Voting technology and security has never been more critical than in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. States, cities and counties with outdated voting technology are increasingly running the risk of counting their constituents' votes incorrectly. And government agencies are dealing with an unprecedented wave of cyber crime, one area of which has been attempts from hackers to hijack confidential voter registration information.
Already, at least two states have reported cyber attacks that compromised voter information. The FBI issued an alert bulletin in August advising state agencies to take special precautions with their election databases, following breaches of voter registration databases in Illinois and Arizona.
Government agencies – not just states, but cities and counties as well – are addressing this in two ways. They are looking to upgrade their voting systems with up-to-date technology, and are implementing cyber security measures to make sure the voter information of their citizens remains secure.
Outdated Electronic Voting Systems Need Upgrades
Government agency officials are looking for modern and creative solutions to ensure their voting systems are updated, secure and accurate.
Voter information could be compromised either this election, or during an election in the future, by agencies that aren’t already planning to implement cyber security protection. That’s why the City of Philadelphia, the State of New York and Cook County in Illinois have all recently set aside millions of dollars to address voting technology.
The voting system market is one that has been dominated by two vendors in particular - Election Systems & Software and Dominion Voting Systems. In Onvia’s comprehensive database of government contracts, 41% of awards for electronic voting systems were won by one of those two companies. Additionally, the two combined to win 11 of the 20 contracts with the highest award value.
The largest awards are typically found at the state level, like a recent contract with the State of Arkansas for a statewide integrated voting system, awarded to Election Systems & Software for nearly $30 million. But contracts of all sizes are available from smaller county and city government agencies.
Cyber Security Helps Protect Voter Information
The state of Georgia uses older vote tabulation machines that are only certified to run on Windows 2000. Since Microsoft stopped supporting that software several years ago, the machines are more vulnerable to potential cyber attacks.
Most experts agree that cases like this, or the recent cyber attacks in Arizona and Illinois, don’t mean that elections are at risk of being rigged or altered by a malevolent third-party. “It's not a straightforward thing,” said University of North Carolina professor Zeynep Tufekci, “In the sense that the doomsday scenario where some foreign power or some domestic player hacks all [voting systems], because the election machines we have are a patchwork of different systems.”
But agencies still need to make sure their systems are fully protected to maintain civic trust in the voting system. Since agencies have become more likely to allocate funding for building up their cyber security strategies, this signals an opportunity for cyber security vendors to win business.
It’s important to protect the information, protect it from any tampering, anything that could cause disruption, or basically even just cause more work for election officials.Pamela Smith, President of Verified Voting
Onvia’s research on cyber security opportunities for states, counties and cities shows that these contracts typically don’t focus specifically on voter information security, but rather as a part of a comprehensive cyber defense strategy. Projects for cyber security in this area often include text like “data security” or “threat/vulnerability assessment and plan.”
The conversation over election security is not one likely to end soon, and may be elevated even further with a proposed bill that would classify voting systems as critical infrastructure. Government agencies will likely continue to make improvements to their electronic voting systems and voter information security for years to come.