Concerns About the Security of State Voter Rolls

On Tuesday, March 20th, voters in the state of Illinois went to the polls to cast their ballots in the nation’s second primary election of the year. Illinois was the lone state in the 2016 election known to have its election systems breached in a hacking effort that penetrated the state’s voter registration data. While no actual voting machines or vote tallying were altered, hacking of voter rolls can cause just as much damage. “I think it’s only a matter of time before we suffer a devastating attack on our election systems unless our federal and state governments act quickly,” says J. Alex Halderman of the University of Michigan.

The vulnerabilities of voter rolls remain in the process by which voter registration information is obtained and distributed. Most states collect information on a state level and then distribute to localities, while the few remaining states collect information on a local level and distribute to the state. The chief concern is how these electronic methods interact with other internet-connected systems. Each time an e-poll book is connected to a network, there is a potential opening for hackers. Even systems that transfer data via hard drives and not the internet are susceptible to tampering.

Harvard University’s Belfer Research Center has recommended that state officials take steps to shore up security by making sure the underlying computer servers are not connected to the internet, and ensuring that all changes are logged. Other technology experts caution that a key component of election security is developing systems that can recover quickly in the event of an attack. Merely understanding where the risks are is a critical step in securing voter rolls across the nation.