Hackers may zero in on California elections

The US intelligence community has said that it believes Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election and the Director of the CIA, Mike Pompeo, declared that there has been no significant diminishing of Russian attempts at subversion in Europe and the US.

Russian hackers and others hoping to change votes or disrupt elections in the United States may find California an easier target than other states. Many of the electronic voting machines are excessively old. San Diego County’s voting equipment, based on optical scanning, is fourteen years old. Even newer machines across the state have operating systems that are no longer being supported by the companies that created them and, therefore, may not receive security patches in a timely manner or possibly not at all.

Alex Padilla, the California Secretary of State, agrees that aging equipment is the largest threat to the state’s election system. “Not only is it based on outdated technology, the bottom line is the machines are old… When they have to find replacement parts that are no longer made and they have to hunt for them on Ebay, that’s not a good thing… We’re kind of living on borrowed time.”

A common election hacking fear is that votes will be changed, leading to different outcomes. But it takes much less to throw an entire election’s results into doubt. If voting machines are not operational on election day, or are working slowly, lots of people could be prevented from casting their votes.

Efforts are being made to prevent such a disaster. California Governor Jerry Brown included $134 million for new voting systems for all 58 counties in his state budget proposal.

Notoriously error prone Santa Clara County has been called out by State Assemblyman Evan Low as having made more election mistakes than any other county in California in recent history. As a possible remedy, the county board of supervisors is considering moving away from voting booths and requiring all elections to be completed through the mail.

With elections approaching, the pressure is on the Registrar of Voters and other election officials across the state to find solutions fast.

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