Cyber-security expert talks voting machines in Radnor

Cyber-security expert Kevin Skoglund talks about the need for new voting machines at a Radnor League of Women Voters event. Linda Stein — Digital First Media

By Linda Stein @lsteinreporter on TwitterSep 19, 2018

RADNOR — The bad news is that voting machines in many Pennsylvania counties are old and prone to problems.

The good news is state government officials are aware of the problem and are taking steps to remedy it.

Kevin Skoglund, a cyber security expert, spoke about the issues at a Radnor League of Women-sponsored meeting Monday.

Skoglund, with the grassroots organization Citizens for Better Elections, told the group that electronic voting machines now in use in the state are vulnerable to hacking and that errors can be caused because the equipment and software is past its prime.

“It has become a national security issue,” said Skoglund. “That’s the thing that has really changed in the last few years. … In 2016 ,Russia targeted election systems in 21 states.”

In 2017, the Department of Homeland Security classified election systems as “critical infrastructure, on par with our nuclear power and electrical grid,” he said. And DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielson said recently, “There is little doubt that adversaries and non-state actors continue to view our elections as targets for cyber and influence operations.”

She added, “Our democracy itself is in the crosshairs.”

Skoglund said the hallmarks of good elections are that they are fair to all candidates; they are accessible to all registered voters; votes are private; there is accurate vote counting and reporting; and results are protected from manipulation and are able to be recounted and audited.

About 80 percent of voters in the state, including in Delaware and Montgomery counties, use direct recording electronic voting machines (DREs) with no paper trail so voters cannot verify that their votes were recorded accurately.

“Digital data is too easy to edit without a trace,” he said, comparing the current voting machines to word processing files. There is also no way to recover votes if machines break and no way to recount or audit votes.  

However, in the U.S., 80 percent of states have moved to paper ballots or machines with a paper trail, he said.

The lifespan of voting machines is 10 to 15 years, and most counties in Pennsylvania bought new machines from 2003 to 2006 when federal funding was available after the hanging chad problem in Florida in the 2000 presidential election. Montgomery County’s voting machines are 22 years old, and Delaware County machines went online in 2006. Both counties use DREs.

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