Are Ballot Counting Machines Keeping Your Vote Secure?

Laura BednarCybersecurity and Vulnerabilities, HackingLeave a Comment

Voting Machine Security

November 5th is election day for cities across the United States. Registered voters will be choosing their leaders in local government and their vote may be the thing that tips the scale for a neck and neck political race. But what if that vote was not secure when it was counted by the voting machines? The paper versus digital controversy over voting methods has been a hot topic in recent times.

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Current Ballot Machine Systems

The majority of voting systems today are electronic, but rely on Election Assistance Commission’s federal certification process when buying. This certification ensures that the machines were properly tested for security measures. The only downside is that in November 2016, the majority of these machines were at least 10 years old. This can easily lead to system failures and crashes.

Outdated equipment can lead to vulnerabilities due to lack of software updates. Ethical hackers at the annual hacking convention, Defcon, found many security flaws in voting systems in several states. One benefit to having older machines is that many still produce a paper trail of physical ballots that can be counted by hand if need be.

After the exposure of security issues, the equipment providers Election Systems and Software (ES&S), reversed their position on doing away with paper ballots. By keeping the physical ballot, there would be a record of the votes.

Remote Voting for Citizens On-the-Go

A new mobile voting system was created and will debut today for selected groups nationwide. Boston tech company Votaz, nonprofit Tusk Philanthropies, and the National Cybersecurity Center tested this system with military personnel and those overseas. They have since expanded the system to include those with disabilities who may be unable to leave their home to vote.

The overarching goal of this technology is to increase voter turnout. While the intent seems to be pure, election security experts are still concerned about the risks associated with voting electronically. The mobile system has come back with positive test results, but there is still no remote procedure that is completely secure.

Voters using the app must scan a fingerprint and government-issued ID to authenticate before marking their digital ballot. The votes are then stored in a blockchain “lock box” until officials open the box and print the ballots on election day. The technology is still not universally accepted and may be something that is further explored before the 2020 election.

Cast Your Vote for a Secure System

There are still many issues related to machines and overall security of people’s votes. One issue is the fact that voting machines are not standardized nationwide. Some states have machines that scan the paper ballots while others are completely digital with touch screens.

Some of the current voting machines are old, meaning they are vulnerable and prone to breaking down. The cost to replace voting machines in the nation is astronomical at anywhere between $580 million and $3.5 billion according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

The continuous news coverage of foreign entities tampering with American election results has deterred people from casting their vote, especially with an unsecured system. Senators have proposed an act that would phase out paperless systems and companies like ES&S have asked for regular voting machine security testing. These initiatives are still in process and may not be put into action until the 2020 election.

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