Credit David Doran
As Washington ignores the danger, state election officials have finally begun facing up to the threat of Russian hackers and other troublemakers infiltrating the American voting process in the midterm and presidential elections.
There have been months of apparent indifference in many state election offices, despite stern warnings from federal security experts that hackers will be back for more after their 2016 meddling. But now state election officials have begun trying to tighten the security of outdated, vulnerable balloting systems. These systems were last updated after the hanging-chad debacle of the 2000 election, before internet hackers were a powerful threat.
These officials have been prodded awake in part by the federal Department of Homeland Security’s cautionary designation this year of election systems as critical infrastructure, on par with the electrical grid and banking in needing special protection.
Among the states, Colorado and Rhode Island are introducing an advanced statistical system called a risk-limiting audit to protect vote tallies from falsification. West Virginia has hired a computer security expert; Delaware plans a total revamping, including junking an electronic voting system that does not leave a paper trail for verification.
Beyond fitful attempts to fix flaws, wary state officials have begun conferring more closely with federal and private election specialists. One encouraging result has been a thorough revamping of guidelines for manufacturers of voting equipment, which have already been endorsed by 47 states. The modernized guidelines require that new machines have the verifiable paper records still lacking in too many jurisdictions, and that the systems be well protected from the ultimate threat of doctored vote tallies.
Whether such vital changes arrive in time for the 2018 elections is an open question in the nation’s crazy-quilt of 8,000 state and county systems and 100,000 polling places. The answer is dependent on a far greater financial and political investment than has been made thus far by state and federal governments. It’s already clear that, even with the Kremlin’s blatant intrusion, there will be no repetition of the nearly $4 billion package of state aid for election reform that Washington approved after the 2000 election. This time, estimates run into modest hundred millions for needed reforms. There are bipartisan congressional proposals, like the Paper Act, circulating to help states develop stronger election protections, with grants for new technology.