With the 2018 midterm election just nine months away, the window is closing for Congress to fix the vulnerabilities in America’s vastly outdated and underfunded election systems. While much has been done to secure our election infrastructure in the past few years, this is a critical missing piece.
The 2016 election cycle made clear that the United States is susceptible to the same types of cyberattacks waged on democracies in other countries recently, whether by Russia or other actors. And our aging voting machines mean that we’re not as prepared as we must be to defend ourselves when – not if – we’re attacked again. Foreign interference endangers our democracy not only through manipulating at-risk infrastructure, but by shaking voters’ confidence in the entire democratic process.
Revelations over the past year have already left Americans with tenuous faith in the system. By now we’ve all heard that Russia attempted to penetrate election software in states across the country. And the intelligence community has said it’s confident the country attacked the Democratic National Committee’s email server, among other attempts to influence our democracy and sway public opinion on candidates. To ensure the integrity of the upcoming elections and protect ourselves from bad actors like Russia and others, we need a nationwide upgrade to our voting machines, and we need it desperately.
Cartoons on President Trump and Russia
A recent Brennan Center study shows that residents of 41 states will head to the polls this November relying on voting machines that are more than a decade old. Some of them are running on Windows 2000 software. Voting machines are not designed to last that long. What’s worse? Officials in 33 states need to replace their machines by the end of this decade, but most told us they lack the funds to do so. And in 13 states, many voters are casting a ballot on machines that do not create a paper record of the votes, making it hard to conduct crucial post-election audits that verify vote tallies. Our country deserves better.
There is promising news: Some states are already working towards solutions. Organizations like the Election Assistance Commission and Harvard’s Belfer Center have offered cybersecurity trainings to hundreds of state and local election officials. And the Department of Homeland Security, the EAC and state and local officials have established a coordinating council, which makes it easier to share information about threats to systems and to pool security resources. Just last year, Virginia decertified all remaining paperless touchscreen machines because they were not secure enough for continued use. And three states – Michigan, Minnesota and Nevada – recently allocated money to update their outdated infrastructure.
So, what is Congress waiting for? Right now, three bipartisan election security bills are stalled, awaiting a vote. Each piece of legislation would take crucial steps to shore up our systems. Congress should act on them to shore up our systems before it’s too late.
One, The Secure Elections Act, is spearheaded by Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and James Lankford, R-Okla. It would authorize the Department of Homeland Security to distribute $386 million in grants to the states to enhance election system security and upgrade critical infrastructure by, among other things, replacing antiquated paperless, touchscreen voting machines. The PAPER Act, sponsored by Reps. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and Jim Langevin, D-R.I., would aid states that comply with EAC security recommendations, including those calling for the replacement of older voting equipment with systems using a voter-verified paper record that can be audited to check electronic vote tallies.
As hackers become more sophisticated, congressional inaction offers them more targets and greater opportunity to attack our democracy. Congress should work with state and local governments to shore up our election systems. There’s no more time to waste.