SAN FRANCISCO – 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.
A week ago Virginia announced it would no longer use touch-screen-only voting machines after a hack-a-thon in Las Vegas showed how easily they could be breached.
States with electronic-only voting machines want to add a paper back-up that would mandate, for every electronic ballot cast, creation of a paper version that could be counted, and presumably, not easily altered.
Rhode Island is set to vote on a measureTuesday that would require an audit of voters' paper ballots after each election.
Georgia is fighting a suit by voters that, among other claims, alleges the state needs to switch to a paper-ballots-based voting system because it now uses touch-screen voting machines that do not meet the requirements of state law due to their age and vulnerability to hacking.
The U.S. voting machine industry is dominated by three privately-held companies, Election Systems & Software in Omaha, Neb., Dominion Voting Systems in Toronto and HartInterCivic in Austin, Texas.A wholesale refitting of the nation's voting machine infrastructure would represent a sizable sales opportunity for them. But there's little money in the system to make that happen, say experts.
Too often voting officials lack the resources necessary to protect and upgrade election infrastructures, said Lawrence Norden, at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law and author of a report in June called Securing Elections from Foreign Interference.
“The federal government says it’s up to the states to fund it, the states often put it down to the counties and the counties say they have no money. So we need some shared responsibility for funding elections and making sure they’re free and fair," he said.
Virginia dumps touch-screen-only voting machines
Even so, some states are moving to overhaul their voting apparatus to be more secure. Last week, Virginia’s Board of Elections voted to replace touch-screen-only voting machines used in 22 localities in the state to those that have paper back-ups.
They did this after hackers at DefCon, a computer security conference, demonstrated in July that they could easily break into them.
Touch-screen voting machines are considered insecure because they don’t produce a paper copy of the vote and therefore can’t be rigorously audited. Voting integrity activists aren't advocating returning to a totally paper-based voting system, but instead requiring that voting machines produce a paper record that can be used to check the reported electronic totals.
“The step we took today to decertify paperless voting systems is necessary to ensure the integrity of Virginia’s elections,” said James Alcorn, chair of the State Board of Elections, in a statement.
Dean Logan, head of the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials and also the registrar-recorder for Los Angeles County, said some of his workers attended DefCon. Hackers' ability to break into voting machines was a fresh reminder that agencies needed to make the process more secure.
“My staff came back with pretty eye-popping stories about when people have physical access to the voting equipment, that they can do things and they can do them pretty quickly,” he said
Democrats take fight to 2020 battleground states with investments in voter protections originally appeared on abcnews.go.com
Democrats are looking to expand early investments in seven key battleground states in the lead up to the 2020 election cycle, with a six-figure investment to fund a new round of general election staff operatives, according to a Democratic Party official. The investment is part of a broad voter protection campaign -- signaling their commitment to safeguarding the integrity of U.S. elections.
The new effort, part of the Democratic National Committee's sweeping early investments targeting states that will likely define the outcome of the presidential race, coincides with the fifth Democratic debate, hosted by MSNBC and The Washington Post in Atlanta on Wednesday night at 9 p.m.
The national party is set to hire a range of directors and organizers, specifically focused on protecting voters' rights across Arizona, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin -- underscoring where next year's crucial contests will be won and lost. The new staffers will work for the state party and will be funded by the DNC, a new approach for the committee that stresses its early priority on expanding their map since 2015. The funding is being provided through the DNC’s State Party Innovation Fund (SPIF).
"The DNC is making historic, early investments to build the general election infrastructure our eventual nominee will need to defeat [President Donald] Trump. In addition to organizers who are working to mobilize key communities, we are proud to partner with our state parties to build an on-the-ground, voter-protection infrastructure that will protect the rights of voters to participate in our democracy," said Reyna Walters-Morgan, DNC director of Civic Engagement and Voter Protection, in a statement to ABC News.