Analysis, Tips

How to “hack the vote” – Georgia style


The upcoming election has already garnered a lot of attention. People are concerned about the voting process and ensuring their vote gets counted. Below are my steps for voters to “hack the vote” and verify that their vote was received and counted, following the ballot management process every step along the way. Following these steps will allow voters to escape long lines at early voting or on election day and will allow voters a way to monitor the status of their vote from start to finish!

Hand-marked paper ballots versus QR codes

This process gives voters the added peace of mind that comes with using a hand-marked paper ballot to vote, as opposed to using electronic voting systems. In Georgia, the paper ballot generated by electronic voting systems has a QR code that is the “official” vote that tabulation systems will count. Sure, the ballot will also have your choices printed in English, but that is not what tabulation systems count. The QR code is official, not the words printed on the ballot. There is no way for the voter to ensure that the QR code data accurately represents their intent as there is no way to decode the QR code. Thus, voting using an absentee ballot removes the possibility that any vote manipulation can occur via the QR code.

I want to make this point absolutely clear – there have been NO recorded instances of QR codes being modified in any election thus far. I don’t want anyone reading this to think that I am claiming QR codes are being manipulated in any way because I am not. However, it makes no sense to complicate a paper ballot by using a QR code in this manner, so I am against using QR codes in this manner as a matter of fundamental transparency and voter oversight.

Why call this “hack the vote”?

It’s simple, really.

I’m a hacker.

No, I’m not a criminal.

I’m a hacker and have been going back to my pre-teen days. Hackers like to find ways to take advantage of existing processes and make them do things to make their lives easier. Hackers like to find shortcuts and angles that enable them to get things done quickly and easily. Hackers tend to distrust authority and want to keep an eye on things when they can. So, when it comes to something as important as voting and ensuring your vote gets counted, you can bet the house that I’m going to hack a solution that allows me to vote easily, securely, efficiently, and with the appropriate oversight of election officials. It’s not that I think any of the people involved in the voting process are dishonest and would deliberately do anything to cause my vote not to be counted. It goes back to what I mentioned before – I’m a hacker, and I have a general distrust of authority in general!

An important caveat – this process will work for Georgia voters. I know because it’s the process I followed. Voters in other states may be able to follow this exact process or something similar. Or, they may not. So, your mileage may vary here.

Step one – Request a mail-in ballot from the Secretary of State

Any Georgia citizen can request an absentee ballot be mailed to them by using a secure website set up by the Secretary of State. Georgia citizens can make this request for any reason and do not have to justify the request. The URL to begin the request is https://ballotrequest.sos.ga.gov/. Once there, click the “REQUEST ABSENTEE BALLOT” button to start the request. Next, you will be taken to a search page used to locate your record. The page asks you for the necessary information to find your record, as shown in the image below:

After the website locates your record, you will be taken to the page that allows you to make the actual ballot request.  On this page, you can request that your ballot be mailed to the permanent address on file or to a temporary address in case you are away and unable to get your mail at your permanent address.  You will also be asked to provide contact details in case elections officials need to reach you.  Next, you will be given the option to request automatic mailing of absentee ballots for future elections if you fall into one of the listed categories.  Finally, you click the affirmation box and then click the “SUBMIT” button to make your request.  The page looks similar to this:

Success!  You have now requested your absentee ballot to be mailed to you!  But, how do you know that the request is being acted on, and what’s happening with it?

Step two – Create an account on the Georgia Ballottrax website

The Georgia Secretary of State’s office has partnered with BallotTrax, an absentee ballot tracking website, to provide voters details on their absentee ballot status.  Voters can create an account on the website and receive status updates on their ballot.  The URL is https://georgia.ballottrax.net

To begin the process, supply the details asked for on the front page (name, DOB, Zip Code).  NOTE:  This will only work if a voter has completed step one and submitted their absentee ballot request.  The page will look similar to this:

On your first visit to the site, you will be given the option to “opt-in” to receive update notifications via email and SMS.  I chose the email option and received an initial email almost immediately:

Additionally, the BallotTrax website will show you the status of your ballot request.  It will look similar to this:

Additionally, the BallotTrax website will show the voter the status of their ballot request.  It will look similar to this:

Notice the section that my ballot has been accepted is greyed out, indicating my ballot has not yet been received and accepted by my county elections officials.  This is accurate, as I have not yet submitted my ballot.  Now voters know the status of their absentee ballot request!

Step three – Hand-deliver your absentee ballot to your county election officials.

County election officials are offering secure ballot drop-off locations.  Voters can choose to deliver in-person during office hours or take advantage of after-hours secure ballot drop boxes.  These locations vary by county, so voters will need to contact their county election office to get the location details.  Voters can find the contact details for their county election office by visiting https://georgia.gov/locate-county-registrars-office

Once voters have dropped their ballot off, they can use the BallotTrax website to monitor its status or wait for a notification email or SMS message if they chose either of those options. Voters can update their notification preferences in the Ballottrax website at any time.

If the ballot status does not change to “Accepted” seven days after the voter delivers it to the county election office, contact county election officials to follow up.

Step four – Sit back and wait

And that’s it! Georgia voters who follow these steps can “hack the vote” safely, securely, and with oversight of the process from start to finish!

No waiting in line, no worrying about physical distancing, no worrying about electronic voting systems failing mid-vote, no worrying about whether the QR code on your in-person voting ballot actually represents your intent as a voter.

Now, sit back and wait for county election officials to count the votes and certify the results. This will take time, so don’t freak out if we don’t have final results on election night. Or the next day, or the day after that. Counting absentee ballots will take time, and most county election offices are understaffed. Additionally, Georgia prohibits the counting of absentee ballots before election day. County election officials may pre-process and verify absentee ballots to prepare them for counting before election day. Still, they may not begin the tabulation process until 7 am on election day.

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