Ahead of November election, old voting machines stir concerns among U.S. officials

Ahead of November election, old voting machines stir concerns among U.S. officials

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HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (Reuters) – U.S. election officers chargeable for managing greater than a dozen shut races this November share a worry: Outdated voting machines of their districts may undermine confidence in election outcomes that may decide which get together controls the U.S. Congress.

In 14 of the 40 best races, Individuals will forged ballots on voting machines that don’t present a paper path to audit voters’ intentions if a detailed election is questioned, based on a Reuters evaluation of knowledge from six states and the Verified Voting Basis, a non-political group involved about verifiable elections.

These embody races in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Texas, Florida, Kansas and Kentucky. Nationwide, of 435 congressional seats up for grabs, 144 are in districts the place some or all voters is not going to have entry to machines utilizing paper data, the evaluation exhibits. Whereas one thing may go unsuitable in any of these districts, it’s within the shut elections the place a miscount or a notion of a miscount issues most.

Many of the dozen-plus state and native election officers interviewed by Reuters mentioned they fear about dangerous actors hacking the older digital voting machines to change ballots, after which being unable to confirm the outcomes as a result of there might be no paper path. However the officers fear most about voters dropping belief in elections, as a result of officers wouldn’t be capable of visibly display that the tally was certainly correct.

“Voter confidence is a extremely large factor, and it’s the battle I fear about dropping,” mentioned Pennsylvania’s elections commissioner, Jonathan Marks. His state has 4 of the nation’s most hotly contested elections – all of them in counties that use the older machines.

Whereas there isn’t any proof that any voting machines have been hacked within the 2016 presidential election of Donald Trump, there may be elevated nervousness, largely due to U.S. intelligence findings that Russia actively sought, largely by means of manipulation of social media, to sow mistrust.

Trump himself has been accused by opponents of undermining confidence within the U.S. election system by falsely claiming that Hillary Clinton’s victory within the well-liked vote was as a consequence of huge voter fraud in favor of his Democratic opponent. No proof of such fraud has been discovered.

A NEED FOR PAPER

Most election officers interviewed by Reuters mentioned they neither have the time nor the cash to put in voting machines which have a verifiable paper backup in time for the 2018 election. Officers consider paper is one of the best ways to confirm disputed election outcomes as a result of it may be bodily examined and counted.

The Division of Homeland Safety declared final yr that Russian hackers had probed election-related pc methods in 21 of the 50 states throughout the 2016 election and small quantity have been compromised. U.S. officers mentioned, nevertheless, there was no proof votes have been altered in 2016.

Intelligence businesses count on extra meddling main as much as the 2018 elections. “The intelligence group has been clear that the menace and need to undermine confidence in our democratic establishments stays,” mentioned Matt Masterson, senior cyber safety adviser within the Division of Homeland Safety.

Voting machines are usually not linked to the web and due to this fact are tough to hack. However even when hackers don’t get in throughout the moments they is perhaps linked to the web, if voters are led to consider that the outcomes are faked or mistallied, the distrust of the system may undermine religion in elections, mentioned Washington State Secretary of State Kim Wyman.

Eric Cooper, director of product technique for Dominion Voting Methods, demonstrates one of many firm’s voting machines in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania April 26, 2018. Photograph taken April 26, 2018. REUTERS/Sharon Bernstein

“If individuals understand anyone cheated, then it’s as if anyone cheated,” mentioned Wyman.

TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE

Many states switched to digital voting machines after paper poll disputes forged a pall over Republican George W. Bush’s victory over Democrat Al Gore in 2000. However with cybersecurity a nascent concern on the time, securing machines in opposition to potential hackers was largely an afterthought.

Final fall, Virginia turned the one state for the reason that 2016 election to interchange all of its paperless touchscreen machines after its board of elections decertified them.

The state acted after hackers on the annual Def Con hacking convention in Las Vegas demonstrated how they may shortly break into digital machines, together with a few of the fashions utilized in Virginia. Different states ordered their counties to improve, however they have been delayed by lack of cash and the tough logistics of procuring new gear.

For essentially the most half, the Def Con train found vulnerabilities by bodily accessing voting machines, in some instances actually pulling them aside to search out safety weaknesses. 

Earlier this yr, Congress appropriated $380 million to improve election methods throughout the nation, however state and native officers say the quantity is each too little and comes too late for them to purchase new machines for the 2018 election.

In Pennsylvania, for example, the state has ordered native jurisdictions, that are charged with administering elections, to replace their methods by 2019. It would price as much as $150 million, mentioned Kathy Boockvar, Pennsylvania’s senior adviser to the governor on election modernization, however the federal authorities funding offers solely $14 million of it.

To assist states shore up their methods within the meantime, DHS presents states weekly updates on cyber threats and sends pc specialists to verify the safety of native methods, mentioned Masterson, the cybersecurity adviser at Homeland Safety.

Willie G. Wesley Jr., of ESS Elections Methods, shows a paper poll that makes voitng on digital methods safer at an exposition of voting machines in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania April 26, 2018. REUTERS/Sharon Bernstein

Florida employed a cybersecurity agency to research its methods.

In Kentucky, the state introduced in federal advisers to coach county election chiefs on safety dangers. It plans to coach one other 15,000 ballot employees earlier than November’s election, mentioned Alison Grimes, Kentucky’s secretary of state.

Reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Dustin Volz in Washington, D.C., Jim Finkle in Montreal, and Grant Smith in New York; Enhancing by Damon Darlin and Ross Colvin

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