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Limited funds may prevent state officials from phasing out paperless systems as quickly as election-security experts would like.
At the National Security Agency, where a new Cybersecurity Directorate is about to be formed to coordinate defensive and offensive actions, there are new worries that Russian hackers are learning to operate from networks based in the United States — where they know the agency cannot legally investigate.
Less than 16 months from the next Election Day, the picture of American preparedness is mixed.
The recent ransomware attacks on city governments in Atlanta and Baltimore set off alarm bells among federal officials.
Those attacks, in which online intruders locked up data in certain computer systems, led officials to consider what would happen if skilled hackers, domestic or foreign, locked up a state’s voter registration system just before Election Day.
Unless state officials were ready with a backup system, or reams of printouts, it could create substantial problems in determining whether all people casting ballots are registered and voting only once.
Several agencies are examining what would happen if hackers turned off the power in contested districts, throwing polling places into the darkness, and with that, the integrity of the vote.“It wouldn’t have to be a long outage” to create the perception that some votes might never be counted, said one official involved in the examination.Such optical-scan ballots can be counted by machines, but they still leave room for a full hand recount if there's a dispute about the accuracy of the machine count.Yet some states still rely on paperless electronic systems.The use of paperless voting machines became widespread in the early 21st century.Some states "upgraded" to paperless systems using federal dollars intended to prevent a repeat of the Florida recount debacle in the 2000 presidential election.Much of the 0 million that Congress allocated two years ago has been spent and Senator Mitch Mc Connell, Republican of Kentucky, blocked a Democratic effort on Thursday to provide more money to the states for election security.Many localities say they do not have the funds to spend on gear they will use once a year, at most.Initially, few people paid attention to computer security experts who warned that these systems were vulnerable to hacking.More recently, states have begun to heed those warnings, and a number of states have shifted to voter-marked, optical-scan paper ballots.The report issued Thursday by the Senate Intelligence Committee found that “some states were highly focused on building a culture of cybersecurity; others were severely underresourced and relying on part-time help.”Federal officials say they are particularly worried about states like New Jersey, where only three counties are making the first experiments that create a paper trail for balloting.Pennsylvania and Texas also remain major concerns, the officials said.