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Legislation Introduced to Designate Voting Machines as “Critical Infrastructure“

The Election Integrity Act would mandate that all new voting systems create a paper trail and offer funding to states to replace aging machines.

Reacting to concerns about the integrity of elections in the US, one Democratic lawmaker has put forward a measure to provide federal cybersecurity protections to all voting machines.

Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) introduced the Election Infrastructure and Security Promotion Act on Wednesday. The bill would require the Department of Homeland Security to classify election systems around the country as “critical infrastructure.”

The department identifies 16 critical infrastructure sectors in the US that receive enhanced cybersecurity assistance from the federal government. They include financial water treatment facilities, energy plants, and communications systems.

Voting systems, due in large part to their localized nature, are not included under the DHS’s cybersecurity umbrella. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, however, remarked last month that the department was considering bringing them into the fold.

Rep. Johnson’s legislation would force the Secretary’s hand.

“Certainly our nation’s electoral infrastructure should command the same level of federal government security and protection as does the power grid, our water supply, or our air traffic control system,” Rep. Johnson said in a press briefing on Wednesday.

Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have raised concerns that the election is being rigged. Clinton has pointed to the hack of Democratic organizations and statewide online voter databases, to allege that Russian operatives are trying to manipulate the election to benefit Donald Trump. US investigators probing the incidents have yet to make an official attribution.

Trump, meanwhile, has warned that individuals will attempt to vote multiple times in November — a form of voter fraud that studies have shown to be virtually non-existent.

Speaking to reporters, Rep. Johnson said his concerns about the election go beyond what the two candidates have spoken about.

“It is important to be aware that the threat of cyber attacks on our voting processes come not only form foreign adversaries,” he said. “The threat also comes from rogue hackers with a radical agenda to undermine US national security interests, and also from domestic partisans who will not hesitate to steal an election.”

Last week, the House Science Committee convened a hearing with election researchers about the vulnerability of US voting machines. The witnesses downplayed concerns about hackers being able to manipulate the vote.

“The voting process is highly decentralized, with a very rigorous chain of custody and testing regimens in place for all devices,” claimed David Becker, the executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research.

“Given the fact that these devices are never connected to the Internet, it would be exceedingly difficult for any hacker to manipulate the outcome of a national election,” he added.

As recently as last summer, however, thousands of WinVote systems in use by the state of Virginia were decommissioned because of vulnerabilities. WIRED quoted a security researcher who said of the machines, “anyone within a half mile could have modified every vote, undetected” without “any technical expertise.”

Rep. Johnson also put forward a bill on Wednesday that would ensure that all voting machines in the US can be audited. The Election Integrity Act would mandate that all new voting systems create a paper trail, and offer funding to states to replace aging machines.

The bill would also ease access to the ballot, by ensuring 14 days of early voting, requiring an even distribution of voting stations throughout a state, and creating a process for individuals to challenge their inclusion on purge lists.

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