Computer hacks and cybersecurity threats have been in the news a lot lately. Millions of Americans’ data were breached in the Equifax hack and a huge number of accounts were compromised at Yahoo. Worse than those reports, it was recently confirmed that Ohio was one of the 21 states reported on over the summer whose systems hackers attempted to breach in the lead up to the 2016 election.
Foreign interference with our elections and the electronic machinery they run on is one of the biggest cyber threats we face because it’s a matter of national security. Our enemies want to create chaos at best and change outcomes of our elections at worst. It’s a direct attack on our society, the American way of life, and our ability to self-govern.
Our current understanding is that the 2016 hacking attempt failed in Ohio. But it’s unlikely that will be the last try. Cybersecurity experts warn that hackers are relentless and can even electronically erase their tracks if they do succeed in breaching our systems’ defenses.
It’s critically important that we start now to build resilience into our elections system so it can withstand attack. It’s no longer enough to say that our voting machines are safe because they’re not connected to the Internet. Nowadays, even standard items like coffee makers have built-in Wi-Fi. Entries to networks can be found where we would never have expected them five or 10 years ago. Malicious code can be transmitted via memory cards, thumb drives, or other means.
We were caught off guard in 2016, but we can’t stick our heads back in the sand. Here’s my plan to protect our elections from the next major attack:
First, Ohio needs a dedicated director of election cybersecurity working in the office of the secretary of state, our chief election official. One of the election security bills I’m drafting will require it. The director will be responsible for conducting regular assessments of threats to our voter registration, vote casting, and vote tabulation systems, and any other information technology systems used by our secretary of state’s office and county boards of elections.
Second, my legislation will establish an elections cybersecurity council overseen by the director and comprising a cross section of election officials, voting advocates, and cybersecurity experts. Ohio businesses also face similar threats every day, and the director, along with the council will bring the public and private sectors together to advise the state and counties on practices to secure our elections.
Third, we need to shift every county in Ohio to fully auditable voter-marked paper ballots. Many counties have already voluntarily made the change. But other counties are still using machines that produce an electronic ballot. The next generation of voting machines should use the voting method best able to withstand high-tech attacks, and that’s paper ballots. The current equipment has reached the end of its life, so the opportunity is now to replace it with a paper-based system. We can still use high-speed ballot scanners to produce quick and accurate results on election night. But, to protect against machine tampering or failures, we will have a reliable paper record to verify the result.
Fourth, our election laws must require that audits be performed after every election to verify that our results are accurate and the tabulation machines have not been compromised. Paper ballots are only secure if we audit the vote count.
In addition to this four-step election cybersecurity plan, we can secure the integrity of our elections by ensuring that everyone who wants to be registered to vote can get registered and stay on the rolls, and any ballot they cast is counted accurately. Enemy attackers want to erase voters from the rolls and tamper with the vote counts. Our policies shouldn’t help them do it.
The machinery of our American democracy was attacked in 2016 and urgent bipartisan action is needed to protect our voting systems. I’ll be seeking support for this plan from both sides of the aisle. We all care about our national security and want to keep foreign invaders out of our ballot box. Ohioans, regardless of party, are depending on us to protect their votes and our democracy.
Rep. Kathleen Clyde represents the 75th Ohio House district in Portage County, and she is a Democratic candidate for Ohio secretary of state.
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