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States Invest in Election Security     08/21 08:49

   Racing to shore up their election systems before November, states are using 
millions of dollars from the federal government to tighten cybersecurity, 
safeguard their voter registration rolls and improve communication between 
county and state election officers.

   ATLANTA (AP) -- Racing to shore up their election systems before November, 
states are using millions of dollars from the federal government to tighten 
cybersecurity, safeguard their voter registration rolls and improve 
communication between county and state election officers.

   The U.S. Election Assistance Commission released a report Tuesday showing 
how states plan to spend $380 million allocated by Congress last spring to 
strengthen voting systems amid ongoing threats from Russia and others.

   All but a fraction of the money has already been sent to the states, the 
District of Columbia and U.S. territories. The largest chunk --- roughly 36 
percent --- is being spent to improve cybersecurity in 41 states and 
territories.

   More than a quarter of the money will be used to buy new voting equipment in 
33 states and territories, although not all of that will be in place by the 
Nov. 6 midterm elections.

   States have been scrambling to increase their cyber defenses, upgrade voting 
systems and provide training to local election officials since it was revealed 
that Russian hackers targeted election systems in at least 21 states in 2016, 
although the number is likely greater. There has been no indication any vote 
tallies were changed.

   Meanwhile, the nation's intelligence chiefs warn of the ongoing threat of 
Russian interference. On Tuesday, Microsoft said it had uncovered new Russian 
hacking attempts targeting U.S. political groups.

   A Senate report earlier this year urged states to replace outdated voting 
equipment and ensure all ballots are cast on machines that produce a paper 
record allowing voters to verify their selections.

   Five states exclusively use touchscreen voting machines that provide no such 
record, along with more than 300 counties in eight other states, according to 
Verified Voting, a nonprofit group focused on ensuring the accuracy of 
elections. One of those states, Georgia, indicated it would use half of its 
$10.3 million federal grant toward new voting machines, although that amount is 
just a fraction of what's needed.

   The total cost to ensure a paper trail for all Georgia voters could be as 
high as $120 million depending on what type of machine the state buys for its 
159 counties. The machines will not be in place for the November elections.

   While New Jersey uses machines similar to those in Georgia, officials there 
determined the bulk of the state's $9.7 million will be offered to local 
election officials as grants to address the risks identified in comprehensive 
security reviews of their voting systems.

   A survey earlier this year by the Brennan Center for Justice found that 
officials in 33 states said they must replace their voting machines by 2020. 
Many voting systems rely on software and hardware that is no longer supported 
by manufacturers.

   "This is a looming crisis for the United States," said the center's Lawrence 
Norden. "That is true whether we have to worry about the threat of Russians or 
other nation-states attacking us."

   About $50.7 million, or about 13 percent of the federal total, will be used 
to improve voter registration systems in 29 states. Russian hackers breached 
Illinois' voter registration system in 2016, although officials have said no 
information was changed or deleted.

   Experts remain concerned about the security of those systems, saying hackers 
could change names, addresses or polling place information and cause confusion, 
long lines and delays in reporting election results. In turn, such chaos could 
undermine confidence in the results.

   In accepting the federal money, states were required to provide a match of 5 
percent.


(KA)

 
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