Cybersecurity for elections has been in the news a lot lately. There have been proposals for new cybersecurity efforts for election systems. There have been demonstrations of hacking voting machines. However, we’ve been missing a crucial point: election equipment cannot be made completely secure. Given that well-defended systems in other fields still suffer cybersecurity breaches, we should assume that well-secured election infrastructure will sometimes be compromised by hackers. Therefore, it is imperative that we enhance the resiliency of our election systems and processes so that they provide accurate election results even if the equipment used for registration, voting, results reporting, or other parts of the election process have been successfully hacked.
Here are four ideas worth considering as part of a more comprehensive strategy that would need to be worked out by election officials in discussion with other stakeholders.
Ensure that ballots can be cast, even if a cyber intrusion has corrupted voter registration, ballot casting and counting, results reporting, or other systems that support the electoral process. Election officers must be prepared for large scale provisional voting, an established process used to resolve a variety of disputes over a voter’s eligibility. It may be wise to make contingency plans to conduct the entire vote with provisional ballots if a serious cyber breach impacts the election process. While not a perfect solution, it is a form of analog failover that would allow us to maintain operations during a cyber attack at reduced efficiency while preserving our ability to recover from the attack transparently to achieve a full and accurate vote.
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