Elections

Some states look to feds for help replacing old voting equipment

 

With just over a year until the 2018 midterm elections, many election officials are calling for greater federal assistance in protecting state voting systems from interference. A group of House Democrats on Oct. 24 heard from state and federal officials worried that obsolete equipment was putting state election infrastructure at risk.

Thomas Hicks, Election Assistance Commission Commissioner called aging voting equipment "one of the biggest vulnerabilities I see right now," noting that some states are using15-year-old machines that are at the end of their lifecycles. Hicks said that "a lot of states don’t have those resources" to buy new gear.

Concerns are heightened because of reports from the Department of Homeland Security that Russian hackers targeted voting systems in 21 states.

Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea said that when she took office in 2015, "our equipment was on the brink of total failure.” It was only after a nearly $10 million investment in optical scan voting machines along, with "key advice and counsel" from EAC, that the equipment was fully modernized and properly secured ahead of the 2016 election.

But even if a state has all the necessary equipment, she added, human talent is still badly needed. "Investments in hardware and software cannot be used effectively if government doesn't have the human resources that can manage and operate them," she said, adding that state-level officials are "ill-prepared to handle the threat."

Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) asked if Congress should hold the companies selling the equipment to a higher standard. "Should we be demanding more from elections-related vendors?" she asked. "To what extent is the next generation of election-related products...being built with cybersecurity in mind?"

Edgardo Cortés, Virginia Department of Elections Commissioner said vendors could be doing more on that front. When it comes to older equipment, "security, if it was thought about at all, was really an afterthought," he said. "There are some baseline standards we can look at and incorporate." In September, Cortés’s department decertified touchscreen voting machines in Virginia.

Gorbea said she favored security requirements for vendors at the federal level.

"We in Rhode Island could not come up with as good and as fast a process for what the EAC already had with regards to general voting equipment guidelines," she said.

About the Author

Ben Berliner is a former editorial fellow at FCW. He is a 2017 graduate of Kenyon College, and has interned at the Center for Responsive Politics and at Sunlight Foundation.

He can be contacted at [email protected].

Click here for previous articles by Berliner.


Featured

  • Defense
    Soldiers from the Old Guard test the second iteration of the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) capability set during an exercise at Fort Belvoir, VA in Fall 2019. Photo by Courtney Bacon

    IVAS and the future of defense acquisition

    The Army’s Integrated Visual Augmentation System has been in the works for years, but the potentially multibillion deal could mark a paradigm shift in how the Defense Department buys and leverages technology.

  • Cybersecurity
    Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas  (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lora Ratliff)

    Mayorkas announces cyber 'sprints' on ransomware, ICS, workforce

    The Homeland Security secretary announced a series of focused efforts to address issues around ransomware, critical infrastructure and the agency's workforce that will all be launched in the coming weeks.

Stay Connected