Numerous electronic voting machines used in United States elections have critical exposures that could make them vulnerable to hacking. Security experts have known that for a decade. But it wasn’t until Russia meddled in the 2016 US presidential campaigns and began probing digital voting systems that the topic took on pressing urgency. Now hackers, researchers, diplomats, and national security experts are pushing to effect real change in Washington. The latest update? It’s working, but maybe not fast enough. On Tuesday, representatives from the hacking conference DefCon and partners at the Atlantic Council think tank shared findings from a report about DefCon’s Voting Village, where hundreds of hackers got to physically interact with—and compromise—actual US voting machines for the first time ever at the conference in July. Work over three days at the Village underscored the fundamental vulnerability of the devices, and raised questions about important issues, like the trustworthiness of hardware parts manufactured in other countries, including China. But most importantly, the report highlights the dire urgency of securing US voting systems before the 2018 midterm elections.
State election officials, worried about the integrity of their voting systems, are pressing to make them more secure ahead of next year’s midterm elections. Reacting in large part to Russian efforts to hack the presidential election last year, a growing number of states are upgrading electoral databases and voting machines, and even adding cybersecurity experts to their election teams. The efforts — from both Democrats and Republicans — amount to the largest overhaul of the nation’s voting infrastructure since the contested presidential election in 2000 spelled an end to punch-card ballots and voting machines with mechanical levers. One aim is to prepare for the 2018 and 2020 elections by upgrading and securing electoral databases and voting machines that were cutting-edge before Facebook and Twitter even existed. Another is to spot and defuse attempts to depress turnout and sway election results by targeting voters with false news reports and social media posts.
The return of paper ballots for all Virginia voters, a process begun a decade ago and accelerated by the threat of hacks of computerized voting machines, has kicked into high gear a month before the next state election. Edgardo Cortés, Virginia’s commissioner of elections, said last week all of the commonwealth’s cities, towns and counties will use paper ballots and electronic scanners on Nov. 7, ensuring voting and tabulation are secure. “The issue here is not whether it’s hackable or not,” Cortés said in an interview. “The issue is if you end up with some kind of question, you have those paper ballots you can go back to.” The danger is not theoretical.
Virginia: Warner Cautions Russian ‘Active Measures’ May Impact Virginia Elections Next Month | Falls Church News-Press
Virginia’s U.S. Senator Mark Warner, vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee investigating Russia’s role interfering in U.S. elections, confirmed at a Capitol Hill press conference Wednesday that the Russians’ efforts remain active and could impact the Virginia gubernatorial and other state races on the ballot next month. Warner, and Senate Intelligence Committee chair Sen. Richard Burr, criticized the Department of Homeland Security for delaying until just last week the release of its findings that the Russians attempted to penetrate the electoral processes in 21 U.S. states, including Virginia. Warner praised the Virginia Department of Elections for acting proactively to decertify voting machines that failed to have “paper trails” in jurisdictions throughout the state, including in the City of Falls Church. The decertification order came just in time to allow for the substitution of new voting machines with such “paper trails” in advance of the beginning of absentee balloting last month.
The Gambia: Electoral Commission mulls switch from marbles to ballot papers in future elections | Journal du Cameroun
Gambia’s election chief, Alieu Momar Njai has said the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) is considering swapping marbles in favour of ballot papers for voters in future national elections.Since elections began in The Gambia under British colonial rule in the early 20th century, glass marbles instead of ballot papers are used in successive voting exercises, including the latest poll cycle which began last December. Speaking to the online Fatu Network on Wednesday, Mr Njai said the introduction of ballot papers which are the standard voting materials for much of the rest of the world, could be as early as the local government elections scheduled for 12 April 2018.
After the “hanging chad” fiasco during the 2000 presidential recount, many states and counties switched to electronic-only voting machines to modernize their systems. Now, amid security concerns over Russian hackers targeting state voting systems in last year’s election, there’s a renewed focus on shifting to paper ballots. In Virginia, election officials decided last month to stop using paperless touch-screen machines, in an effort to safeguard against unauthorized access to the equipment and improve the security of the state’s voting system. In Georgia, which uses electronic voting machines with no paper record, legislators are discussing getting rid of their aging equipment and using paper ballots instead. In a municipal election this November, officials will test a hybrid electronic-paper system. “States and counties were already moving toward paper ballots before 2016,” said Katy Owens Hubler, a consultant to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). “But the Russian hacking incident has brought the spotlight to this issue.”
It’s all about security. Or rather, the perception of security. “Until security on the internet feels like something the people can trust … paper is the future,” said David B. Bjerke, director of elections and general registrar of voters of Falls Church, Virginia. Paper — or lack of it — was one of the reasons that several models of voting machines were suddenly decertified by Virginia’s State Board of Elections. The tipping point came over the summer, when hackers at the DEFCON gathering in Las Vegas demonstrated how they could compromise the security of direct recording electronic machines. “I understand why the Virginia State Board of Elections made their decision,” said Bjerke. “The security that was involved in these DREs, the direct recording electronic machines, hadn’t been updated since 2004. So, obviously, technology has increased since then. And the ability to hack equipment in general has increased. And so, without updating those security protocols, I understand why they wanted to make all DREs decertified.”
Editorials: With Russian hackers apparently bent on wrongdoing, Pennsylvania must protect its voting systems | LNP
Last week, the Trump administration informed election officials in 21 states, including Pennsylvania, that Russian hackers targeted their election systems before last year’s presidential election, The Associated Press reported. Pennsylvania was not the only key battleground state targeted; so, too, were Florida, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin. The targeting was reported to have been mostly preparatory — scanning computer systems for weaknesses that could be exploited — and to have been aimed at voter registration systems, rather than vote-tallying software. The notification “came roughly a year after U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials first said states were targeted by hacking efforts possibly connected to Russia,” the AP reported. … In 2015, the state Supreme Court rejected an appeal from voters who sought to halt the use of direct-recording electronic voting machines in Pennsylvania. Election officials say that because the machines aren’t connected to the internet, they’re safe. But they don’t produce a verifiable paper trail — which now seems like a glaring deficit.
When state election officials ordered the immediate elimination of touch-screen voting machines in early September, the decision struck some localities as hasty. Now it looks as though it might have come just in the nick of time. The Board of Elections issued the order after hearing about vulnerabilities in the touch-screen systems. A demonstration at a tech conference this summer showed just how easy it is to hack into supposedly secure machines — by using a touch-screen machine from Virginia. Replacing the machines in the dozen or so localities, mostly small and rural, that still rely on them will strain their abilities. Board member Clara Bell Wheeler even expressed concern that the resulting confusion could disenfranchise some voters. But after hearing about technical vulnerabilities in a closed-door session, Wheeler agreed the switch was necessary. She called the briefing “enlightening.”
When voters in Virginia head to the polls this November, they’ll be casting their ballots the old-fashioned way. The state’s Board of Elections decided earlier this month to de-certify the widely used Direct-Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machines ahead of the gubernatorial election – prompting counties and cities to replace their touchscreen machines with those that produce a paper trail. Virginia is not alone. Several states are now considering a return to old-fashioned paper ballots or a reinforced paper trail so results can be verified, amid concerns over hacking attempts in last year’s presidential race as well as longstanding cybersecurity worries about touchscreen machines. “Our No. 1 priority is to make sure that Virginia elections are carried out in a secure and fair manner,” James Alcorn, chairman of the State Board of Elections, said in a statement, calling the move “necessary to ensure the integrity of Virginia’s elections.”