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.”
North Carolina: Replacing outdated machines will cost Madison County $400,000 | Asheville Citizen-Times
Madison County will have to invest more than $433,000 in new voting equipment before the next presidential election. The local Board of Elections at its monthly meeting inside its offices Sept. 20 discussed a plan to break up the expense over three years. “We’ll be replacing the whole voting system, the whole shooting match,” said Kathy Ray, the board’s director. “In addition to the equipment, we’ll need new supplies and materials to accommodate the new voting system.” The purchase is necessary because the machines currently in use, touchscreen iVotronic models, will be decertified by the state Sept. 1, 2019. That change will force the county to buy new machines that meet state guidelines. “The county commissioners need to know this,” board chairman Jerry Wallin said of the imminent expenditure, adding that the funds will come out of the budget crafted by the five-member panel. Wallin said he hand-delivered a memo outlining a plan to divide the expense over the next three budget years. “Did the county manager (Forrest Gilliam) pass out?” board member Dyatt Smathers asked with a smile.
A handful of lawmakers began the discussion Friday about what it might take to move Georgia to a new election system, an important but incremental step toward replacing the state’s aging voting machines. The meeting of the state House Science and Technology Committee represents a start. Any decision will likely take a few years and, depending on the type of system officials pick, could cost more than $100 million. Cheaper options are available, but the state’s leaders all need to agree on what they want. “We all want to have a system that is best in class and does all the things technology can provide for us,” said committee Chairman Ed Setzler, R-Acworth. Beginning that conversation now, he added, means the “committee starts out of session to look at these things and to look at what technological options can serve our state well.” Georgia’s current system, considered state-of-the-art when it was adopted 15 years ago, is now universally acknowledged by experts to be vulnerable to security risks and buggy software. Only a handful of states still use similar electronic systems, which voters know for their digital touch screens. A majority — 41 states — either have or are moving toward voting done entirely on paper or on a hybrid system that incorporates some kind of paper trail.
Colonial Heights and Hopewell are among 22 localities in Virginia that have received a last-minute order from the State Board of Elections to replace their voting machines in time for the election coming up on Nov. 7. At its Sept. 8 meeting, the board voted to “decertify” all voting machines using direct recording electronic (DRE) technology, also known as “touchscreen” machines. The board took the step in response to concerns raised by Department of Elections staff over the machines’ potential vulnerability to hackers and the lack of a paper trail to verify the accuracy of the votes they record. In particular, reports from an annual conference of computer hackers known as DEFCON, held last summer, showed that hackers had successfully breached the security of DRE voting machines, including one report that disclosed the password for a machine that was in use somewhere in Virginia.
Once about as newsworthy as water meters, the voting machines and computers used to record and tally the nation’s ballots are suddenly a hot button issue due to mounting evidence Russia tried to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. According to the FBI, as many as 39 states had their election systems scanned or targeted by Russia. There’s no evidence of votes changed. But given the stakes, some state agencies that run elections are trying to curb any further interference prior to mid-term elections in November. Their tool of choice: Ensuring systems can’t be hacked, and if they are, making those breaches immediately obvious. To do this, some are taking the unusual move of rewinding the technological dial, debating measures that would add paper ballots — similar to how many Americans voted before electronic voting started to become widespread in the 1980s.
Editorials: Decertifying Virginia’s vulnerable voting machines is just the first step | Fredericksburg Free Lance Star
The Virginia State Board of Elections has belatedly decided that all electronic touchscreen voting machines still in use throughout the commonwealth cannot be used for the Nov. 7 general election because they are vulnerable to hacking, even though they are not connected to the internet. This revelation is not new. For more than a decade, computer scientists at Princeton, Johns Hopkins, and other top universities have demonstrated that hackers can surreptitiously change votes on these machines without leaving a trace. In 2005, Finnish computer programmer Harri Hursti successfully hacked into Diebold voting machines that were in a locked warehouse in Leon County, Fla., under the watchful eyes of elections officials, a feat still referred to today as the Hursti Hack. But it took another demonstration of successful hacking at the DEFcon cybersecurity conference in Las Vegas this summer to finally convince board members that they needed to immediately decertify all touchscreen voting machines still in use in Virginia. Better late than never, as the old saying goes, but that left 22 cities and counties that still use them to tabulate election results in the lurch. Decertification should have happened years ago.