State declines DHS security for voting machines

State declines DHS security for voting machines
© Greg Nash

Georgia has declined an offer from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to scan their voting systems ahead of the 2016 elections.

In August, DHS offered to help states thwart potential hacking amid cybersecurity concerns about just how easily a U.S. election could be manipulated.

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But Georgia will rely on their own systems to monitor potential election hacking, reports NextGov.

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp cited state sovereignty concerns.

"The question remains whether the federal government will subvert the Constitution to achieve the goal of federalizing elections under the guise of security," he told Nextgov in an email. "Designating voting systems or any other election system as critical infrastructure would be a vast federal overreach, the cost of which would not equally improve the security of elections in the United States."

Pennsylvania, a battleground state, has been in touch with DHS officials about possible protections.

"Pennsylvania has implemented policies, technologies, best practices and procedures around the safeguarding of data and the protection of our applications, systems and resources," Pennsylvania Department of State spokeswoman Wanda Murren told NextGov. "We constantly monitor our data and systems for vulnerabilities and attempted attacks in order to keep pace with the rapidly evolving threat landscape."

Outside experts say it can be very difficult to keep systems secure.

“Security is extremely, extremely hard,” said Barbara Simons, an electronic voting security expert and computer scientist.

“We have seen large organizations like Google, which has extraordinary talent and a large amount of security support being hacked,” Simons told The Hill, noting that “there have already been serious hacks on political institutions.

Zeynep Tufekci, a professor at the University of North Carolina's School of Information and Library Science elaborated on security concerns at the ballots.

“But let's consider Georgia,” said Tufekci. “The machines they're using are more than a decade old, so the hardware is falling apart. And the operating system they're using is Windows 2000, which hasn't been updated for security for years, which means it's a sitting duck.”

Other swing states including Ohio and Florida are working with the DHS on some level to make sure their voting systems are secure. At the moment though, there are no credible threats of hacking that the DHS says they’re aware of, according to the report.

Even so, the possibility of a hack is still enough to cause concern for Barbara Simons, author of “Broken Ballots,” a book on election security.

“I’m not saying that our elections will be hacked,” Simons explained. “What I’m saying is that it’s foolish and irresponsible to ignore this.”

This story has been updated and corrected to reflect that Pennsylvania has held discussions with the DHS about possible protections.