How states are looking to secure their election systems
- By Sara Friedman
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.”