voting in california in 2012 (Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock.com)

Elections officials explore security options

Since elections were declared critical infrastructure nearly 17 months ago, state and local officials have been working to protect the integrity of the 2018 elections, but security holes in elections systems and voting equipment still exist.

As part of the omnibus spending bill passed in March, Congress authorized $380 million in new Help America Vote Act funds to the states to help them secure elections systems in their counties and local jurisdictions. On April 17, the Elections Assistance Commission distributed the award packets to states along with instructions on how to apply for funding. States have 90 days to respond, and the funds must be used within five years.

However, the new funding did not stop elections officials from asking for more support ahead of the 2018 elections at an April 18 EAC public forum.

“The voters' trust in the national elections process is driven by their experience with their local election office,” Ricky Hatch, county clerk for Weber County, Utah, said.  “This is how it should be, but it does present a challenge because the very level of government that voters trust most to secure their elections is the level with the least resources to do that.”

Noah Praetz, director of elections in the Cook County Clerk’ office in Illinois, suggested that each election jurisdiction could dedicate some personnel to election security.  One option would be for each state to create a group of “digital defenders” that visited election jurisdictions to beef up cybersecurity.

Pennsylvania is already moving on securing its voting machines and processes.  By the end of December 2019, all Pennsylvania counties must have voter-verifiable, paper-record voting systems in place, Pennsylvania’s Acting Secretary of State Robert Torres said.

“Elections officials deploy a variety of network-connected digital services such as informational websites, poll books, voter registration systems and unofficial elections results displays that are all ripe targets for adversaries,” Praetz said. “If we fail to get experts into local offices to shore up our defenses, then we will regret it.”

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for GCN, covering cloud, cybersecurity and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Before joining GCN, Friedman was a reporter for Gambling Compliance, where she covered state issues related to casinos, lotteries and fantasy sports. She has also written for Communications Daily and Washington Internet Daily on state telecom and cloud computing. Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at sfriedman@gcn.com or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

Click here for previous articles by Friedman.


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Reader Comments

Tue, May 1, 2018 Hamdi Soysal

The HAVA funding is a step in the right direction but more is needed for the integrity of our vote. It is ultimately up to the states to secure our elections, and it is imperative for them to adopt paper-based systems, since paper ballots are less prone to hacks and errors. Please visit www.secureourvote.us for more information on how to take local action.

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