Election security requires federal action: Think of it as an infrastructure opportunity 

Election security requires federal action: Think of it as an infrastructure opportunity 
© Getty Images

The framers were futurists in many ways. The original thinking behind our various methods of choosing elected officials was both original and quite literally world-changing, but the system needs an update as technology changes.

Pundits will debate certain aspects of our election process. It doesn’t matter which ones. Some decry the soundness of the electoral college in a post-agrarian world (that discussion can wait till 2020), while others focus on the challenges of presenting the public with a truly representative slate of candidates. All such discussions are in the weeds so far as the single most important electoral issue we face.

The issues out there are legion, but the secure transport of data is paramount.


The way election systems information moves from place to place is key among the myriad attack vectors currently pointed at our nation’s democratic process. This must change.

In my work on election security issues, we have seen every stripe of vulnerability. For instance, when a voting technology vendor aggregates vote counts, the process of doing so – and then getting the results back to the states – can open up a vulnerability. Encryption isn’t a failsafe, and disruptions in the digital pathways used to get data from Point A to Point B are possible.

And therein lies the real issue: Our democracy depends on faith in the democratic process. The fact of a hack is only slightly more dire than the possibility of one. Elections need to provide voters with a low-repudiation system. If we lose confidence in our systems, democracy takes the hit.

While working with states and county election boards, I’ve found some surprises — wireless networks with insufficient security connected to voting machines and aggregators; wireless access points that can be tapped by hackers during live voting; and a host of others.

Some states still use voting machines that allow an administrator to upload to and download data from voting machines, and in some of these states there are no detection systems in place to identify and log when this has happened.

There are other issues, but none of them can be remedied by federal action. And that’s as it should be. The framers were right to leave the administration of the vote with the states.

But we need federal action on the way information moves, which impinges the states’ ability to conduct fair and safe elections.

Creating a secure system for the movement of data is something the federal government can provide to states. Think of it as the information highway version of our nation’s interstate system. There is precedent for such information systems — the Internet being the best example.

We can almost certainly address the issue by treating the current challenges as an infrastructure opportunity.

The secure transportation of information, and the creation of a low-repudiation environment in the web of local and state entities that comprise our election systems is a federal mandate for sure, and one that has not yet been dealt with—whether we’re talking about HAVA, the DHS election security outreach or any other existing approach. It’s just time for an upgrade.

Election security is a disaster-level situation we all face as a democracy, and it requires federal assistance yesterday.

Adam K. Levin is a consumer advocate with more than 30 years of experience and is an expert on cybersecurity, privacy, identity theft, fraud, and personal finance. A former Director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, Mr. Levin is Chairman and founder of CyberScout and co-founder of Credit.com. He is also author of Amazon best-selling book Swiped:  How to Protect Yourself in a World Full of Scammers, Phishers and Identity Thieves.