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How to fight 2020 election hacking: Here’s what cybersecurity experts say

How to fight 2020 election hacking: Here’s what cybersecurity experts say
[Photos: Element5 Digital/Unsplash; Christopher Burns/Unsplash]

An election security hearing is scheduled in the House of Representatives’ Committee on House Administration for 2 p.m. Wednesday. While experts slated to testify generally praised progress that’s been made in recent years in their written statements, they say more needs to be done to keep elections safe in the lead-up to the 2020 presidential vote:

  • Aging voting systems, especially those with older software, hardware that’s hard to replace, and a reliance on digital voting with no paper trail should be replaced with more modern technology. Those should use paper ballots that voters can check by hand and officials can recount if needed. “Unverifiable Direct Recording Electronic voting systems should be replaced with voter-verifiable systems with paper ballots as soon as possible,” said Verified Voting president Marian K. Schneider in her written testimony. “The replacement systems should make it as easy as possible for voters to verify their ballots and for officials to audit the tabulation.”
  • The federal government should provide funding to states and local officials to replace that outdated equipment and keep elections safe going forward. It should also consider more regulation of voting tech companies, like mandating that they report cybersecurity incidents, argued Lawrence D. Norden, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. “Congress should also share in longer-term funding for things like regular risk assessments and necessary repairs and upgrades for critical infrastructure, as well as grants for cybersecurity resources that are directed to local election offices, which are frequently under-resourced relative to their state counterparts,” he wrote.
  • Election officials should adopt risk-limiting audits, which are effectively statistically sampled limited manual recounts designed to detect election anomalies, and more research should be done on optimal techniques. Many jurisdictions require a full recount if such an audit turns up anything unusual. “The equivalent to the secret ballot for the 21st century is the risk-limiting post-election audit,” wrote Joseph Lorenzo Hall, chief technologist of the Center for Democracy and Technology, in his statement. “Risk-limiting audits provide statistical assurance of the correctness of an electoral outcome by examining a randomly selected subset of ballots.”
  • Officials should ensure registration records and systems stay secure, since tampering with registration records is a well-known potential avenue for hackers to disrupt elections and make voters question their legitimacy. “If outside actors were able to access a voter registration database, they could potentially manipulate voter registration records, which could wreak havoc on our election planning and possibly put voters at risk of disenfranchisement,” wrote Jocelyn Benson, Michigan’s secretary of state, in her statement.
  • They should also work together across party lines to keep elections secure, argued Benson and Alabama secretary of state John Merrill in their statements. “We have also seen that the most effective way to combat foreign influence in our elections systems is to work with our colleagues across the country to share information and to work together to ensure that our people can remain comfortable casting a ballot and confident in the results of the election,” Merrill wrote.

The hearing will be streamed live on YouTube.

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