Pennsylvania’s democracy is at a critical juncture. Weaknesses in the security of our elections present a threat both to our electoral outcomes and to public faith and trust in government of, by, and for the people. We have been fortunate thus far to avoid such an assault on our democracy. Recognizing the gravity of what is at stake, The Blue Ribbon Commission on Pennsylvania’s Election Security (which we co-chair) endeavored to research and analyze the security of the Commonwealth’s election architecture. The commission’s just-released report, which documents those efforts and offers actionable and achievable solutions, provides a blueprint for how Pennsylvania’s leaders can do what is needed to protect our elections.
We launched the commission to bring together experts and leaders from across the state, of all political stripes, with the clear goal of improving Pennsylvania’s election security before it is too late. The commission’s independence from any governmental body—The Heinz Endowments and the Charles H. Spang Fund of The Pittsburgh Foundation provided support—gave us an advantage in our work, and the commission (hosted by the University of Pittsburgh’s Institute for Cyber Law, Policy and Security) benefited from collaboration with Verified Voting and Carnegie Mellon’s Software Engineering Institute CERT Division.
During the course of our work over the past eight months, the commission and its staff conducted extensive research, solicited comments from the public, received presentations from experts in the field and state and local officials, attended a demonstration of new voting systems available in Pennsylvania, and issued interim recommendations.
Those recommendations focused on the most pressing danger to our state’s elections: the prevalence of vulnerable, paperless direct-recording electronic systems (or “DREs”). According to Verified Voting, 83% of Pennsylvania voters used these paperless machines in the November 2018 mid-term elections. Without a voter-marked paper ballot, counties using these paperless systems cannot support meaningful recounts and post-election audits needed to instill confidence in the vote count. Further, as the commission’s report describes in more detail, DREs are susceptible to technological errors and hacking.