Pressure to examine voting machines used in the 2016 election grows daily as evidence builds that Russian hacking attacks were broader and deeper than previously known. And the Department of Homeland Security has a simple response: No. DHS officials from former secretary Jeh Johnson to acting Director of Cyber Division Samuel Liles may be adamant that machines were not affected, but the agency has not in fact opened up a single voting machine since November to check. Asked about the decision, a DHS official told TPM: “In a September 2016 Intelligence Assessment, DHS and our partners determined that there was no indication that adversaries were planning cyber activity that would change the outcome of the coming US election.” … Computer scientists have been critical of that decision. “They have performed computer forensics on no election equipment whatsoever,” said J. Alex Halderman, who testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week about the vulnerability of election systems. “That would be one of the most direct ways of establishing in the equipment whether it’s been penetrated by attackers. We have not taken every step we could.”
Voting machines, especially the electronic machines still used in several states, are so insecure that an attack on them is likely to be successful, according to a report from NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice out Thursday morning. David Dill, a voting systems expert and professor of computer science at Stanford University quoted in the report, said hackers can easily breach election systems regardless of whether they’re able to coordinate widely enough to alter a general election result. “I don’t know why they wouldn’t try to hack voting machines and I don’t know what would stop them,” Dill told TPM. “Any statement that says ‘We haven’t see evidence of X’ also means ‘We haven’t lifted a finger to investigate.’”
… Some of the paralysis around how to move forward is a result of tensions between DHS and states angry about the designation of their election systems as “critical infrastructure” in January, just before President Trump took office. Then-secretary Johnson even acknowledged at the time that the designation was controversial to many state election officials, who see the offer of federal assistance, often with strings attached, as an attempted takeover (Johnson testified last week that when a critical infrastructure designation was first floated to state officials in August, the reaction “ranged from neutral to negative”).
“They’re in this strange position where they had a lot of pushback from election officials over federal overreach and in some ways they’re in a little bit of a bind,” said the Brennan Center’s Larry Norden, one of the authors of its report.