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EDITORIAL: Securing 2018 election should be our top priority

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Election Security State Readiness

A technician in Philadelphia works to prepare voting machines to be used in the upcoming presidential election in October 2016. Since last July, a bipartisan team at Harvard, including former U.S. Marine and Army cyberwarriors, national security eggheads and Google engineers, has been looking into how to safeguard the vote against interference. The government needs to make election security a top priority.

We learned this past week that Russian hackers targeted 21 state voting systems and infiltrated several.

That frightened us. We believe it should frighten you.

So when we interviewed Rep. Elise Stefanik earlier this week, we wanted to know what was being done to safeguard our election system.

As a member of the House Intelligence Committee and the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Stefanik is in a unique position to evaluate the cybersecurity threats posed to our country.

We asked her if enough was being done.

“We have not done enough,” she responded. “I am very concerned.”

She said she disagreed with President Donald Trump’s position on Russia and said she sees Russia as an adversary. When we asked her if the president should lead on this, she said, “Yes.”

She said the House Armed Services Committee was leading on the issue, pointing out that some of the fake news websites are being run by the Russian military.

“That’s of concern to me,” Rep. Stefanik said. “I think the public has had a wake-up call.”

But considering the current administration’s continued attacks on our country’s institutions, from the FBI to the media, we can imagine a scenario of widespread skepticism toward any result in the November election.

Further research frightened us further.

According to a Politico story on Dec. 29, states wanting an exhaustive screening of their election system have been told by the Department of Homeland Security the wait could be as long as nine months.

That means some states might not have time to fix problems in time for the 2018 midterm elections.

Getting the Department of Homeland Security more help doesn’t appear to be in the cards either. Last March, former Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly — now the president’s chief of staff — said he didn’t need any additional money to carry out the agency’s duties, including duties regarding “critical infrastructure.”

Consider some of these concerns raised in a story this week in the Washington Post:

  • Researchers at Princeton University have shown they can pick the lock on voting machines in seven seconds. In minutes, they were able to replace the machine’s computer chip with another chip that would change votes for candidate A to votes for Candidate B.
  • One research team hacked into a voting machine to have it play the Pac-Man game.
  • Another research team programmed the machine to play the University of Michigan fight song every time a vote was cast.

Even more chilling was Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ admission in a congressional hearing that the United States is not doing enough to block hackers from meddling in the 2018 elections.

“The matter is so complex that — for most of us — we’re not able to fully grasp the technical dangers that are out there,” he said.

There is especially concern over the use of Direct Recording Electronic voting machines — about 1 in 5 in the country — which are especially vulnerable to being hacked. They are used in 15 different states and have no backup paper ballot.

Other machines can be hacked remotely.

The Post story said the hacks were simple and took just minutes while being virtually undetectable, despite claims by manufacturers that machines are secure and feature “tamper-evident” seals.

So what should we be worried about?

The three areas of concern should be the voter registration database, the voting machines themselves and the government tabulation.

Consider the problems caused if vast numbers of names were deleted from the voter registration rolls on Election Day.

Or if machines were programmed to switch votes?

Or if the federal government’s tabulations were changed?

Even if they were caught in audits days and weeks after the election — 18 states still do not mandate post-election audits — there would be vast confusion about who won and lost elections all across the country.

Also this week, all five heads of the nation’s intelligence agencies concurred that Russia will seek to disrupt the 2018 election. Yet, congress has done nothing.

While a bipartisan group of six senators is trying to pass legislation to secure our elections, we doubt Congress will make it the priority it deserves to be.

As a member of the House Intelligence Committee, we’re hoping Rep. Stefanik can make this a priority immediately.

Without a functioning democracy, nothing else matters. This should be the country’s top priority.

We are at war.

Post-Star editorials represent the opinion of the Post-Star editorial board, which consists of Publisher Robert Forcey, Controller/Operations Director Brian Corcoran, Editor Ken Tingley, Projects Editor Will Doolittle and citizen representatives Carol Merchant, Eric Mondschein and Bob Tatko.


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