Securing American Elections From Foreign Interference

The alleged foreign interference in the 2016 presidential election revealed cracks in the security of America’s electoral system, the most fundamental part of our democracy. News reports revealed that hackers working on behalf of the Russian government targeted state and local voter registration databases and managed to access elections systems in as many as 39 states. The attack shows that our current election systems are susceptible to foreign interference, and will only become more vulnerable as hacking methods are refined. Fortunately, there are concrete ways to bolster the security of our election systems.

Some localities have already taken steps to tackle such problems, but national solutions are needed to ensure the integrity of upcoming elections in 2018, 2020, and beyond. There are clear-cut steps that all levels of government can take to protect our election infrastructure from threats now and in future elections.


 

To a greater degree than many realize, America’s election systems remain vulnerable. This is a product of old technology, inadequate systems, and a patchwork election administration model with varying levels of resources and skill at protecting against twenty-first century threats. But we are far from helpless. This report outlines urgent steps we can take to protect the security of the most critical elements of the U.S. infrastructure. Lawrence Norden, Deputy Director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, has also testified before Congress with recommendations for securing our elections.

Updating Election Infrastructure

A recent Brennan Center study found that most states use electronic voting and tabulation systems that are at least a decade old, and many elections administrators have called for upgrades to such systems. Our report details tangible steps to making our systems more secure and ensuring the integrity of our elections, including replacing antiquated voting machines, conducting thorough audits of paper ballots, regularly assessing risks and potential holes in security, and upgrading voter registration databases. 

The Need for Auditable Voting Systems and Audits

The Virginia Department of Elections has taken proactive steps in discontinuing its touch-screen voting machines, which do not have a voter-verifiable paper audit trail. Auditable election results are essential to maintaining voter confidence in the integrity of the process.  Both Colorado and Rhode Island recently added requirements for risk-limiting post-election audits, which will provide officials and the public with high statistical confidence in election results.

A Problem Congress Can Help Fix

In efforts to improve our election systems, two bipartisan companion proposals in the House and Senate would grant states federal funding for improved cybersecurity measures and provide federal assistance in developing risk assessments to confirm that elections have not been tampered with. Secretaries of State, former national security officials with both Republican and Democratic backgrounds, election experts and data scientists, and the National Association of Counties have written letters supporting the amendment introduced by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

Several other congressional proposals that address election security systems can be found here.  

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