Pennsylvania’s elections — like many other states’ — are vulnerable to cyber attack, leaving our democracy in a precarious state. As a former Pennsylvania legislator and member of Congress representing the Keystone State, I know how important free, fair, and secure elections are to governing. A lack of public trust in the vote imperils our great American experiment in popular sovereignty. Despite these serious threats to our election architecture, there are known solutions that we can, and must, implement. The report of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Pennsylvania’s Election Security provides this blueprint to secure our elections.
The most pressing challenge in Pennsylvania rests with our voting machines. In the 2018 midterm elections, more than 80 percent of Pennsylvania voters cast their ballots on less secure, paperless machines (called direct-recording electronic systems, or DREs). These machines are vulnerable to hacking and technological errors, something that researchers have long demonstrated. The machines used also lack a paper trail, making it impossible for officials to recount individual ballots in close races or conduct routine post-election audits. Pennsylvania is not alone: 13 states total used paperless DREs in this past November’s elections.
These threats are grave enough to demand action in any state, and Pennsylvania’s status as a perennial battleground adds to the immediacy of the problem. In 2016, for example, Donald Trump prevailed in Pennsylvania by fewer than 50,000 votes, and in this past November’s congressional elections, voters decided several races by a few percentage points. These close races coupled with the commonwealth’s vulnerable voting machines make Pennsylvania a prime target for any sophisticated attacker set on shifting the results of national elections.