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How states are securing the next election

What: A report by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law titled “Defending Elections: Federal Funding Needs for State Election Security.”

Why: The 2016 presidential election sparked a nationwide discussion about cyberthreats that could compromise American democracy, based in part on a breach of a voter registration database in Illinois and election computer networks in Florida. With another national election approaching, state governments are being pressured to implement solutions that will maintain the integrity of voting systems and prevent malicious interference.

Findings: Researchers analyzed how six states (Alabama, Arizona, Illinois, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania) used their share of $380 million in grants under the Help America Vote Act to secure voting systems. Half of the states opted to apply the funds mainly to addressing voter registration databases. For Alabama, that meant improving the physical infrastructure of its systems, while Arizona and Oklahoma upgraded their existing database systems.

The other three states focused the entirety of their funding on addressing specific needs instead of meeting a broader range of goals. The information of millions of Illinois voters was compromised in an attack by Russian operatives, so state officials spent their funding on a statewide cybersecurity program. Louisiana and Pennsylvania had relied on vulnerable paperless voting machines, so they used their funds to replace those machines with paper-based ones.

The main issues that went unfunded in almost all the states were the need to upgrade legacy systems and enhance the response to cybersecurity incidents. States are in the process of modernizing legacy systems so that they can meet current security standards, but some are further along than others. In addition, they need to train personnel to appropriately respond to threats. Researchers concluded that more funding is needed to achieve those goals.

Verbatim: “Russia and other malign foreign actors use multiple tools and tactics to interfere in democracies, and cyberthreats against election systems are among them. The states included in this study have begun the hard work of upgrading dated infrastructure, setting aside funds for post-election audits and addressing cyber vulnerabilities. But there is more they can do with additional resources.”

Read the full report here.

About the Author

Anoushka Deshmukh is an intern with Public Sector 360, writing for GCN, FCW and Defense Systems.

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