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Report Outlines Ways To Make Pennsylvania Voting More Secure

Matt Rourke
Pennsylvania is one of the states that rely on antiquated voting machines that store votes electronically, without printed ballots or other paper-based backups that could be used to double-check the balloting.

New voting security recommendations for Pennsylvania counties were released on Tuesday. The Blue Ribbon Commission on Pennsylvania’s Election Security, the bipartisan commission that authored the report, examined problems with the current voting machines being used, voter rolls, and how to detect and recover from attacks in the future.

“[The voting machines] have been demonstrated to be imminently hackable,” said David Hickton, the commission’s co-chair and founding director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Institute for Cyber Law, Policy and Security. “We use them in over 80 percent of the precincts in Pennsylvania.”

Co-chairs David Hickton and Paul McNulty of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Pennsylvania’s Election Security talked about their election security recommendations on The Confluence Tuesday. Hear the full conversation here.

The voting machines are more vulnerable because they don’t create paper records, making it more difficult to detect and recover from hacks.

“It’s a capital expense that’s overdue even if we were not vulnerable. These machines we use are approaching 20 years old, and it’s time to replace them,” Hickton said on The Confluence.

The report says there are also vulnerabilities in the state’s voter registration system, tallying process, and reporting results on election night.

The commission also is endorsing mandatory post-election audits.

Pennsylvania is a notable swing state, which often means races with close election results, and the commission said there’s little doubt that foreign adversaries will increase hacking efforts in 2020.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf wants all Pennsylvania counties to have upgraded machines, which could cost around $125 million.

But some Republican lawmakers are against Wolf’s plan and say the legislature should get to weigh in, because of the high cost.

The commission suggested that counties request funding from the state and federal government to help pay for upgrades. Hickton said it’s possible to shore up Pennsylvania’s voting systems ahead of the 2020 elections.

WESA receives funding from the University of Pittsburgh. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Lucy Perkins is an editor and also reports on federal government and elections for the Government and Accountability team. Before joining the WESA newsroom, she was an NPR producer in Washington, D.C., working on news programs like All Things Considered and Weekend Edition. You can reach her at
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