Is Congress Doing Enough to Secure Voting Machines?

Congress has just a little more than a year left to make recommended changes to secure the voting process before the 2020 election. Experts say that will mean a lot more money needs to go to the states for new voting machines.

The issue of voting security became pronounced after the 2016 election with allegations of Russian interference. Twenty-one states faced election hacking attempts during that election cycle. None were successful, but the idea sparked concern among congressional leaders.

Cybersecurity experts testified in 2017 hearings that several things needed to happen to prevent foreign interference in America’s elections. Those recommendations included phasing out touchscreen electronic machines in favor of voter-verified paper ballots. They also recommended having a paper ballot system that is audited before results become official. At the time, only Colorado and New Mexico conducted such audits.

States requested federal money to make the switch to the paper ballot system, stating they couldn’t afford to do it on their own. Congress approved $380 million in grants for election security last year. However, some states like Pennsylvania said the $13.5 million it received is only a fraction of the cost for a total revamping of the system.

One of the positive aspects of Congressional action regarding voting are ideas of how to back up each vote for authentication. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) is drafting legislation to ensure each vote is verified regardless of what system a state uses.

There are 12 states with some jurisdictions that use electronic systems without a paper record that allows voters to validate their choices before casting a final ballot. These areas are of most concern to lawmakers since they can’t be audited for accuracy afterward.

This type of systems could feasibly be hacked and the election results altered, according to experts.

Virginia Department of Elections Commissioner Edgardo Cortes advised that all voting systems in federal elections be required to be federally certified. That would create a baseline for security issues that all states could be mandated to meet.

He also suggested that Congress create an accreditation system to train state election administrators. This would standardize skills and knowledge across the country regarding how to run a secure election, he said.

Granting more money to secure elections has bipartisan support. However, the effort hasn’t yet gained a lot of traction in Congress.

Republicans favor a “ballot marking” voting machine. It has an electronic touchscreen, but then prints out a paper ballot that can be immediately verified before the vote is cast.

This system can be used by all voters, including those with disabilities, and provides for secure audits after the election.

Several states have already requested new voting system or have proposals to implement them