Election Security Problems Still Must Be Addressed | Opinion

Since last November, Donald Trump and his allies have attempted to undermine our democratic framework with a relentless barrage of lies, fantasies and falsehoods about imaginary vote-rigging schemes. They have enabled supporters of the former president to grasp onto the most arrant nonsense and farcical theories to convince themselves that Trump did not lose to President Joe Biden by 7 million votes nationwide and 74 Electoral College votes.

It shouldn't need saying, but the lies are not true. As the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security and Republican and Democratic election officials have affirmed, there is no evidence whatsoever of large-scale electoral fraud. Joe Biden beat Donald Trump. Period.

But the fact that the presidential outcome was correct this time does not mean that our elections are well enough secured.

Plenty has been written about how the Big Lie is corroding public trust and tearing at the fabric of our democracy. But in addition to these obvious harms, Trump' insidious disinformation is also inhibiting legitimate and necessary election security reforms.

Well before the 2020 election, bipartisan investigations from the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee documented significant weaknesses in U.S. voting equipment. These findings only confirmed what previous studies from state election officials and academic researchers revealed—voting machines are computers with inherent vulnerabilities and weak security protocols.

In 2018, after researching election security extensively, the Senate Intelligence Committee made recommendations to address known issues, and called for strengthened election security standards nationwide. These reforms were largely incorporated into bipartisan legislation introduced in the Senate, but Republican leadership and the Trump administration blocked any election security reform legislation from advancing. It's hard to ignore the irony that Trump now (falsely) claims election security problems led to millions of fraudulently cast ballots, after he himself blocked measures to shore it up.

Over the last few years, Congress has appropriated more than a billion dollars in election security funding, but merely throwing money at the problem won't work. We need coordinated action to address the underlying deficiencies in the election industry, and to set baseline security requirements for election practices.

A poll worker stands by voting booths
A poll worker stands by voting booths. J. Countess/Getty Images

The election system industry has little to no oversight, transparency or regulation, and what little security testing there is, is voluntary, lax and woefully outdated. The federal agency tasked with voting system testing and certification has been criticized extensively for its excess dysfunction and lack of security expertise. It is currently being sued for violating federal transparency laws and improperly meeting privately with voting system vendors to weaken new voting system standards.

While there has been some incremental progress toward better election security practices at the state level, it's been patchy and slow, leaving the nation as a whole inadequately protected. Some states still use dangerously obsolete paperless computer voting machines, while others are replacing them with insecure, untrustworthy computerized ballot marking devices. Thirty-two states permit internet voting for a substantial numbers of voters, and some state officials are trying to expand this highly risky method of voting. Far too few states conduct rigorous post-election audits to confirm that electronic results match what is on voters' ballots. Some states continue to use voting machines with wireless modems to transmit election results from the polls. And many jurisdictions remain tragically under-educated on basic computer security literacy.

Ignoring these realities not only leaves future elections exposed to potential attacks, it is also certain to provide ammunition to those who seek to discredit future election results.

The Freedom to Vote Act, introduced recently by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and seven co-sponsors, includes extensive provisions aimed at increasing election security, underscoring the continuing need for real reform. At a minimum, all states should:

—Require all votes be recorded on voter-verified paper ballots, with hand-marked ballots as the primary method, and secure, accessible, verifiable ballot-marking devices provided for voters who prefer using assistive technology.

—Implement a moratorium on internet voting, and ban wireless networking devices and internet connectivity in voting machines.

—Conduct rigorous post-election audits of all federal contests.

—Invest in cybersecurity training and resources for state and local election offices.

Passing legitimate and necessary election security reforms shouldn't be neglected because of the Big Lie. Our democracy demands it.

Susan Greenhalgh is the senior advisor for election security at Free Speech For People.

J. Alex Halderman is a professor of computer science and engineering, director of the Center for Computer Security and Society at the University of Michigan.

The views expressed in this article are the writers' own.