Hack­ing puts fo­cus on pa­per­less vot­ing ma­chines

The News Herald (Willoughby, OH) - - OBITUARIES - By Christina A. Cas­sidy The As­so­ci­ated Press

ATLANTA » As the midterm con­gres­sional pri­maries heat up amid fears of Rus­sian hack­ing, an es­ti­mated 1 in 5 Amer­i­cans will be cast­ing their bal­lots on ma­chines that do not pro­duce a pa­per record of their votes.

That wor­ries vot­ing and cy­ber­se­cu­rity ex­perts, who say the lack of a hard copy makes it dif­fi­cult to dou­blecheck the re­sults for signs of ma­nip­u­la­tion.

“In the cur­rent sys­tem, af­ter the elec­tion, if peo­ple worry it has been hacked, the best of­fi­cials can do is say ‘ Trust us,’” said Alex Hal­der­man, a vot­ing ma­chine ex­pert who is di­rec­tor of the Univer­sity of Michi­gan’s Cen­ter for Com­puter Se­cu­rity and So­ci­ety.

Ge­or­gia, which holds its pri­mary on Tues­day, and four other states — Delaware, Louisiana, New Jer­sey and South Carolina — ex­clu­sively use touch­screen ma­chines that pro­vide no pa­per records that al­low vot­ers to con­firm their choices.

Such ma­chines are also used i n more than 300 coun­ties i n eight other states: Ar­kan­sas, In­di­ana, Kansas, Ken­tucky, Mis­sis­sippi, Penn­syl­va­nia, Ten­nessee and Texas, ac­cord­ing to Ver­i­fied Vot­ing, a non­profit group fo­cused on en­sur­ing the ac­cu­racy of elec­tions.

In all, about 20 per­cent of reg­is­tered vot­ers na­tion­wide use ma­chines that pro­duce no pa­per record.

Many elec­tion of­fi­cials in states and coun­ties that rely on those ma­chines say they sup­port up­grad­ing them but also con­tend they are ac­cu­rate. In many ju­ris­dic­tions, the mul­ti­mil­lion­dol­lar cost is a hur­dle.

The fo­cus comes as states gear up for the first na­tion­wide elec­tions since Rus­sian hack­ers tar­geted 21 states ahead of the 2016 pres­i­den­tial con­test. U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies have said that there is no ev­i­dence any vote tal­lies were ma­nip­u­lated but that Rus­sians and oth­ers are in­tent on in­ter­fer­ing in Amer­i­can elec­tions again. In­tel­li­gence Last week, Com­mit­tee the Se­nate is­sued a re­port that rec­om­mended re­plac­ing ma­chines that don’t pro­duce a pa­per record of the vote.

Some states al­ready have taken that step or are do­ing so.

Vir­ginia last year banned pa­per­less touch­screen ma­chines two months be­fore the state’s gu­ber­na­to­rial elec­tion. This year, Ken­tucky or­dered that all new ma­chines pro­duce a pa­per trail.

Congress has al­lo­cated $380 mil­lion to help states with elec­tion se­cu­rity up­grades, but that is just a frac­tion of what would be needed to re­place all pa­per­less ma­chines.

Louisiana is so­lic­it­ing bids to re­place the state’s nearly 10,000 such ma­chines ahead of the 2020 elec­tion, though all the money has yet to be al­lo­cated. Fund­ing also is an is­sue in Penn­syl­va­nia, where Demo­cratic Gov. Tom Wolf has or­dered that coun­ties plan­ning to re­place their elec­tronic vot­ing sys­tems buy ma­chines that leave a pa­per trail.

“It’s im­por­tant be­cause every­body needs to have con­fi­dence process,” given have hap­pened what Wolf in is the said. al­leged in 2016, vot­ing “And to I think that maybe there’s peo­ple some con­cern aren’t as con­fi­dent as they should be."

The rest of the coun­try uses ei­ther pa­per bal­lots that are filled out by hand and then read by an op­ti­cal scan­ner, or a touch­screen ma­chine that prints out a bal­lot so vot­ers can ver­ify their se­lec­tions be­fore in­sert­ing it into an­other ma­chine to record their votes. Since 2016, 46 Texas coun­ties have up­graded their elec­tronic ma­chines, ac­cord­ing to the sec­re­tary of state’s of­fice. Of those, only 11 went to sys­tems with a pa­per trail. San Jacinto County north of Hous­ton is among those that con­tin­ued with a pa­per­less sys­tem when it bought new touch­screen ma­chines. County elec­tion ad­min­is­tra­tor Vicki Shelly said that vot­ers have not raised con­cerns and that she is con­fi­dent in the new equip­ment. “There’s a lot of checks and bal­ances,” she said. In Ge­or­gia, the cost to switch to pa­per-based ma­chines in the state’s 159 coun­ties ranges from $25 mil­lion to more than $100 mil­lion, de­pend­ing on the tech­nol­ogy adopted. The state is el­i­gi­ble to re­ceive a lit­tle over $10 mil­lion from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

Ge­or­gia Sec­re­tary of State Brian Kemp has said ex­ten­sive se­cu­rity mea­sures and cy­ber de­fense up­grades make the state’s cur­rent sys­tem re­li­able. Those mea­sures in­clude out­side se­cu­rity monitoring, reg­u­lar checks for sys­tem vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties and a backup of voter data that is stored in a se­cure lo­ca­tion.

Amanda Strud­wick, a 43-year-old nurse from De­catur, said she has to take Ge­or­gia elec­tion of­fi­cials at their word.

“If some­body wants to screw it up, they can do it,” she said at an early vot­ing cen­ter in metro Atlanta. “That does not mean opt­ing out of vot­ing. Too many peo­ple have fought through­out his­tory for my right to vote.”

Con­cerns over Ge­or­gia’s vot­ing ma­chines have been prom­i­nent in the race for the state’s next elec­tion chief, with both Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can can­di­dates say­ing the equip­ment should be re­placed.

DAVID GOLD­MAN — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

A new vot­ing ma­chine which prints a pa­per record is on dis­play at a polling site in Cony­ers, Ga. Ge­or­gia of­fi­cials have es­ti­mated it could cost over $100 mil­lion to adopt the ma­chines statewide.

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