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

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(Reuters) – U.S. election officers liable for managing greater than a dozen shut races this November share a worry: Outdated voting machines of their districts might undermine confidence in election outcomes that may decide which occasion controls the U.S. Congress.

In 14 of the 40 best races, People will forged ballots on voting machines that don’t present a paper path to audit voters’ intentions if an in depth 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 embrace 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 won’t have entry to machines utilizing paper information, the evaluation exhibits. Whereas one thing might go mistaken in any of these districts, it’s within the shut elections the place a miscount or a notion of a miscount issues most.

A lot 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 shedding belief in elections, as a result of officers wouldn’t be capable to visibly display that the tally was certainly correct.

“Voter confidence is a extremely huge factor, and it’s the battle I fear about shedding,” 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 is no such thing as a proof that any voting machines have been hacked within the 2016 presidential election of Donald Trump, there’s elevated nervousness, largely due to U.S. intelligence findings that Russia actively sought, principally 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 in style vote was as a result of large 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 imagine 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 laptop techniques in 21 of the 50 states in the course of the 2016 election and {that a} 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 neighborhood has been clear that the risk and want to undermine confidence in our democratic establishments stays,” mentioned Matt Masterson, senior cyber safety adviser within the Division of Homeland Safety.

Voting machines are typically not linked to the web and subsequently are tough to hack. However even when hackers don’t get in in the course of the moments they may be linked to the web, if voters are led to imagine that the outcomes are faked or mistallied, the distrust of the system might 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 folks understand someone cheated, then it’s as if someone 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 towards potential hackers was largely an afterthought.

Final fall, Virginia turned the one state for the reason that 2016 election to exchange 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 rapidly break into digital machines, together with a number 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 circumstances actually pulling them aside to seek out safety weaknesses. 

Earlier this yr, Congress appropriated $380 million to improve election techniques 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, as an example, the state has ordered native jurisdictions, that are charged with administering elections, to replace their techniques by 2019. It’ll price as much as $150 million, mentioned Kathy Boockvar, Pennsylvania’s senior adviser to the governor on election modernization, however the federal authorities funding supplies solely $14 million of it.

To assist states shore up their techniques within the meantime, DHS affords states weekly updates on cyber threats and sends laptop specialists to test the safety of native techniques, 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 techniques safer at an exposition of voting machines in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania April 26, 2018. REUTERS/Sharon Bernstein

Florida employed a cybersecurity agency to research its techniques.

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; Modifying by Damon Darlin and Ross Colvin

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