If you didn’t know, the United States has a presidential election coming up in November. Whether you want to base the importance of this election on the massive number of political Facebook posts you see on your newsfeed or on something more official, like the increase in primary voters, this election is going to be big.
One thing all parties can agree on is security at the polls. Every vote counts and to ensure that, cybersecurity at the polls is vital.
Voting security pros and cons
We have all seen enough data breaches to know not to deem anything “unhackable.” While hacking the polls would be difficult, it wouldn’t be impossible. To give you glimpse at election security, here are a few pros and cons:
Con: USB ports
While there are different types of ballot voting machines, many of them have USB ports for holding a memory stick. Of course, you need a key to get to those ports, but anyone with a key or who is able to pick locks on the sly could upload malware to the ballot counting machine.
There is no one system that calculates the votes—even federal elections are managed on a state and district level. Each state has its own system and rules for voting and then reports its results. Finding a common vulnerability in all 50 states’ voting systems to exploit would be next to impossible.
Con: Lack of testing
One issue with state run elections is that the state has to be able to fund elections properly. Not all places have an adequate budget to spend money on thorough security testing for their voting equipment.
Pro: So much paper
If a precinct thinks there could be foul play at the polls, they have an old-school backup plan: paper. At 80% of polling locations, there are paper ballots. If anything goes wrong, whether that be a mismatched number of ballots in the machine or ballots that may cause concern about cybersecurity, election officials can count the votes by hand instead.
Con: Not enough paper
Delaware, Georgia, South Carolina, New Jersey and Louisiana have entirely paperless voting. A handful of other states, including election battlegrounds like Pennsylvania and Virginia, have a significant number of jurisdictions that only conduct paperless voting. These places have no way to audit votes if there is suspicion of a hack.
While a nationwide hacking of the polls is unlikely, there are plenty of places that a small-scale hack could happen, and any attack is enough to frighten the entire nation about voting security.
Fortunately, earlier this month DHS reported that they are working on raising security awareness and mitigating risks. Hopefully, they follow through and that is enough to keep our elections secure.