Access to WiFi inside a polling place is not automatic proof of voter fraud, despite claims made online, experts told Reuters.
Text circulated online ahead of the U.S. midterm elections urging voters to monitor the WiFi access outside a polling station and when inside, checking again to ensure no additional WiFi network was detectable. The post led to claims that a new WiFi network suddenly appearing from inside a polling station can lead to voter fraud.
“If you find any new wifi networks that do not belong, please email your County and State Board of Elections with the name of that wifi network. Ask them to investigate,” a section of the text reads.
WIFI PRESENCE NOT EVIDENCE OF FRAUD
But the presence of a WiFi network inside a polling place is not automatic proof of nefarious activity, experts in election security told Reuters.
“Network availability isn’t generally a cause for concern or proof that machines are connected to the internet,” David Levine, an elections integrity fellow at the Alliance for Securing Democracy - German Marshall Fund, told Reuters.
“WiFi networks are everywhere,” Juan E. Gilbert, chair of the Computer & Information Science & Engineering department at the University of Florida, told Reuters.
“In fact, people can carry WiFi networks with them via their phones or jetpacks, etc. As such, the presence of a WiFi network in a voting area is not an immediate concern. It is not proof that machines are connected to the internet,” Gilbert added.
“The presence of a WiFi network does not indicate that the voting machines themselves are connected to it, or even have the ability to connect to it,” Andrew Appel, professor of computer science at Princeton University, also told Reuters.
In fact, WiFi at a polling station may be used as part of the elections process. Polling locations in many states use WiFi to access electronic poll books to check in voters and verify their eligibility, Levine said.
A map created by Verified Voting, a non-profit organization that promotes the use of secure technology during U.S. elections, shows which counties used paper, in-house electronic poll books or commercial electronic poll books during the November midterm elections and can be found (here).
“Whether or not an electronic version of the poll book needs connectivity depends on its use,” Pam Smith, president of Verified Voting, told Reuters.
The polling book does not have any involvement with any voting system, however, and does not connect to the master secure copy of registration data, only a working copy, Smith said.
Per Verified Voting, over 69% of registered voters live in a precinct that uses commercial electronic poll books (here).
Experts also told Reuters, however, that connectivity can make machines vulnerable to hacking.
“Voting machines should not and need not be connected to the network," Gilbert said. (here).
Some states allow so-called modeming, which refers to the transmission of unofficial tallies to the central tabulation location after the polls close on election day, Warren Stewart, senior editor and data scientist at Verified Voting, told Reuters.
A 2022 Politico survey and explainer on modeming notes that modems use cellphone networks to send vote data and that at least six states said they rely on a modem to transmit unofficial results to election offices (here).
Stewart said that such modems have the ability to be connected to the internet and therefore, theoretically, could be accessed remotely by anyone who can hack the password and other protections (here).
Appel agreed, saying, “It is not a good idea to equip voting machines with modems, because it does make the voting machines more vulnerable to hacking.”
Reuters reported in an August 2022 explainer on voting machines that “the move in most states to hybrid voting systems – paper ballots tallied by electronic machines” aims to boost voter confidence (here).
“A vulnerability of course is emphatically not evidence or proof of hacking. And the mere presence of internet signals in a polling place is no cause for concern,” Levine said.
Missing context. The presence of a WiFi network inside a polling place is not automatically proof of fraud, experts told Reuters. WiFi-connected electronic polling books that check in voters are commonplace at polling stations across the country.
This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .
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