Thousands of election systems running software that will soon be outdated: report

Thousands of election systems running software that will soon be outdated: report
© Getty Images

The vast majority of the nation’s 10,000 election jurisdictions are using an operating system that will soon be outdated, according to an Associated Press analysis.

Those jurisdictions using Windows 7 or an older operating system to create ballots, program voting machines, tally votes and report counts will reach its “end of life” on Jan. 14 — meaning Microsoft will no longer provide technical support or produce “patches” to deal with vulnerabilities that hackers could possibly exploit.

ADVERTISEMENT

Microsoft told the AP in a statement Friday that it would offer continued Windows 7 security updates for a fee through 2023. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill.

Critics told the AP that the obsolescence was an example of what happens when private companies determine the security level of election systems without federal guidelines. Vendors defended themselves, saying they’ve been making consistent improvements on security, but state officials said they were wary of federal involvement in state and local races.

It’s uncertain if vendors, some of whom have small budgets, would pay a significant fee for the security improvements. It’s also unclear if Windows 10, an updated software that has updated security provisions, could be prepared in time for next year's elections.

“That’s a very serious concern,” J. Alex Halderman, a University of Michigan professor and election security expert, told the AP. He added that the country could repeat “mistakes that we made over the last decade or decade-and-a-half when states bought voting machines but didn’t keep the software up-to-date and didn’t have any serious provisions” for doing so.

The AP survey of all 50 states and the District of Columbia found that several battleground states, including Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, Iowa, and North Carolina will be impacted by the ending of Windows 7 support. 

Three companies, Election Systems and Software LLC, Dominion Voting Systems Inc. and Hart InterCivic Inc., make up 92 percent of election systems used nationwide, according to a 2017 study.

However, only Dominion’s newer systems will not be affected by upcoming Windows software issues. Election Systems and Software told the AP it expects to be able to run an election system on Windows 10 by the fall.

Election security has been a key issue among state and federal lawmakers after the U.S. intelligence community determined that Russia interfered in the 2016 elections in order to help aid President TrumpDonald John TrumpBusiness, ballots and battling opioids: Why the Universal Postal Union benefits the US Sanders supporters cry foul over Working Families endorsement of Warren California poll: Biden, Sanders lead Democratic field; Harris takes fifth MORE's candidacy.