A committee of U.S. House Democrats released a report Wednesday confirming what many Americans know: Critical voting systems in Kansas, Missouri and 48 other states remain dangerously vulnerable to cyberattack.
“Russia targeted voting systems in at least 21 states (in 2016),” the report said. It “sought to infiltrate the networks of voting equipment vendors, political parties and at least one local election board.”
China, Iran and North Korea might be next, the committee warned.
There is no public evidence the Russians changed voting outcomes in 2016, and in fact, the hacking threat when votes are counted is relatively small.
Voter registration systems are another story. Malevolent nations and hackers continue to probe flimsy voter rolls across America, looking for a way in.
That’s a direct threat to popular democracy. Even the mere threat of interference can be disruptive if voters distrust results because they think someone hacked the local election board.
That’s why another new report, from the Center for American Progress, is so disturbing. The left-leaning group reviewed election security protocols in all 50 states and the District of Columbia and found most of them substandard.
Kansas and Missouri were particularly bad. Missouri received a “D,” and Kansas got a “D/F,” in part because both states provided incomplete information about cybersecurity for voter registration.
State election officials can improve public confidence in election results by maintaining paper ballot trails and auditing elections, the center said. Kansas was unsatisfactory on both counts. Missouri did a bit better.
Naturally, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach rejected the group’s findings. “It is false to assert that Kansas elections are open to hacking,” he said.
Somehow, Kobach’s claim is less than comforting. He may wish to visit with Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, a fellow Republican and a former secretary of state, who said this week “we need to be acting quickly” to shore up election systems against digital interference.
Hardening the nation’s election machinery against attack won’t be cheap. The House Democrats proposed sending the states at least $1 billion in grants for new voting machines, training, risk assessments and similar programs.
Their bill — the Election Security Act — would also require the Director of National Intelligence to complete a full-scope threat assessment six months before Election Day. State election officials would receive expedited security clearances to allow classified briefings on those threats.
This may seem like an overreaction. It is not. The threat is real, and hackers grow more sophisticated each day. Yet because we only vote three or four times a year, many Americans don’t think about the problem.
Potential corruption of free and fair U.S. elections is just as important as any perceived threat on the southern border. Spending what it takes to protect elections is essential.
Election systems must be made immune to cyber interference, and the nation’s aging, rickety election machinery should be replaced. And, as Blunt noted, quickly.