Voting booths in San Rafael, Calif., on Nov. 6, 2018. (Mark Gunn/Flickr/https://flic.kr/p/2cCizWC)

PERSPECTIVE: Aggressively Act Now to Modernize Voting Technology and Secure Our Elections

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Voters demand to know that the votes they cast are the votes that are counted. But our election systems are under unprecedented threats and our collective faith in the system has been faltering.

Indeed, recent elections across the country have been fraught with reports of irregularities, confusion about the wide range of technologies in use, growing distrust among political parties and other stakeholders, and varying degrees of voting system breakdowns – from long lines at the polls to faulty machinery and ballot shortages. This has led to serious concerns about election security, election administration, vote tabulation, and accessibility for all populations, especially the 1 in 6 eligible voters with a disability as reported in a Rutgers University study. Of perhaps greatest concern are the well-documented, concerted and ongoing efforts by Russian entities to interfere with and influence the outcomes of U.S. elections.

All of this has severely hampered the ability of the more than 10,000 election authorities in the United States to ensure the highest standards of election integrity. The vast majority have neither the resources nor the technological capacity to address these challenges.

The atmosphere of fear and mistrust this has engendered has given rise to periodic calls for rejection of modern elections systems technology in favor of a collective return to paper ballots alone. This is misguided and dangerous. The technology to ensure secure, private, accessible, verifiable and auditable voting is available today and is in use around the world. The fact is modern state-of-the-art electronic voting machines, ballot-marking devices and voting systems that include paper ballot backup and verification contain inherent hardware and software security protections that make them extremely difficult to compromise and far more secure than paper systems alone. These security protections are further enhanced through multiple procedural safeguards to detect and prevent attackers from gaining access to voting systems.

The real problem is that many current U.S. election systems use out-of-date machines and weak systems for registration, and for reporting and verifying information accuracy – in addition to non-secure websites and other concerns that create voting system vulnerabilities. Indeed, according to the Brennan Center, in 2018, 41 states used voting machines that were more than 10 years old – an eternity in a time of ever-evolving cyber threats. To address vulnerabilities, meet the needs of changing voting patterns and ensure election security and accessibility, the security conversation, along with analysis and solutions, must be based upon, and it must continually demand, the most current and up-to-date technology, administration and standards.

Federal and state agencies need ample, continuous and sustainable investment in research and development in elections systems in order to replace aging and obsolete voting systems infrastructure, and to verify and deploy world-class, resilient and secure elections systems. Continued, ongoing evolution of election technology and administration is needed to keep pace with evolving threats from adversaries who would compromise our elections.

Within the federal government, the Department of Homeland Security must be given the necessary resources to conduct research and development in order to establish and promote election security standards that will enable election authorities to make informed decisions about their respective election systems and processes. The Election Assistance Commission, the only agency in the federal government charged with testing and certifying voting machines, has also been chronically under-resourced.

Security experts have warned us of ongoing and growing threats to our elections systems. In response, we must aggressively embrace and fund the development of better and more secure election systems. We must demand existing state-of-art technology to ensure secure and trusted election outcomes. And we must come together as a nation to protect this most cherished and fundamental element of democracy: free, fair, trusted and secure elections.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email HSTodayMag@gtscoalition.com. Our editorial guidelines can be found here.

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Peter V. Neffenger, an HSToday editorial board member, was the Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration from July 2015 till his statutorily required resignation on January 20, 2017 upon Donald Trump becoming President. Previously to leading TSA, Neffenger was a Vice Admiral in the United States Coast Guard, serving as Vice Commandant of the United States Coast Guard since May 20, 2014. He previously had served as Deputy Commandant for Operations, Deputy National Incident Commander for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Director of Coast Guard Strategic Management and Doctrine, Commander of the Ninth Coast Guard District, Commander of Coast Guard Sector Los Angeles – Long Beach, Captain of the Port and Federal Maritime Security Coordinator, Budget Officer of the Coast Guard, and Coast Guard Liaison Officer to the Territory of American Samoa. On April 28, 2015, he was nominated by President Barack Obama to be the administrator of the Transportation Security Administration.

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