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September 25, 2018

'Pennsylvania’s elections are at risk': Commission issues recommendations for state

Preliminary report says the Keystone State's systems need an overhaul in the next 15 months

Elections Voter Fraud
Pennsylvania voting machines elections Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

Voting machines at a polling location in the dining room of The Gold Standard Cafe on Baltimore Ave. in West Philadelphia on Tuesday, May 15, 2018.

Pennsylvania’s elections are at risk, and its voting methods and machinery need overhauling as soon as possible.

That’s the overarching message from a preliminary report released Tuesday by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Pennsylvania’s Election Security, which examined the state’s security in the wake of widespread hacking concerns from the 2016 U.S. elections.

In April, Secretary of State Robert Torres directed all Pennsylvania counties have “voter-verifiable paper record voting systems” by the end of next year.

The Blue Ribbon Commission’s full report will be available in early 2019, but the “urgency of the threat” convinced the commission to issue interim recommendations.

The report outlines three main recommendations:

1. Counties need to replace vulnerable voting machines

The commission recommends counties using direct-recording electronic machines, which relies solely on electronic records, should replace the systems with voter-marked paper ballots before 2020, and preferably by the Nov. 2019 election.

“An estimated 83 percent of Pennsylvanians vote on machines that offer no auditable paper record,” the report said. “The lack of an auditable record could prevent Pennsylvania’s counties from detecting a successful hacking.”

2. The Pennsylvania General Assembly and federal government need to help counties purchase secure voting systems

This recommendation makes it clear the commission believes the cost of improving the state’s systems is well worth footing the bill.

“Pennsylvanians, including public officials, must recognize that election security infrastructure requires regular investments and upgrades,” the report said. “Our elections — and Pennsylvanians’ faith in them — are not free.”

3. Election officials need to adhere to best practices to minimize vulnerabilities

This recommendation calls on election officials to work with voting machine vendors to guard against potential security risks, and monitor cybersecurity risks throughout the relationship with the vendors. In short, remember to be diligent.

The report called the estimated $125 million cost of replacing voting machines, statewide, a “relative bargain” compared to the “magnitude” of the risk.

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