Primary Season Is Here and Our Elections Remain Vulnerable

State officials say $380 million Congress provided for machine upgrades isn't enough.

Along with serving as tests of voter unrest with President Trump and the Republican Congress, today’s primary elections in North Carolina and three rust belt states — Indiana, Ohio, and West Virginia — provide a useful reminder that despite considerable progress toward modernization in recent months, the machinery of our elections remains rickety across much of the nation.

Bloomberg News reports this morning that despite a coming injection of federal funds — $380 million in the budget Congress approved earlier this Spring — most states that have not already replaced outmoded voting equipment will not be able to do so before the November election.

Eleven states still use paperless voting machines, the kind judged most vulnerable to hacking, and the nation’s top intelligence officials have warned Congress that Russian hackers continue to look for ways to penetrate U.S. election systems. In 2016, the vandals are believed to have targeted voting systems in at least 21 states, though officials insist there is no evidence they altered vote totals,

Cybersecurity experts are pushing states to shift to paper ballots, which can be audited after the election to verify that the results reported on Election Night reflect the actual vote.

The Bloomberg account focuses on work to upgrade election systems in Pennsylvania, where the congressional primary is set for next Tuesday, May 15. The state government has mandated that all voting machines produce a verifiable paper record, but the requirement does not take effect until the end of 2019.

Pennsylvanians got a reminder of the importance of verifiable vote counts in March, when Democrat Conor Lamb won a special election in the 18th Congressional District. Lamb ran just 800 votes ahead of Republican candidate Rick Saccone; the lack of a paper record left officials with no way to verify the accuracy of the count. Lamb and Saccone, now in separate districts thanks to a court-ordered redistricting, are running again this fall.

Pennsylvania’s share of the election aid Congress approved this year is about $14 million but state officials estimate that replacing all their outmoded voting machines could cost up to $150 million.

Other states face similar gaps between the money needed and what’s available. Louisiana, which will receive about $6 million, says it needs up to $60 million, for example.