States Lag In Hardening Voting Systems Against Attacks

Posted by Dale Eisman on March 12, 2018

Since Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008, the mere suggestion – totally unsupported by evidence – that thousands of votes in American elections are being cast by people who aren’t citizens has prompted a stampede by state legislators to pass voter identification laws.

But as the Brennan Center for Justice reported last week, a substantial number of states appear to be paying little attention to hard evidence from intelligence and law enforcement agencies that Russian cyber-vandals are working to hack into state election systems in advance of the 2018 midterm elections.

In an unsettling update to a 2015 report on voting machine vulnerability, Brennan reported that:

  • Of the 14 states that in 2016 used paperless – and thus unverifiable – voting systems in 2016, only Virginia has directed local election officials to make a complete shift to paper ballots.
  • Forty-one states will use outdated voting equipment – defined as more than a decade old – this year and 43 use machines that are no longer manufactured. “Older machines are more likely to use outdated software like Windows 2000,” Brennan observed. “Using obsolete software poses serious security risks: vendors may no longer write security patches for it; jurisdictions cannot replace critical hardware that is failing because it is incompatible with their new, more secure hardware; and the software itself is vulnerable to cyberattacks.
  • Only three states, Colorado, New Mexico, and Rhode Island, require “risk-limiting” audits of election returns. Security experts say these ballot-by-ballot checks are the most reliable way to verify the accuracy of vote counts reported immediately after polls close.

It’s not as if the states haven’t been warned of the danger or are powerless to attack their vulnerabilities. Virginia decided in September to shift to paper ballots in the 22 cities and counties that weren’t already using them; the job was done in less than two months, in time for the November elections of a new governor and the House of Delegates.

It’s worth noting that 11 of the 13 states (Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas) which will stick with paperless equipment this year were carried in 2016 by Donald Trump and have Republican majorities in their state legislatures; voters in those states may want to consider whether their representatives are more interested in who seems to get the most votes than in who really gets the most.

Office: Colorado Common Cause, Common Cause National, Common Cause New Mexico, Common Cause Rhode Island, Common Cause Virginia

Issues: Voting and Elections

Tags: Registration and Voting Systems

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