As the United States barrels toward November elections, officials are still looking for last-minute fixes to ensure that the patchwork of voting technology used around the country can fend off the increasingly troubling prospect of hacker attacks. And in the latest of those efforts, Georgia representative Hank Johnson is set to introduce two bills today designed to shore up that fragile system’s security. The Election Infrastructure and Security Promotion Act of 2016 would mandate that the Department of Homeland Security classify voting systems as critical infrastructure, and the Election Integrity Act would limit which voting machines states can buy and also create a plan for handling system failures. The bills reflect a growing debate about whether designating voting tech as critical infrastructure (like the public water supply, energy systems, transportation, communication grid, and the financial sector) would help to secure the U.S.’s highly decentralized voting setup. In the wake of the Democratic National Committee breach and increasingly brazen Russian cyberespionage attacks, concern is mounting about the potential for election hacking in the 2016 presidential race and beyond. Voting registries and election board websites have been compromised, security researchers have shown that electronic voting machines are vulnerable, and agencies like the FBI are on alert.
… In the meantime, DHS announced in August that it’s offering assistance to states that want additional help vetting their voting systems and taking final precautions ahead of the upcoming election.”Because some attention was drawn to this issue a couple of months ago, more people know that DHS does offer services,” like security testing and audits, says Pamela Smith, the president of Verified Voting, a non-profit group that promotes transparent elections. “All the election jurisdiction has to do is ask. And it went from three states to nine states as of a week ago that were availing themselves of some of the services that DHS is offering. I don’t think that would have happened had it not come up in a very public way.”
… Though the controversy around potential DHS involvement in voting is far from resolved, the process of debating a bill like Johnson’s could help to clarify what the agency’s role would be and how far its influence would extend. But without some type of updated mandatory security standards, the danger of a weak link in the U.S.’s 9,000-plus voting jurisdictions seems inevitable. “It’s the whole country that has a stake in how safe those systems are,” says Verified Voting’s Smith. “So when we’re talking about state and local elections, yeah, you do you. But if we’re talking about federal elections where there is a factor that has an impact on everybody, then I think it’s fair to have a baseline.”