There’ve been two small but nonetheless encouraging developments this week toward securing the nation’s voting machines against foreign attackers.
On Monday, in a hearing dominated by questions about Russian government-backed efforts to meddle in last year’s presidential election, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper sounded a fresh warning about the vulnerability of our electoral machinery.
“Our election apparatus should be considered critical infrastructure, and should have the protections that are tended to that,” Clapper asserted. “A lot of states pushed back when Jeh Johnson, (former) secretary of homeland security, engaged with state election officials about having that designation and having the federal government interfere in -- in their election process. But as a citizen, I'd be concerned with doing all we can to secure that apparatus.”
Clapper’s comments highlighted the crazy-quilt nature of voting in the U.S. Most Americans think of the presidential election as a national affair; the president, after all, is our national leader. But the fact is that we have 50 state elections for president, each run under its own set of state laws and using machinery selected and administered by state and local officials.
The system’s diversity probably provides some protection against a large-scale hack attack and Clapper said the evidence available to intelligence officials indicates the votes Americans cast last November were accurately reported. But there’s also evidence that Russian hackers are actively engaged in efforts to invade voting machines and alter vote tallies and that we should expect that they’ll keep trying.
To address that threat, Sen. Angus King, I-ME, proposed Tuesday that Congress appropriate $160 million to state and local governments to support the purchase of voting equipment that produces auditable vote tallies.
“Risk limiting audits can provide a check on computer tallies to solve for malicious tampering (as well as inaccuracy from other sources like software bugs and clerical errors) and provide authoritative confirmation about the outcome,” King wrote in a letter to the chairman and ranking Democrat on the Subcommittee on Homeland Security Appropriations. “However, audits can’t take place if state and local governments do not have auditable systems or funding to perform audits.”
King added that “We must ensure that votes cast are counted accurately and that we have the backup of an audit in the case of potential election meddling. To fail to cybersecure this foundation stone of our representative democracy will undermine our own people’s faith in the integrity of our political system as well as to diminish the example we set for the nations of the world.”
Office: Common Cause National
Issues: Voting and Elections