To protect the integrity and security of U.S. elections, all local, state, and federal elections should be conducted using human-readable paper ballots by the 2020 presidential election, says a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. In addition, every effort should be made to use paper ballots in the 2018 federal election. Ballots that have been marked by voters should not be returned over the Internet or any network connected to it, because no current technology can guarantee their secrecy, security, and verifiability, the report says.
"The 2016 presidential election was a watershed moment in the history of elections – one that exposed new challenges and vulnerabilities that require the immediate attention of state and local governments, the federal government, researchers, and the American public," said Michael McRobbie, president of Indiana University and co-chair of the committee that conducted the two-year study and wrote the report.
The committee included computer science and cybersecurity experts, legal and election scholars, social scientists, and election officials.
Assessments by the U.S. intelligence community found that during the 2016 presidential election, America's election infrastructure was targeted by actors sponsored by the Russian government who obtained and maintained access to elements of multiple U.S. state or local election systems. The intrusions made clear the vulnerability of election infrastructure to cyberattack, the new report says -- a vulnerability exacerbated by aging equipment and a lack of sustained funding. Foreign state-sponsored attacks present a challenge for even the most well-resourced jurisdictions; small, under-resourced jurisdictions are at serious risk.
State and local governments must work together with the federal government to secure and improve election systems, the report says. The cybersecurity of electronic systems used in elections, such as voter registration databases and vote tabulation systems, should be continuously monitored and improved. And audits of paper ballots should be used to verify that votes have been tabulated correctly and to detect when electronic systems have been compromised.
"This is a critical time for our country," said committee co-chair Lee Bollinger, president of Columbia University. "As a nation, we need to take collective action to strengthen our voting systems and safeguard our democracy. In addition, the nation's leaders need to speak candidly and apolitically about threats to election systems. The American people must have confidence that their leaders place the larger interests of democracy above all else."
From National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
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