Paper ballots may seem like an antiquated voting practice, but hacking fears are now pushing an increasing number of states toward a return to the basics. State legislatures and election directors are heeding warnings from Washington that hackers may tamper with electronic voting systems in the 2018 midterm elections. The U.S. intelligence community has said that Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a campaign to interfere with the 2016 presidential election and that the Kremlin will try to do so again. On the national level, lawmakers have made several attempts to push legislation aiming to strengthen election cybersecurity through grants to upgrade equipment and to increase cooperation between the federal government and lower jurisdictions. So far, no such legislation has passed either chamber of Congress. Amid all this national attention, a number of states have started to act on their own bolster the integrity of elections they run. With these states, the focus has been on doing away with direct-recording electronic voting machines (DREs) that don’t produce a paper record.
Verified Voting in the News
Georgia: Bill to replace Georgia’s electronic voting machines advances | Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A proposal to replace Georgia’s electronic voting machines passed a subcommittee Tuesday despite concerns that the legislation doesn’t go far enough to safeguard elections. The measure calls for the state to begin using a new voting system with paper ballots in time for the 2020 presidential election. State lawmakers say the state’s all-digital election system, in use since 2002, is outdated and needs to be scrapped after tech experts exposed security vulnerabilities last year in the same type of voting machines as those used in Georgia. … Critics of the voting legislation say the touch-screen machines, which the state tested during a Conyers election in November, are vulnerable to tampering because they use bar codes for tabulation purposes. Voters wouldn’t be able to tell whether the bar codes matched the candidates they chose, which would also be printed on the ballot.
Pennsylvania’s tight congressional special election underscores the need for states to replace aging voting machines and use paper ballots as backups to ensure the integrity of vote counts ahead of pivotal November U.S. midterm elections, election security advocates said on Wednesday. Democrat Conor Lamb led Republican Rick Saccone by only a few hundred votes out of nearly 230,000 cast in the closely watched U.S. House of Representatives election on Tuesday in western Pennsylvania. With many states using antiquated voting machines and with concerns about potential interference in U.S. elections by Russia or other actors, there is rising concern among experts about the need to safeguard American balloting.
Senators are running into roadblocks from state officials as they try to craft legislation to secure election systems before the midterms in November. Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) are pushing for legislation that would bolster the security of U.S. voting infrastructure, with an eye toward countering threats from adversaries like Russia. But Lankford on Wednesday was forced to table an amendment to a bill moving through the Senate that was aimed at improving information-sharing between federal and state election officials on election cyber threats. State officials objected to the amendment. The development sparked frustration on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, where lawmakers have been agitating for action. … The amendment would also mandate that election service providers, including vendors and contractors, notify state officials promptly if election systems — including voting machines, voter registration databases and election agency email systems — are breached, and that state officials provide the information to their federal counterparts in a timely fashion. The secretaries of state questioned whether states would be penalized if a vendor or contractor failed to notify state election agencies of cybersecurity incidents.
Georgia: Plan to Scrap Vulnerable Voting Machines Moves to the House | The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Georgia lawmakers are preparing to ditch the state’s old and vulnerable electronic voting machines, but they haven’t fully committed to paper ballots that can’t be hacked. A bill to to replace all of Georgia’s 27,000 voting machines in time for the 2020 presidential election cleared the state Senate last week and is now pending in the House. Organizations seeking secure elections say they’re worried that Georgia could end up with an untrustworthy and expensive election system. The legislation has raised some concerns, including the lack of a requirement that manual recounts be conducted with paper ballots and the possibility that bar codes could be printed on the ballots. “Electronics make life easier, but they also can be manipulated,” said Sara Henderson, the executive director of Common Cause Georgia, a government accountability group. “We’re trying to get changes into the bill that will make paper the official ballot of record. “If we don’t have that language in there, we’ll have the same situation as we have now,” she said.
Genesee County Clerk John Gleason powered up his work computer last summer and began sifting through his emails. To his shock, he said he found a “nasty, vulgar-laden” email in his sent folder, supposedly authored by him. “At first, I thought it was someone in the office playing a joke on me,” said Gleason, who has presided over every election in the mid-Michigan county of 410,000 residents since he was elected clerk in 2013. County workers tracked the source of the email to a Russian phishing link intended to hook users with the promise of dating or weight loss, Gleason said. A few months ago, a similar incident happened to his computer, which Gleason uses to help direct elections in Michigan’s fifth-largest county. … Computer scientists and elections experts consider the optical scan systems the best because they start with a paper ballot, which make it possible for election officials to double-check results if questions arise. But that doesn’t mean the machines can’t be hacked. Since Americans began using electronic voting machines 15 years ago, computer scientists have repeatedly warned that nearly every type of system is susceptible to manipulation.
Texas: Experts Say Electronic Voting Machines Aren’t Secure. So Travis County Is Designing Its Own. | KUT
Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir has spent more than a decade working with researchers and computer security experts to design a voting machine that’s more secure and reliable. This massive undertaking resulted in the Secure, Transparent, Auditable, and Reliable Voting System, or STAR-Vote. But getting manufacturers to build it has been a challenge. … When Houston first floated the idea of switching to DREs in 2001, it caught Dan Wallach’s attention. He urged city leaders not to ditch paper ballots. “My message then was: These are just computers,” says Wallach, a professor in the department of computer science at Rice University, “and computers are hackable.”
Editorials: Replace Pennsylvania voting machines right now | Marian Schneider and Wilfred Codrington/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pennsylvania’s Acting Secretary of State Robert Torres last month directed that, going forward, all voting machines purchased in the state must employ “a voter-verifiable paper ballot or paper record of votes cast.” This was great news. It will help ensure the accuracy of vote-counting in Pennsylvania and give voters more confidence in election results. It was long overdue. The two key words in the directive are “verifiable” and “paper,” neither of which apply to how the vast majority of Pennsylvanians have been voting since 2006. Currently, 83 percent of Pennsylvania voters use direct-recording electronic systems, or DREs — voting machines that produce no paper ballot for voters to verify before leaving their polling places and that therefore leave no paper trail to follow if election results are contested. DREs are computer systems. Have you ever had your computer crash? Have you ever heard of computer systems being hacked?
Editorials: Putin and Sissi are putting on elections. Why bother? | Jackson Diehl/The Washington Post
With Western democracy on the defensive, China’s Xi Jinping is aggressively advancing a new model for human governance in the 21st century: personal dictatorship backed by nationalism, state-directed capitalism and a security apparatus empowered by cutting-edge technologies. There’s no pretense of evolution toward democracy or even the rule of law. On the contrary, Xi explicitly casts his regime as an alternative that “offers a new option for other countries.” Among the world leaders seemingly most likely to embrace this neo-totalitarianism are Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Egypt’s Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, both of whom have consolidated personal power on a platform of nationalism. So it’s interesting that both Putin and Sissi are putting on presidential elections this month. Sure, these are not real elections. They are Potemkin pageants that will award the two strongmen overwhelming victories, thanks in part to the exclusion of all serious opponents. The only suspense about the March 18 vote in Russia, or the ballot in Egypt concluding 10 days later, will be about the abstention rate, because opposition leaders in both countries are calling for boycotts.
National: Election Security a High Priority – Until It Comes to Paying for New Voting Machines | ProPublica
“Today’s voting systems are not going to last 70 years, they’re going to last 10,” says U.S. Elections Assistance Commission Commissioner Matt Masterson. While previous generations of voting equipment, lever machines and punch cards, had hardware that could be relied on for decades, today’s technology becomes outdated a lot faster. While election equipment needs to be replaced more often, election administration remains a low funding priority, a ProPublica review of state and local budgets nationwide found. In 2017, Utah appropriated $275,000 to aid counties in purchasing new voting equipment, but $500,000 to help sponsor the Sundance Film Festival. A few years earlier, Missouri allocated $2 million in grants to localities to replace voting equipment the state, while increasing the Division of Tourism budget by $10 million to $24 million.