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How Secure Are America’s Voting Systems?

Officials have made important advances over the last few years to secure voting technology, but between now and November there are several steps they can take to ensure America’s elections are properly protected.

August 30, 2016

New reports show the FBI determ­ined foreign hack­ers gained access to voter inform­a­tion in Illinois and Arizona. The news comes after Russi­a’s repor­ted hack of DNC computers last month.

Today, the Bren­nan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law released a new fact sheet explain­ing what the risks to Amer­ica’s voting system secur­ity really are — and what states, local­it­ies, and voters can do to prevent success­ful attacks against the integ­rity of our elec­tions.

“Between the FBI report and Russi­a’s repor­ted hack of the DNC emails last month, it’s clear we must take seri­ously the possib­il­ity that foreign groups and other bad actors may want to intrude on Amer­ican elec­tions,” said Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Bren­nan Center’s Demo­cracy Program. “But there is good news. Offi­cials have made import­ant advances over the last few years to secure voting tech­no­logy, which makes it highly unlikely a cyber­at­tack could have a wide­spread impact on the results of a national elec­tion. Between now and Novem­ber, there are several steps offi­cials can take to ensure Amer­ica’s elec­tions are prop­erly protec­ted.”

In the 2016 pres­id­en­tial elec­tion, 42 states will use voting machines that are more than a decade old. In 14 states, at least some polling places will use machines with no voter veri­fied paper trail as their primary equip­ment for cast­ing ballots.

The fact sheet details the improve­ments that have already been made in some juris­dic­tions to protect the integ­rity of our elec­tions, includ­ing repla­cing paper­less voting machines with systems that scan paper ballots filled out by voters, or produce some other kind of paper trail.

Despite these advances, addi­tional steps can be taken to increase reli­ab­il­ity, secur­ity, and safety of personal inform­a­tion. 

Protect­ing the Integ­rity of Voter Regis­tra­tion Data­bases

  • As long as states and local juris­dic­tions keep backups, includ­ing paper copies, of their regis­tra­tion lists, no manip­u­la­tion of state computer regis­tra­tion data­bases should prevent legit­im­ate voters from cast­ing a ballot, or having their votes coun­ted.
  • Voter regis­tra­tion data­bases should be programmed to run frequent, auto­mated scans of regis­tra­tion activ­ity to monitor for and alert elec­tion offi­cials to poten­tial fraud­u­lent or abnor­mal activ­ity.
  • Data­bases should not contain any personal inform­a­tion other than what’s required to register.

Solu­tions for Voting Machine Secur­ity

  • Elec­tion offi­cials should ensure the phys­ical secur­ity of voting equip­ment and paper records at all stages of the process.
  • Offi­cials should conduct pre-elec­tion test­ing on every voting machine and have emer­gency paper ballots on hand where elec­tronic equip­ment is used.
  • Post-elec­tion audits should be conduc­ted to identify any anom­alies between paper records and elec­tronic results.
  • Federal and state govern­ment should fund new secure systems.
  • A post-elec­tion audit should be required by law in all 50 states.

For more inform­a­tion or to connect with a Bren­nan Center expert, contact Rebecca Autrey at rebecca.autrey@nyu.edu or 646–292–8316.