The nation’s election infrastructure is almost no more secure than it was a few years ago, a new report concludes, continuing to sound the alarm ahead of the upcoming midterms.
The report from the Brennan Center for Justice, a division of New York University School of Law that studies democracy and justice issues, looked at the age of voting machines and areas where there’s still a lack of auditing trails for votes, arguing that Congress needs to give states money to update their voting systems and institute voting audits.
According to the Brennan Center’s analysis, 41 states will be using voting systems that are at least a decade old, an improvement of only three states from 2016, and an estimated 43 states will be using machines that are no longer manufactured, the same number as in 2016.
The concern with the aged equipment is both that it is prone to malfunctions and breakdowns, and also that it can no longer support updated software, which could be a major cybersecurity vulnerability.
While most states use machines that have at least a paper trail, which experts consider a key backup security measure, Brennan finds that 13 states are still using some paperless voting machines and five states use them statewide – an improvement of only one state since 2016. Virginia recently opted to replace all of its paperless voting systems.
Only three states, however, require post-election audits that verify mathematically that results are likely unaltered. Brennan analysis noted that 13 states are considering requiring such audits, considered the gold standard, but only Rhode Island has enacted such a policy.
While election security has been at top of mind since the 2016 presidential contest, when the Russian government waged a disinformation campaign to heighten partisan divisions and sow discord and distrust in the US electorate, little substantively has changed with election infrastructure.
The Department of Homeland Security says it is working with states to provide voluntary assistance, such as vulnerability testing, but not all states are taking part, and the federal government does not mandate any baseline security standards, although the Election Assistance Commission does certify voting equipment for use.
The federal government has not instituted a substantial investment in election infrastructure in more than 15 years, well beyond the recommended age of election systems.
Experts say it is virtually impossible for a major nationwide election to be influenced by hackers, given the decentralized nature of the US system and the checks that are in place. But they say smaller elections could theoretically be impacted, and a lack of confidence in the voting system among the electorate would itself be a concern.