Editorial: Pa. GOP, Dems agree on election cybersecurity threats | Opinion | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #ransomware

The following editorial appeared in The (Sunbury) Daily Item, a CNHI newspaper. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Meadville Tribune.

It is refreshing to see both the Democratic and Republican chairs of the state Senate Government Committee agree that it will take bipartisan efforts to fix the gaps in Pennsylvania’s election cybersecurity.

Both sides have expressed their difference in opinions about election integrity since President Joe Biden’s election. That they are indicating a need to come together now is indicative of the system’s vulnerabilities to a malicious cyber attack and the impact one could have on Pennsylvania’s elections.

Election security advocates told committee members there is no evidence election results in Pennsylvania or any other state have been altered by computer hackers, but they presented the shared viewpoint of 20 data security advocates that said a full statewide shift to hand-marked paper ballots using optical scanners is the best option for efficient, safe vote counts.

In 47 of Pennsylvania’s counties, people mark paper ballots and the ballots are fed through a scanner that tallies the votes. In the other 20 counties, voters use touchscreen ballot-marking devices.

Although there remains a potential for fraud and mistakes, voters creating a physical voting record with pen and paper provides a safe backup alternative for when an election is called into doubt.

“The problem with ballot marking devices is you can’t react to it in an appropriate way during or immediately after an election,” Dr. Andrew W. Appel, computer science professor, Princeton University, said.

Ballot marking devices — and feeder scanners — can be manipulated. Someone with access to the machines — either virtually or physically — could change the configuration so that when voters make their choices, those picks count for something else.

The experts told committee members that no election devices should have access to the internet, providing access to hackers. That makes all the sense in the world.

Mistakes and accidents, where no malicious intent is involved, a system crash or a power outage are also on the table as potential election wrinkles.

In every one of these instances, a ballot-marking device presents a concern regarding authenticity and possibly even access to results. A voter-marked paper ballot does not.

Minority Chair Sen. Amanda Cappelletti, D-Montgomery/Delaware, said, “It sounds like we have some bipartisan work to do on this issue.”

Majority Chair Sen. Cris Dush, R-Cameron/Centre/Clinton/Elk/Jefferson/McKean/Potter, agreed in response and also used the word bipartisan.

When Republicans and Democrats agree on an election threat in 2024, everyone needs to take notice.


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