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Virginia is replacing some of its electronic voting machines over security concerns

Virginia is replacing some of its electronic voting machines over security concerns


A demonstration at Defcon helped prompt the decision

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Virginia’s State Election Board decided to replace all of its direct-voting electronic voting machines following a recommendation from the state’s Department of Elections on Friday, according to Politico (via Engadget). The devices will be replaced by machines that “produce a paper trail.”

Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machines are terminals that allow voters to cast their vote with a touch screen or other electronic interface, which is tallied onto a computer. This doesn’t leave any physical trail that a vote was cast, which has lead to concerns about verifying the final result in an instance where a vote is called into question. Other machines, such as an optical scan voting system, requires voters to fill out a physical ballot, from which the votes are electronically tallied. The department’s report notes that its recommendation doesn’t affect the entire state: only 22 municipalities use the DRE systems while the rest of the state utilizes optical or digital scan machines.

Virginia is poised to hold a general election in November, and the Virginia Information Technology Agency issued an initial report to the Department that stated that “in each of the [DRE] systems, the potential for loss of vote is significant, as none of the machines appear to produce paper audit trails during the voting process.”

The state’s Board of Elections at a demonstration at Defcon in July, hackers showed that a variety of voting systems could easily be tampered with, including ones used by the state. The board noted that other reasons for its recommendation include the state of the “current security environment surrounding the election administration, and that the machines don’t produce a physical paper trail to verify votes. “In sum,” wrote board Commissioner Edgardo Cortes, “the Department of Elections believes that the risks presented by using this equipment in the November General Election are sufficiently significant to warrant immediate decertification to ensure the continued integrity of Virginia elections.”

During last year’s presidential election, concerns were raised about the security of voting systems, as individual machines are fairly insecure, although the larger electoral system would be much harder to tamper with. Still, there’s some evidence that Russian hackers mounted attacks against systems in 39 states to varying levels of success, although none of those attacks included voting machines and didn’t appear to change any votes. Still, the concerns are enough to prompt the state to recommend changing over its infrastructure to something that can at least be examined after the fact.