality Glossary," Quality Progress, June 2007, p. 48.


4 Organizations Named 2016 Baldrige Recipients

Four organizations were named recipients of the 2016 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. Announced in December, the recipients are:

  • Don Chalmers Ford, Rio Rancho, NM (small business category).
  • Momentum Group, Irvine, CA (small business category).
  • Kindred Nursing and Rehabilitation Center-Mountain Valley, Kellogg, ID (healthcare category).
  • Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital, Sugar Land, TX (healthcare category).

The Baldrige judges also are recognizing best practices in one or more of the Baldrige criteria categories by organizations that applied for the award but were not selected as recipients. This year, the judges chose six organizations for this honor (listed with the categories for which they are acknowledged):

  • City of Fort Collins, CO (leadership).
  • Kaiser Permanente, San Diego (leadership).
  • Maury Regional Medical Center, Columbia, TN (leadership).
  • Duke University Hospital, Durham, NC (leadership and strategy).
  • Park Place Lexus of Texas, Plano (customers).
  • Southern Management Corp., Vienna, VA (workforce).

The 2016 Baldrige Awards will be presented at a ceremony during the Quest for Excellence conference April 2-7 in Baltimore. For more background on 2016’s recipients, visit http://tinyurl.com/2016-baldrige-recipients. For more details about the conference, visit www.nist.gov/baldrige/qe.

Short Runs

APPLICATION DEADLINE to become an examiner for the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program for the 2017 award cycle is Jan. 9. Examiners are selected based on their knowledge of the Baldrige criteria, industry expertise, oral and written communication abilities, interpersonal communication skills and other attributes. Visit www.nist.gov/baldrige/baldrige-examiner-qualifications for more information.

ABSTRACTS FOR THE International Association for Food Protection’s (IAFP) annual conference this summer are due Jan. 17. Information on submission guidelines and the conference, to be held July 9-12 in Tampa, FL, can be found at www.foodprotection.org/about/news-releases/iafp-2017-call-for-abstracts.

ASQ News

ASQ UNVEILS NEW SITE The first phase of ASQ’s redesigned website has gone live. Several sections reflect a new modern design, featuring a new look and experience. The changes make it easier for users to access content and information. ASQ will continue to improve the functionality and remaining pages of the site throughout the year. Visit the new website at www.asq.org.

LEAN AND SIX SIGMA EVENT ASQ’s Lean and Six Sigma Conference will be held Feb. 27-28 in Phoenix. The theme of this year’s conference is "Leading the Culture of Excellence Through Lean and Six Sigma." Early-bird pricing ends Jan. 6. For more information, visit http://asq.org/conferences/six-sigma.

CONFERENCE REGISTRATION Early-bird pricing for the 2017 ASQ World Conference on Quality and Improvement ends March 10. The early registration fee for the event, to be held May 1-3 in Charlotte, NC, is $995 for ASQ members and $1,195 for nonmembers. For more information about the three-day conference, visit http://asq.org/wcqi.

NEW SUPPLIER HANDBOOK ASQ Quality Press released The Certified Supplier Quality Professional Handbook for those seeking to achieve ASQ’s newest certification offering: certified supplier quality professional. The 320-page book, edited by Mark Allen Durivage, costs $89 for ASQ members and $135 for nonmembers. Visit http://tinyurl.com/new-book-supplier-quality to read more and to access a sample chapter.


Date in Quality History

QP looks back on a person or event that made a difference in the history of quality.

Jan. 1, 1924

Genichi Taguchi was born on this date. He is known for developing statistical methods to improve quality and reduce costs, often called the "Taguchi Methods."

The Taguchi Methods are an engineering approach to quality control in which Taguchi called for offline and online quality control and a system of experimental design to improve quality and reduce costs. It is a trademarked term of the American Supplier Institute, an international consulting organization, where Taguchi served as executive director.

Taguchi was born in Takamachi, Japan. He first studied textile engineering but later became interested in statistics. Following World War II, Taguchi worked for the Institute of Statistical Mathematics in Japan from 1948 to 1950 and contributed to industrial experiments related to the production of penicillin. Later, he worked at Electrical Communication Laboratory in Japan in developing crossbar and telephone switching systems.

Taguchi wrote several books, including Experimental Design and Life Test Analysis and Design of Experiments for Engineers, and he taught at Aoyama Gakuin University in Japan. Taguchi died on June 2, 2012.


--oluwabunmi owoyemi, 01-06-2017

--oluwabunmi owoyemi, 01-06-2017

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