The head of the National Security Agency and U.S. cyber command has told Congress that the White House hasn’t instructed him to block a Russian attack against U.S. election systems this fall. “If we don’t change the dynamic here, this is going to continue,” Adm. Michael Rogers said, adding to warnings from the secretary of state and chiefs of U.S. intelligence agencies that voting systems are vulnerable to attacks by foreign actors. Russian meddling in the 2016 election is now almost universally acknowledged. And while there’s no evidence that Moscow’s cyberactivity changed vote totals, we know Russian agents targeted voting systems in at least 21 states — and that whatever methods the Russians honed this past cycle they will likely use against us in the 2018 and 2020 elections.
The problem of vulnerable voting technology predates the last presidential election. In 2015, a Brennan Center report found that voting machines in 42 states were at least a decade old. We warned that deteriorating machines were particularly vulnerable to breakdowns and hacking, and our aging equipment foreshadowed a crisis of security and reliability. In a survey just weeks ago, the Brennan Center found that 41 states likely will use decade-old voting machines this fall. The problem hasn’t gone away.
With the midterm elections eight months away, we get a second chance at tackling our crisis of inaction. But right now, the odds are not looking promising for American democracy. This has to change.