New voting machines are important, but here are other ways states are investing in election security
Published: July 20, 2018
COLORADOCybersecurityDELAWAREElectionsGeneral Government ServicesGEORGIAInformation TechnologyInformation TechnologyLOUISIANAMINNESOTANEW JERSEYNEW YORKPENNSYLVANIARHODE ISLANDSOUTH CAROLINAVERMONTWASHINGTON
Top election officials are turning to multi-factor authentication, advanced audits and in some cases the military to defend against continued cyberthreats.
As of late, federal officials have been warning that hackers may again attempt to disrupt midterm elections in November. State election officials are aware of the potential threats, but opinions vary as to how much progress has actually been made in regards to election security. Every state has claimed its piece of the $380 million provided by the federal Election Assistance Commission for new security measures, however the approaches taken by the states vary. Some states will using the money to harden firewalls around voter registration files. 13 states are using the money to buy new voting equipment, while 18 states will have the Department of Homeland Security provide cybersecurity assessments. Despite some measures being taken, it is not yet clear if these initiatives will be enough.
The money provided by the Commission only makes up a portion of the necessary funding required to overhaul an election system, and upgrades could costs some states upward of $100 million, more than provided by the Commission. Some state leaders have taken it upon themselves to find ways to improve security between now and the upcoming election. Secretaries of State met in Philadelphia and outlined a few different approaches being taken to secure their votes, including improved training and authentication, undertaking smarter audits, and recruiting outside assistance, sometimes from the National Guard.
Some states, such as Minnesota, will be implementing a new multi-factor authentication to access the state voter registration system. In addition, the state is considering adding personnel specializing in cybersecurity to provide expertise and assistance to various communities across the state. Colorado, which arguably is one of the safest states in regards to election security, has also implemented multi-factor authentication and encryption for ballots cast overseas.
A major concern comes from the need to replace voting equipment, largely because many of the existing machines do not allow for post-election audits to verify the results. Several states are still using older equipment that does not allow for the production of paper backup records. Some states have been moving toward “risk-limiting audit,” which is much more accurate and less expensive. These audits use advanced statistical approaches to analyze the audit sample against the total vote count. This new method can be beneficial, but it still requires staff training and new equipment, which, for some states, may not be feasible yet.
As an additional option, some states have chosen to work with their National Guard to bolster election security. Washington, in particular, has forged a partnership with the state’s National Guard to provide additional assistance as needed. Given the strong tech environment in the state, many of the National Guard work in the tech industry and already have the expertise needed. These personnel now work with state election officials to help train local staff, test firewalls, and conduct simulated attacks for preparation before Election Day.
Election security is one of the most salient issues the county faces today, and it is clear that state government leaders have made this an area of focus, especially in the coming months before the midterm elections. Although several states have made progress in this area, there is still are some issues that can be addressed further, and election equipment, systems, and security may be an area of interest in the coming years.