When the Homeland Security Department alerted state governments about Russian attempts to probe their election systems in 2016, it followed an ad hoc, one-size-fits-all process, mostly reaching out through existing cybersecurity relationships with governors’ offices. As a result, the officials running those elections—which are often politically firewalled from governors—were sometimes left in the dark. As the clock counts down to national elections in 2018 and 2020, Homeland Security is taking the opposite approach, asking top election officials in all 50 states how they’d like to communicate about relevant information security information, said Robert Kolasky, acting deputy undersecretary for Homeland Security’s cyber and infrastructure protection division.
This week, GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump openly speculated that this election would be “rigged.” Last month, Russia decided to take an active role in our election. There’s no basis for questioning the results of a vote that’s still months away. But the interference and aspersions do merit a fresh look at the woeful state of our outdated, insecure electronic voting machines. We’ve previously discussed the sad state of electronic voting machines in America, but it’s worth a closer look as we approach election day itself, and within the context of increased cyber-hostilities between the US and Russia. Besides, by now states have had plenty of warning since a damning report by the Brennan Center for Justice about our voting machine vulnerabilities came out last September. Surely matters must have improved since then. Well, not exactly. In fact, not really at all. … So electronic voting machines aren’t ideal. The good news is, it’s entirely possible to mitigate any potential harm they might cause, either by malice or mistake. First, it’s important to realize that electronic voting machines aren’t as commonplace as one might assume. Three-quarters of the country will vote on a paper ballot this fall, says Pamela Smith, president of Verified Voting, a group that promotes best practices at the polls. Only five states—Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, and New Jersey—use “direct recording electronic” (DRE) machines exclusively. But lots of other states use electronic machines in some capacity. Verified Voting also has a handy map of who votes using what equipment, which lets you drill down both to specific counties and machine brands, so you can see what’s in use at your polling station.