The safeguards that election officials say protect voting machines from being hacked are not as effective as advertised, a leading election security expert says. U.S. elections, including national ones, are run by state and local offices. While that decentralization could serve an argument that elections are difficult to hack, University of Michigan Professor J. Alex Halderman says that it’s more like a double-edged sword. Speaking to an audience of students and faculty at the University of Maryland’s engineering school on Monday, Halderman said that the U.S. is unique in how elections are localized. States and counties choose the technology used to run federal elections. “Each state state running its own independent election system in many cases does provide a kind of defense. And that defense is that there is no single point nationally that you can try to attack or hack into in order to change the national results,” Halderman said. But since national elections often hinge on swing states like, Virginia, Ohio or Pennsylvania, attackers can look for vulnerabilities where they would count. “An adversary could probe the election systems in all the close states, look for the ones that have the biggest weaknesses and strike there, and thereby flip a few of those swing states,” Halderman said.
… Amid the national alarm over the threat of election hacking, officials in several states have taken steps toward replacing paperless machines.
In a fiscal 2018 spending bill passed last month, Congress authorized $380 million in federal funding for states to improve the administration of elections and enhance election security. The Election Assistance Commission is starting to dole out the funds using a population-based formula, which Halderman says spreads the money too thin. The EAC also does not attach requirement for how the funding should be used. “States could theoretically use this money to buy bad stuff or waste most of the money,” Halderman said.
A bipartisan group on the Senate Intelligence Committee is pushing the Secure Elections Act, which would provide additional funding that is conditional upon states using it to replace paperless machines and conduct risk-limiting audits, whereby a certain fraction of ballots is counted by hand to achieve a statistical degree of certainty that vote counts are accurate. “This is a really strong bill and would go a long way toward fixing the problem,” Halderman said.