Among the many contentious arguments of the 2016 presidential election was the question of the security of the vote itself. Accusations flew, with claims that the election would be rigged or hacked in some way. In part, those accusations were lent credence by the state of voting equipment in the United States. In many localities, equipment is approaching the end of its useful life; many states and counties last upgraded with the help of federal funding provided through the Help America Vote Act of 2002.
As the State Department works to gain international support for its cybersecurity framework, experts said that global norms and deterrence won’t be enough to convince state actors not to influence elections through cyber means in the future. Robert Axelrod, Walgreen Professor for the study of human understanding at the University of Michigan, compared the Democratic National Committee (DNC) hacks to Watergate. Both incidents involved the theft of information. The difference is that in Watergate, the incident was handled by domestic law enforcement and the president resigned.
Democratic societies depend on trust in elections and their results. Throughout the 2016 presidential election, and since President Trump’s inauguration, allegations of Russian involvement in the U.S. presidential campaign have raised concerns about how vulnerable American elections are to hacking or other types of interference. Various investigations – involving congressional committees, the FBI and the intelligence community – are underway, seeking to understand what happened and how.
Elections are decided by who votes — and increasingly, in America, by who cannot. Barriers to voting participation skew policy outcomes and elections to the right in the United States. One of the most racially discriminatory of these barriers is felon disenfranchisement. Nearly 6 million Americans are disenfranchised due to felonies. This may seem like a small share of the population, but the concentration of disenfranchisement in some states makes it enough to shift elections.
At an April 4 Election Assistance Commission public hearing, a senior Department of Homeland Security official sought to stress one thing: The designation of election systems as critical infrastructure doesn’t cut into states’ autonomy. Concerns over DHS control have simmered since then-Secretary Jeh Johnson first suggested the critical infrastructure designation last summer.
Could we create an app for people to use for voting in national elections? I did some work on electronic voting systems problems with Ed Gerck in the early 2000s. It was hard then, it’s arguably harder now. This gets back to what some people have lobbied for since the early days of the Internet: the “Internet driver’s license.” In the U.S., to get a voter’s registration card, you have to prove you are who you say you are, that you live where you say you live, and that you’re a U.S. citizen.
A Homeland Security official gave some more insight into their efforts on designating election systems as critical infrastructure shortly after the 2016 presidential election, saying it helped the department streamline communication in the event of a incident. Neil Jenkins, from DHS’s Office of Cybersecurity and Communications, gave the first detailed account Wednesday of the process leading up to the controversial decision, which was made by departing officials in the final days of the Obama administration and widely panned by state and local authorities.
A bipartisan pair of senators has introduced a bill that would require the federal government to do more to help state and local officials combat cyber threats. Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) on Thursday announced that they have reintroduced the State and Local Cyber Protection Act, which would bolster cybersecurity cooperation between the Department of Homeland Security and state and local governments.
The FBI, NSA and CIA all agree that the Russian government tried to influence the 2016 presidential election by hacking candidates and political parties and leaking the documents they gathered. That’s disturbing. But they could have done even worse. It is entirely possible for an adversary to hack American computerized voting systems directly and select the next commander in chief.
State election officials are making plans to tighten security all along the voting chain – from voter registration to machine integrity, audit trails and help from the Department of Homeland Security under the new critical infrastructure designation. At a Feb. 13-14 meeting of the Election Assistance Commission, New Jersey State Department’s division of elections Bob Giles said that although his state’s voting machines are not connected to the internet, the attention garnered by Russia’s reported electoral influence has led to a rethinking of his agency’s cybersecurity protocols.