Thomas Hicks, a Democrat, is chairman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Matthew Masterson, a Republican, is vice chairman, and Christy McCormick, a Republican, is a member of the commission.
Recent reports regarding the ability of foreign hackers to change the outcome of the U.S. presidential election are overstated. Foreign hackers will not pick our next president — Americans will.
To be sure, malicious actors may be looking at the U.S. election system as a possible target. While headlines on this conversation may be new, election officials have been working to secure our voting systems for years. As threats emerge and evolve, those of us who work in elections are responding, adapting and constantly improving. Recently, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson commended this work and expressed confidence in the election process, saying: “It is diverse, subject to local control, and has many checks and balances built in.”
At the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), we use research, voting system testing information, and reports from state and local officials about the performance of their systems to improve our certification of voting systems. We work with state and local officials across the country to identify and share best practices regarding cybersecurity, including information on testing systems, auditing the results and creating contingency plans. Election officials use this information to better prepare and secure their systems.
Since the widespread purchase of electronic voting systems following the 2000 election, officials have worked to adapt their laws, policies and procedures to mitigate threats as they arise. State and local election officials surround their systems with layers of security.
The first security layer is the decentralized nature of our elections. Remember, states and localities run elections. Across the nation, more than 9,000 election jurisdictions have been diligently preparing for presidential voting. There is not one unified system — or even 50 systems — for a malicious actor to attack; rather, thousands of distinct systems would have to be targeted. FBI Director James B. Comey recently cited the “clunky” decentralized nature of elections as a positive for securing the process.
The next security layer is that the voting systems used across the country are tested at the federal level by the EAC. No EAC-certified voting system is connected to the Internet. State and local officials then test the systems against additional requirements. Local officials publicly test each voting machine before each election to ensure the system is ready. After those local tests are completed, election officials physically secure, seal and lock systems for use in the election.
Additionally, poll workers protect the systems. Anyone who has ever worked the polls knows how protective these workers are of the election process. Finally, laws and policies for post-election audits are in place in a majority of states, and many of these audits are conducted publicly.
Continuity-of-operations plans ensure that the election can continue in cases of natural disaster, local emergencies or a cyber-related issue. As a last resort, emergency provisional ballots can be used to ensure that every eligible voter is given the opportunity to vote, even if all other systems are not operating.
If voters have questions or concerns, there are three steps they can take. First, they should talk to their local election officials. These officials want voters to have confidence and to participate in the process. Second, they can sign up to be poll workers. There is no better way to learn about the process and have one’s questions answered. Third, they can take advantage of all the ways to get involved.
Check your voter registration information to make sure it is up to date. Attend a pre-election test of voting systems. Watch post-election audits of the votes. And, of course, vote.
Election officials work diligently to better secure the voting process. Because of their efforts, the process is more secure than it has ever been. Voters should head to the polls on Nov. 8 with full confidence that they, not some foreign hacker, will choose the next president of the United States.
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