Many States Still Using Vulnerable Electronic Elections Systems

May 11, 2018

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WASHINGTON, D.C. - With just six months until the midterm elections in November, experts say America's voting infrastructure remains extremely vulnerable to outside interference.

A recent Congressional report found that prior to and during the 2016 presidential election, there were dozens of attempts by hackers - believed to be Russian - to break into the voting systems of several states. Danielle Root, voting rights manager for the Center for American Progress, said although there has been some progress, many states still have not taken the necessary steps to protect their election systems. "The primary concern is over hacking into voter registration databases," Root said. "And the fear is that they could infiltrate the system and delete or alter voter registration information that would prevent voters from casting ballots on election day when they show up to the polls."

Root said digital voting machines, especially those that do not produce a verifiable paper trail, are vulnerable to electronic break-ins. She added that computers used to tally and report votes are equally at risk, and that until cybersecurity measures are improved, the only way to ensure a safe election is to use paper ballots. While some states are making election security changes, Root said at least a dozen still exclusively use highly vulnerable electronic voting machines without a paper backup system.

One major problem for most states is the cost. Root said earlier this year, Congress allocated $380 million in grant funds for states to improve their election security, but it may not be enough. "The cost of replacing some of the paperless electronic voting machines can be quite expensive for states, especially those that use them statewide," Root said. "This federal funding is not quite enough to do that in many, many states, which is unfortunate."

She said the ultimate goal of hackers is to disrupt the American elections and discourage voters from going to the polls. But, she said, there is a simple way to counter that. "Keep encouraging people to turn out to vote. When our democracy is under threat, it is more important than ever to get out and have your voice heard and really exercise your civic duty," Root said.

One of the major problems in providing voting security is that elections are handled mostly at the local level, with thousands of cities and counties each operating under their own rules and procedures. Root said it will take a great deal of time and effort to educate those officials on how to run secure elections.

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