Fort Report: Election Security

Oct 19, 2018
Fort Report

I know it is a bit old-fashioned, but I like stepping into the voting booth and using a pencil to fill in an oval on paper.  There is no Russian hacking or fancy Facebook algorithm interfering with my vote.  It’s my conscience, my pencil, on paper.

Still, many Americans wonder if our election counts are to be trusted.  Sowing seeds of doubt in our democratic processes is the intention of those who intend to do us harm.  Despite ongoing nation-state meddling that long predates the 2016 election, please know that great measures are being undertaken to ensure the integrity of our election systems, from registration to voting to post-election vote certification, this November and beyond.

According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Russian hackers targeted election infrastructure in at least 21 states during the 2016 campaign.  Nebraska was not targeted by outside interference.  Our state has, nevertheless, taken several steps to ensure pre-and-post-election security.  Importantly, our continued use of paper ballots creates a non-digital firewall impervious to hacking.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is, by Congressional mandate, charged with protecting America’s “critical infrastructure.”  In January, 2017, DHS designated our country’s election systems a “critical infrastructure subsector,” placing a far higher priority on protecting election resources than was previously the case.  I recently received an update from the DHS Secretary outlining latest election security measures.  DHS has implemented sophisticated sensors that provide granular real-time monitoring of voter registration databases to detect malicious activity and malware.  Through its Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center, DHS can now receive, collate, and communicate attempted interference discovered at any of the more than 10,000 election jurisdictions in the country.  As part of its whole-of-government approach, DHS has also stepped up election day and post-election day monitoring and incident response, and instituted robust counter-measures against foreign manipulation of public discourse.  I invite you to review the correspondence I received from the DHS Secretary here.

Earlier this year, via the Help America Vote Act, Congress provided $380 million in grants to help the country’s 55 states and territories enhance election security.  According to the United States Election Assistance Commission (EAC)—the federal body created by Congress in 2002 to serve as the liaison to state election officials—Nebraska received about $3.5 million dollars.  This funding has been used to replace and upgrade voting equipment, and enhance ballot authentication, voter list maintenance, and accurate election night reporting.

Even with the ongoing threat of cyber-attacks, it is extremely difficult for foreign actors to hack the vote itself.  There is yet no evidence that they have previously done so. 

Still, five states—Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, New Jersey, and Delaware—rely exclusively on electronic voting, leaving no permanent paper trail.  These areas of vulnerability were addressed in a proposed bipartisan bill that I support, the Secure Elections Act (SEA).  It mandates that all states perform manual audits on a percentage of digital votes in all precincts in every election.  Without checking paper results against electronic results, there is no guarantee that interference has not occurred. 

Taken together, these actions at the state, executive branch, and legislative branch levels should reassure you that your vote is secure.  The sine qua non of a republic is free and fair elections.  If the voting process and vote tallies cannot be trusted, election results cannot be trusted. 

Earlier in the tech revolution, I recall a TV report done at a trade show about the latest computer gadgetry.  In addition to many high-tech vendors, the reporter interviewed a gentleman who just had a paper and pencil at his simple low-tech booth.  Technology has helped us exceedingly well in data movement and productivity.  But in that solemn space of the voting booth, maybe a paper and pencil works just fine.