The bill reads like a computer security expert’s wish list.
TIMOTHY B. LEE - Ars Technica
1/2/2018, 7:00 AM
A bipartisan group of six senators has introduced legislation that would take a huge step toward securing elections in the United States. Called the Secure Elections Act, the bill aims to eliminate insecure paperless voting machines from American elections while promoting routine audits that would dramatically reduce the danger of interference from foreign governments.
The legislation comes on the heels of the contentious 2016 election. Post-election investigation hasn't turned up any evidence that foreign governments actually altered any votes. However, we do know that Russians were probing American voting systems ahead of the 2016 election, laying groundwork for what could have become a direct attack on American democracy.
"With the 2018 elections just around the corner, Russia will be back to interfere again," said co-sponsor Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.).
So a group of senators led by James Lankford (R-Okla.) wants to shore up the security of American voting systems ahead of the 2018 and 2020 elections. And the senators have focused on two major changes that have broad support from voting security experts.
The first objective is to get rid of paperless electronic voting machines. Computer scientists have been warning for more than a decade that these machines are vulnerable to hacking and can't be meaningfully audited. States have begun moving away from paperless systems, but budget constraints have forced some to continue relying on insecure paperless equipment. The Secure Elections Act would give states grants specifically earmarked for replacing these systems with more secure systems that use voter-verified paper ballots.
The legislation's second big idea is to encourage states to perform routine post-election audits based on modern statistical techniques. Many states today only conduct recounts in the event of very close election outcomes. And these recounts involve counting a fixed percentage of ballots. That often leads to either counting way too many ballots (wasting taxpayer money) or too few (failing to fully verify the election outcome).
The Lankford bill would encourage states to adopt more statistically sophisticated procedures to count as many ballots as needed to verify an election result was correct—and no more.
We talked to two election security experts who praised the legislation and urged Congress to pass it quickly.
"We're rapidly running out of time," says Lawrence Norden, an election expert at the Brennan Center at New York University Law School. Given the long lead times involved in planning for a major election, he told us, Congress will have to move quickly if it wants new recommendations to be ready before the 2018 election—or new voting systems to be in place by November 2020.