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California to Upgrade Voting Systems to better Secure Election Results

This effort is near and dear to my heart, but hackers should not be able to access any voting machine anywhere and manipulate results.  There’s already evidence that two counties in Florida were breached and its possible voting tallies were changed in the 2016 election — and once a hacker gets into one Florida county, they are basically into all of them via a statewide network that connects their county voting offices together.

That’s not happening in California.

This story from NBC is worth your time.

From the piece:

SANTA ANA, Calif. — A sprawling warehouse on South Grand Avenue holds the 11,000 voting machines that Orange County, California — the nation’s fifth-largest voting district — has used in its elections for the past two decades. Every single one of them is about to become scrap metal, thanks in part to the stroke of a state official’s pen.

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla has long been concerned about the vulnerability of the nation’s voting machines. “We have done more to respond to hanging chads,” he told NBC News, “than we have done to respond to Vladimir Putin and the threats by Russian intelligence officials against our elections.”

So in February, Padilla took the bold step of ordering all of California’s 58 voting districts to update their voting systems by the March 2020 primaries. If they don’t comply or get an exemption, the county voting officials will face legal action from the state.

In Orange County, which has 1.6 million registered voters, that means the thousands of Hart eSlate machines in the Santa Ana warehouse are headed to the junkyard. But the county’s top election official, Neal Kelley, is not in mourning for obsolete technology he compared to the Atari videogame systems of the 1990s.

“The components are no longer being manufactured,” Kelley said, nodding at the rows and rows of doomed machines. “It’s impossible to get some of these parts anymore. … [We’ve been] holding it together with Band-Aids and hope.” And he points out that it’s not just a problem with spare parts — updating security systems in such machines is nearly impossible.

Nevertheless, Padilla’s plan to replace all of California’s aging voting machines is an ambitious and expensive one. His mandate puts in place standards that are among the most rigorous in the nation.

Orange County is fortunate to have Neal Kelly at the helm of the RoV; his practices are studied by peers throughout the country and he’s a regular speaker that the annual BlackHat conference in Las Vegas in August (hope to see you there Neal).

Last year, a pre-teen hacked a machine used in the 2015 Virginia statewide elections in less than 15 minutes.  many of the machines still use Windows XP for an operating system with a default password.  One machine had 60 Chinese MP3 music files stored on it.

One of my colleagues had an idea for a set of machines that would allow voting and print out a paper ballot for inspection by the voter; it could be corrected if hacked.  That paper ballot would then be scanned by another machine made by a different manufacturer which would read and process the votes for each race with a visual inspection by the voter.  It might take two or three minutes longer to vote (solved by adding more machines) but would result in unhackable ballots and faster tabulations.