Standard electronic voting machines utilized for the US election.
If you voted in person for the 2020 election, your experience in comparison to voting via paper ballot may seem worlds away.
When voting this year, perhaps you felt more security in selecting your candidate choices on a direct-recording electronic (DRE) or ballot-marking device (BMD). Electronic voting has allowed for a cheaper and more efficient voting process, cutting labor costs of those previously needed to staff voting booths. People with disabilities have also revered electronic voting machines for the accommodations they provide.
So now that our votes are electronically recorded, the overall process is much more reliable, right?
Well…wrong. The introduction of technology in facilitating voter responses may quell some fears of miscounted votes, but is accompanied by a host of tech-related issues. There are several different models of electronic voting machines utilized across the country, varying in age, software, and capabilities. Just like any other electronic device, they can malfunction — big time. In 2004, North Carolina’s Carteret county lost over 4,000 votes due to a memory malfunction with an electronic voting device. Uncalibrated machines can even flip votes.
Microsoft's Cybercrime Center located in Redmond, Washington.
And, of course, the issue fiercely dominating news headlines with this being the height of the US election — cybersecurity.
Countries that utilize electronic voting make themselves heavily susceptible to foreign interference, a point that several nations have come to realize. Germany, Paraguay, The Netherlands, Ireland, and Japan are a few examples of countries that initially sought to incorporate voting machines into their election processes to some extent, but eventually discontinued doing so due to the associated risks. On September 10, Microsoft announced on their blog that multiple cyber attacks were being launched against the 2020 US elections, targeting both the Democratic and Republican parties. Iran, China, and Russia were identified as the host countries for these perpetrations, using attacks like spear phishing, password spraying, and brute force attacks.
This has been a hotly debated topic since Russian interferences during the 2016 election. Many argue that the US should rid itself of electronic voting altogether, and revert to voting via paper ballot like Germany and Japan. The fact of the matter, however, is that electronic voting doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon, and the countries making use of it must instead learn to safeguard this voting process.
Election officers counting votes for an election of Japan’s upper house of Parliament in 2019. Photo by the New York Times.
How do we move forward?
The truth is that the US faces a huge shortage of cybersecurity talent. Microsoft reported that there were 20,000-30,000 COVID-19 themed cyber attacks in the US in the month of March alone. Upon conducting its 2019 Cybersecurity Workforce Study, (ISC)2 found that the global cybersecurity workforce must grow by a factor of 145% in order to meet industry demand. Emsi found that the US has met less than half of its cyber security demands.
With the continued electronization of the federal election process, the United States’ need for cyber security professionals has only become more apparent. Fortifying the election process is crucial for a fair and just voting system. Introducing more cyber security talent would undoubtedly reinstill the confidence voters long for upon casting their vote this year.
And, if you haven’t already:
Members of the Colorado National Guard help monitor network traffic and advise the Secretary of State's office during the Nov. 2018 election. The Guard is once again helping protect elections against cyberattack in 2020. Photo by North Carolina Public Radio.
- https://www.infosecurity-magazine.com/blogs/covid19-cybersecurity-staffing/#:~:text=Around the same time%2C