Concerns about the fragility of US electronic voting systems to cyberattacks go back to 2002 when the Help America Vote Act was passed mandating the replacement of lever-based machines and punchcards with more modern voting equipment. Those concerns have been greatly amplified this election season with reports of attacks on voter registration systems in some 20 states and intrusions into the Democratic National Committee’s computers by hackers believed to be out of Russia. The attacks have stirred considerable fears about foreign adversaries and nation-state actors somehow disrupting the elections and even manipulating the outcome of the voting to favor one of the two major party candidates. … In all states but five, a vast majority of the electronic voting equipment that voters use will have paper backups. Some voters will use what are known as Direct-Recording Electronic (DRE) voting systems to cast their votes electronically. Others will mark their choices on a paper ballot and feed it into an optical scanner that will do the ballot counting. In both cases, voters and election officials will have a so-called Voter Verifiable Paper Audit trail that will provide a reliable backup even if the machines fail or are somehow compromised.
In an already topsy-turvy presidential campaign, the recent breaches of Democratic Party computer networks have fueled fears about potential foreign meddling and raised questions about how secure the electronic systems that record and tally votes across the country are from sophisticated hackers. For years, computer security experts have warned that electronic voting is vulnerable to hacking that could alter vote tallies and theoretically swing an election. The intrusions that compromised the Democratic National Committee and the House Democrats’ fundraising campaigns’ systems — both of which cybersecurity experts have blamed on groups linked to Russian intelligence agencies — have only heightened those concerns. Even a minor breach could wreak havoc by undermining the public’s faith in the integrity of the balloting, particularly in a campaign as contentious as this year’s presidential race. “We cannot function without the leadership that is elected via the democratic process, and attacks on our election system could undermine all of the confidence that voters have in the legitimacy of our leadership,” said J. Alex Halderman, a computer science professor at the University of Michigan who has studied security in electronic and internet voting.