Even as it is consumed by political fallout from Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, Washington is still struggling to respond to what many officials see as an imminent national security threat: a network of voting systems alarmingly vulnerable to foreign attack. As hackers abroad plot increasingly brazen and sophisticated assaults, the United States’ creaky polling stations and outdated voter registration technology are not up to the task of fighting them off, according to elections officials and independent experts. Senior national security officials have repeatedly said that the United States should prepare for more foreign efforts to interfere with elections. On Tuesday, President Trump’s top intelligence advisor warned a Senate committee that Russia is moving to build on its earlier efforts to interfere with U.S. elections, which included a sustained campaign of propaganda and the unleashing of cyberoperatives.
“There should be no doubt that Russia perceives its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target,” said Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence. The administration’s top national security officials have all warned about the Russian threat, although Trump, himself, continues to minimize it.
Elections officials are daunted by the challenge of fortifying their defenses. Many still use outdated software that has fewer security protections than a decade-old cellphone. Millions of Americans vote on easily corruptible machines that provide no paper trail — an essential component for auditors to verify that tampering did not take place, experts say.
Although no evidence has surfaced to indicate that Russian hackers succeeded in directly tinkering with votes in 2016 — as opposed to propaganda efforts aimed at swaying public opinion — experts warn that the United States can’t count on that holding true next time.
“Are we going to be prepared to prevent something more egregious from happening?” said David Salvo, a resident fellow at the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a bipartisan initiative guided by some of the nation’s top national security experts. “We’re all a little skeptical.”