On September 13, the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology held a hearing, Protecting the 2016 Elections from Cyber and Voting Machine Attacks, which examined the current voluntary guidelines for protecting voting and election systems, and whether they are being effectively implemented in advance of the upcoming elections. Some of the discussion during the hearing explored the security of electronic voting machines, voter registration databases and vote tally databases.
Concerns about voting machine cybersecurity have grown in recent months due to high profile incidents like the hack of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the attempted hack of Arizona’s voter registration system. Since election administration is primarily a state and local government function, NACo has been engaging with our federal government partners to educate on the role that counties play in the elections and to explore what can be done to help secure the nation’s voting systems.
Counties alone oversee more than 114,000 polling places and are the primary administrators and funders of elections at the local level. Consequently, counties are interested in any potential federal solutions and how they might interact with processes already in place.
The committee heard from a single panel of witnesses that included Charles H. Romine, director of the Information Technology Laboratory at the National Institute of Standards and Technology; Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler; David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research; and Dan S. Wallach, professor in the Department of Computer Science and Rice Scholar at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University.
The comments from the panelists demonstrated the widely shared view that while election systems in the United States are not perfect, they are not as vulnerable to attack as some fear.
One of the primary security characteristics of our elections is the fact that they are conducted through a decentralized process, as the administration of elections in the United States is a complex interaction between state and local government election officials. For example, voting machines are not connected to each other or any networks. This is generally a protocol established by election officials at either the state, local level, or a combination of the two. Further, each state has its own set of elections protocols that election officials must follow. In some instances, local election officials may enhance those protocols, such as how voter rolls or vote tabulations are transported to and from polling locations. But regardless of who sets the protocol, the ultimate goal is maintaining the integrity of the voting process.
However, the panelists agreed that some components of the elections process will need ongoing evaluation, especially as technology continues to develop. For example, maintaining voter registration systems now primarily falls under the state’s responsibility. As more states explore and offer the option to allow online registration, maintaining such online voter registration databases would need to be further examined for vulnerabilities.
Contact: Mike Belarmino at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 202-942-4254