With the U.S. presidential election just weeks away, questions about election security continue to dog the nation’s voting system. It’s too late for election officials to make major improvements, “and there are no resources,” said Joe Kiniry, a long-time election security researcher. However, officials can take several steps for upcoming elections, security experts say. “Nobody should ever imagine changing the voting technology used this close to a general election,” said Douglas Jones, a computer science professor at the University of Iowa. “The best time to buy new equipment would be in January after a general election, so you’ve got almost two years to learn how to use it.” … Some states conduct extensive pre-election tests of their voting equipment, but other tests are less comprehensive, said Pamela Smith, president of elections security advocacy group Verified Voting. Most jurisdictions conduct pre-election voting tests, but many “randomly select some machines” after ballot information, such as candidates’ names, is programmed in, Smith said. Testing all voting machines before an election would be more secure, she said.
The question on the mind of many voting security experts is not whether hackers could disrupt a U.S. election. Instead, they wonder how likely an election hack might be and how it might happen. The good news is a hack that changes the outcome of a U.S. presidential election would be difficult, although not impossible. First of all, there are technology challenges — more than 20 voting technologies are used across the country, including a half dozen electronic voting machine models and several optical scanners, in addition to hand-counted paper ballots. But the major difficulty of hacking an election is less a technological challenge than an organizational one, with hackers needing to marshal and manage the resources needed to pull it off, election security experts say. And a handful of conditions would need to fall into place for an election hack to work. Many U.S. voting systems still have vulnerabilities, and many states use statistically unsound election auditing practices, said Joe Kiniry, a long-time election security researcher. “With enough money and resources, I don’t think [hacking the election] is actually a technical challenge,” said Kiniry, now CEO and chief scientist at Free and Fair, an election technology developer. “It’s a social, a political, and an infrastructural challenge because you’d have a medium-sized conspiracy to achieve such a goal. Technically, it’s not rocket science.”