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Despite Voting Improvements, 2020 Machines (Still) Vulnerable to Hacking

These new machines still pose unacceptable risks in an election that U.S. intelligence officials expect to be a prime target for disruption by countries such as Russia and China.

By Eric Geller

Election officials in some states and cities are planning to replace their insecure voting machines with technology that is still vulnerable to hacking.

The machines that Georgia, Delaware, Philadelphia and perhaps many other jurisdictions will buy before 2020 are an improvement over the totally paperless devices that have generated controversy for more than 15 years, election security experts and voting integrity advocates say. But they warn that these new machines still pose unacceptable risks in an election that U.S. intelligence officials expect to be a prime target for disruption by countries such as Russia and China.

The new machines, like the ones they’re replacing, allow voters to use a touchscreen to select their choices. But they also print out a slip of paper with the vote both displayed in plain text and embedded in a barcode — a hard copy that, in theory, would make it harder for hackers to silently manipulate the results.

Security experts warn, however, that hackers could still manipulate the barcodes without voters noticing. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine has also warned against trusting the barcode-based devices without more research, saying they “raise security and verifiability concerns.”

That hasn’t stopped some states from forging ahead, however, as they face pressure to retire their outdated paperless machines before the next presidential race.

The replacements, known as ballot-marking devices, are “a relatively new and untested technology,” said J. Alex Halderman, a voting security expert who teaches at the University of Michigan. “And it’s concerning that jurisdictions are rushing to purchase them before even basic questions have been answered.”

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