- Title: Will aging voting machines fuel "rigged" fears?
- Date: 24th October 2016
- Summary: WASHINGTON, D.C., UNITED STATES (SEPTEMBER 27, 2016) (UNRESTRICTED POOL - BROADCASTERS: NONE DIGITAL: NONE) SENATE CONGRESSIONAL HEARING (SOUNDBITE) (English) JEH JOHNSON, U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY, SAYING: "We have been working with state election officials, local election officials, to help them with their cyber security when they ask. I'm please that 18 states have now come forward and requested our assistance in their cyber security efforts."
- Embargoed: 8th November 2016 13:26
- Keywords: election 2016 U.S. voting machine technology cyber security Trump Clinton politics paperless ballot polls Russia rigged
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- Country: USA
- Topics: Government/Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA00B55DPZD3
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: As U.S. voters prepare to head to the polls on November 8 to elect a new president, old voting machines that are nearing the end of their expected lifespan could present a vulnerability in ensuring an accurate tally of votes.
Election officials insist the machines are reliable, but security experts say they are riddled with bugs and security holes that can result in votes being recorded incorrectly.
The aging equipment is reason for concern in a campaign season when Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has claimed the election could be "rigged" and suspected Russian hackers have probed state voting systems.
The U.S. government has for the first time formally accused Russia of orchestrating cyber attacks against Democratic political groups ahead of the election.
The White House is promising a "proportional" response to Russia over the hacks.
In states like Virginia, the state's elections commissioner has been vocal in addressing the need for newer equipment.
Roughly 50 out of the state's 133 localities still use older electronic voting machines that do not produce a paper trail.
The city of Falls Church uses direct-recording electronic voting machines or DREs that are almost 10 years old.
"There's not a voter verified paper trail, that's true," said David Bjerke, director of elections for the city of Falls Church.
Without a paper trail, it's impossible for a voter to independently verify whether their vote was recorded properly.
Though many states want to overhaul their aging fleet, lack of funding prevents them from doing so. And it's often the smaller, poorer jurisdictions that can't afford to buy new machines.
"It's totally because of money, it's a funding issue for locals. It's a pretty big investment to purchase voting equipment and so a lot of localities, it's been a financial issue," said Edgardo Cortes, Virginia elections commissioner.
Many aging voting machines are also no longer in production, so finding a spare part if a machine breaks down can be difficult.
Spooner Hull is a state-certified vendor in Virginia who sells and services voting machines. He's made a business out of keeping old voting machines alive.
His warehouse in Manassas is filled with spare parts that he's salvaged from broken machines.
"When I take a machine apart, I take it completely apart, I save what I want and I discard everything else... I am simply cannibalizing them for parts," said Hull.
His inventory includes old DRE machines that were built in the 1990's and are still being used by four jurisdictions in Virginia.
But Virginia isn't the only state relying on older equipment.
According to a report by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, 43 states will have machines at least 10 years old. "Electronic voting machines are essentially computers. We don't expect our laptops or our desktops to last a decade and that's the kind of technology these machines are using," Christopher Famighetti, co-author of the report said.
In addition, states across the country are bracing for what could be a record turnout for the hotly contested presidential race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
"One of the risks of using aging equipment on Election Day is that machines can break down and voters can have to wait in lines," Famighetti said, which could lead to lost votes.
In the aftermath of the 2000 election when poorly designed punch-card ballots in Florida left the country without a clear presidential winner for weeks, Congress authorized money for states to buy new equipment.
But many of those machines haven't been upgraded since.
Experts say it doesn't take a sophisticated hacker to break into an aging voting system that may have security holes.
"Anybody with a sufficient amount of resources and with the motivation can cause chaos in elections and the problem here is that election officials aren't trained to defend computer systems, they aren't trained to do those things, they're trained to run elections," said Joseph Lorenzo Hall, chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology.
While there have been no confirmed major incidents of voting machines being hacked, it's a real concern for U.S. officials.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson recently told a Senate panel that more than a dozen states have asked his agency for help in order to secure their voting systems from cyber hacks ahead of the election.
The concerns come after the Federal Bureau of Investigation in August said voter databases in two states were breached.
With many jurisdictions dealing with antiquated voting machines, some counties are relying on innovation to move things forward.
Los Angeles County, home to nearly 5 million voters, the largest jurisdiction in the U.S., uses technology that dates back more than 50 years.
County elections officials are now working to develop an innovative voting system that relies on a touchscreen similar to a tablet that can be upgraded and modified as technology advances.
"We know we're gonna make a sizeable investment in this new voting system for Los Angeles County, we want to be sure we don't just a get a year or two down the road and have to start all over again so we are creating this on a platform that can be adaptable to new changes and modifications and technology," said Dean Logan, the registrar-recorder for Los Angeles County.
LA County hopes to start testing out the new machines in 2018.
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