Election officials and voting machine manufacturers insist that the rites of American democracy are safe from hackers. But people like Carten Schurman need just a few minutes to raise doubts about that claim. Schurman, a professor of computer science at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, used a laptop’s Wi-Fi connection Friday to gain access to the type of voting machine that Fairfax County, Virginia, used until just two years ago. Nearby, other would-be hackers took turns trying to poke into a simulated election computer network resembling the one used by Cook County, Illinois. … Before the 2016 election, former FBI Director James Comey assuaged fears by telling Congress that the system was so “clunky” — comprised of a mishmash of different kinds of machines and networks, with each state’s results managed by a consortium of state and county officials — that its overall integrity was fairly safe. Election security advocates aren’t as confident. Barbara Simons, Board Chair of Verified Voting, a nonprofit that since 2003 has studied U.S. elections equipment, said that the vulnerabilities on display in Las Vegas only served to reiterate a need for the country to adopt a nationwide system of verifiable paper ballots and mandatory, statistically significant audits. While numerous states have starting moving in this direction, Simons worries it’s not enough.
“Nobody’s done a really thorough examination,” Simons said. “Even where there are paper ballots, most ballots haven’t been checked to see if there was any hacking or intrusion, so even if security people didn’t see any outside hacking occurring on Election Day, things could have been attacked earlier.”
Verified Voting, Simons said, plans to partner with Braun and several other groups that have not yet been named to aggressively campaign for increasing DHS grants that would pay for states to make specific upgrades to their election security systems. “It’s actually pretty cheap to do it,” Braun said, putting the price tag at $500-600 million.
A significantly more secure election, while relatively difficult to implement, doesn’t need to be complicated, Simons said. “We know how to protect ourselves against Russian hacking,” she said. “Paper ballots and post-election ballot audits before the results are certified. That’s what we need across the country. It’s a straightforward solution.”