Opinion

California election officials respond on election hacking

Voters have always had faith that their votes would be counted correctly and the outcome of elections would be untainted by fraud. With news that outside forces are trying to hack our voting processes, that faith is starting to be strained.
Voters have always had faith that their votes would be counted correctly and the outcome of elections would be untainted by fraud. With news that outside forces are trying to hack our voting processes, that faith is starting to be strained. McClatchy News Service

There have been numerous reports of efforts to hack, manipulate and misinform voters and impact elections in our country the past few weeks. Monday’s story – “Election officials outgunned in Russia’s cyberwar against America,” on the McClatchy DC Bureau website – profiled the dynamics of some of these acts and the role played by elections officials in thwarting them.

While there is much to agree with in the article, it feeds into what has become a common narrative framing election security as a divide between the local election officials and the computer science/information security communities. To be sure, there is a history to that tension, but making it the focus is unlikely to resolve the issues and detracts from important work needed to move us forward.

Without hesitation, California election officials take these issues seriously.

It’s well past time to focus on solutions when it comes to election security in this modern age. Election officials have been sounding the alarm about the need for new resources and updated equipment and systems for well over a decade – getting minimal response from state and federal governments.

We cannot ignore the reality of what is occurring when it comes to aging voting systems and insufficient resources. At the same time, a broader vulnerability looms with numerous examples, external to voting systems, of efforts to hack, manipulate and misinform the electorate as a means of impacting elections in our nation.

Framing the issue as a deficiency in election administration does little to combat those dynamics and has a good chance of enhancing them.

The policy recommendations seem clear – paper ballots of record and post-election audits. We should continue to collaborate on the operational elements of both and to advocate for best practices. But those assurances alone are insufficient in combating increasingly nefarious attempts to thwart fair, accessible and transparent elections.

A great audit of paper records that demonstrates intrusion or vulnerability might validate such policies, but will have little effect in leaving the electorate confident in the outcome or in encouraging increased or sustained voter participation – especially if nothing is offered to prevent intrusions and curtail vulnerabilities.

We have to talk about addressing the real need for updated systems, increased investment in information security and acquisition of resources that allow local jurisdictions to access and attract the skills sets required to ensure election integrity.

That has been the underpinning of the ongoing project to update and move to a publicly owned voting system in Los Angeles County. It is also the foundation of Assembly Bill 668 – the Voting Modernization Bond of 2018 pending in the California Legislature.

As the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee convenes this week to further investigate attempted election hacking in 2016, and as legislators in Sacramento grapple with election funding issues here at home, we should change the dialog and look for solutions. Any finger pointing should be aimed at those who seek to attack our electoral systems, not on the officials who are working to keep them afloat in uncertain times.

Dean C. Logan is the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk and President of the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials. He wrote this for The Modesto Bee and Merced Sun-Star.

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