The Department of Homeland Security is preparing advice for election officials to better protect electronic voting machines, online ballots and vote counts from hackers, following the high-profile breach of Democratic National Committee emails, the head of the department said Wednesday. “We are actively thinking about election cyber security right now,” Jeh Johnson said at a breakfast with reporters in Washington hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. Any effort to guard election computers from being breached is complicated by the fact that there are more than 9,000 different voting jurisdictions in the U.S., and each has its own leadership and way of operating, he said. “There are some short-term and long-term things I think we should do to bolster the cyber security around the election process,” Johnson said, stopping short of detailing what kinds of weaknesses hackers could find to influence election results. “There are various different points in the process we have to be concerned about,” he said.
After the problem of hanging “chads” on punch cards confounded vote counters in Florida during the 2000 presidential election, Congress moved to overhaul the electoral process. Since 2002 it has allocated more than $3 billion in grants to help local officials upgrade voting processes and equipment.
In some areas, officials purchased computerized voting systems to replace punch-card machines. But some digital voting booths don’t leave a paper trail, and a few are connected to the Internet in order to receive software updates from the manufacturer, which has lead to concerns that results could be altered by hackers.