Many of the nation’s secretaries of state were meeting in Philadelphia with federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials about election security last Friday when news broke that a dozen Russian agents had been indicted for interfering with the 2016 election. “Obviously, this is on the forefront of our minds,” says Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos, who attended the meeting. “All 50 states and territories are focused on security.” But the indictments aren’t the only bit of troubling news election officials have received in recent days. Last week, Maryland officials announced that the FBI had informed them that ByteGrid LLC, an election vendor that handles the state’s voter registration, election management and election night results sites, is financed by a fund whose manager is Russian and whose top investor is a Russian oligarch. Over the weekend, a Russian woman named Maria Butina was arrested and appeared in court Monday on charges that she was a Kremlin agent who worked to infiltrate the National Rifle Association and other conservative groups in an effort to influence U.S. politics.
And on Tuesday, Vice reported that Election Systems & Software, a major voting machine manufacturer and software vendor, conceded in a letter to U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden that it had installed remote-access software on its machines between 2000 and 2006.
“Installing remote-access software and modems on election equipment is the WORST decision for security short of leaving ballot boxes on a Moscow street corner,” Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, tweeted on Tuesday. “Congress MUST pass my bill to require paper ballots and audits.”
While taking these threats seriously — and finding out new information on seemingly a daily basis about vulnerabilities to attack — state and local election officials stress that they have made great strides in making voting systems safer over the past year and a half.