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5 ways to improve voting security in the US

Grant Gross | Oct. 6, 2016
Voting officials can pump up their audits and hire white-hat hackers

Put better election auditing processes in place

Many states have post-election auditing processes in place that "don’t make sense statistically," said Kiniry, now CEO and chief scientist at Free and Fair, an election technology developer. "They don’t really give you any veracity about the election outcome."

The auditing plans were passed by legislators who "don’t actually talk to statisticians," he added. "You hear about audits happening, but they don’t reveal anything about the election."

States should look at two kinds of voting audits, he recommended. Risk-limiting audits, now in place in California and Colorado, are statistically sound audits based on a recount of a small sample of ballots, he noted.

"That’s cheap," he said. "That’s something literally you can learn how to do -- without being a statistician -- in a day, and you can perform the recount in an afternoon."

Secondly, voting officials can run parallel-testing audits, if they have extra voting machines. Officials randomly select machines to pull out of the voting process and run a mock election on those machines, using poll workers. With the parallel test, officials can check for malicious activity on those test machines.

Hire hackers to test your systems

The cheapest and most simple step election officials can take is to hire white-hat hackers, "even if it's an intern from a computer science department in your area," Kiniry said. Those outside security experts "can work with you and think like a bad guy," he added. "Thinking like a bad guy can subtly change the way you operate your business and protect you against accidental or malicious behavior."

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has also offered to help states check their voting security, including scanning for network security problems, Verified Voting's Smith noted. But as of late September, only 18 states had asked DHS for help.

"In the past, polling systems tended to less technologically complex, and voting officials were never IT experts," she said. "The resources are needed for some of the smaller [county] jurisdictions that may not have the resources."

Ensure that strong physical security is in place

Many voting jurisdictions have improved the physical security of their voting machines in recent years, after reports of machines being left overnight in school or being stored in voting officials' cars or homes, said Verified Voting's Smith.

"There was a lot of fuss about that in the media years ago," she said. "There is an effort to minimize the time where that equipment would be unsecured. You don’t want to be the one jurisdiction that says, 'Hey, look, I saw these voting machines sitting out in the open.'"

Voting officials still have time to add observers before, during, and after the election, Kiniry added. One of the best steps they can take is to "get more volunteers to work polling places and more good-natured citizens of all stripes being election observers, primarily during early vote processing, tabulation, canvassing, and audits," he said.



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