Commission recommends Pennsylvania security measures for elections |

Commission recommends Pennsylvania security measures for elections

Deb Erdley

Pennsylvania lawmakers and county leaders must move quickly to secure the state’s election infrastructure in advance of the 2020 presidential election, an independent bipartisan commission said Tuesday.

The Blue Ribbon Commission on Pennsylvania’s Election Security recommended that the state and federal government provide money to help underwrite to costs for counties facing a major investment to replace electronic voting machines with machines that incorporate voter-verified paper ballots.

Although they found no evidence that Pennsylvania elections had been hacked, commission co-chairmen David Hickton, a former U.S. attorney who founded the University of Pittsburgh Institute for Cyber Law, Policy and Security, and Grove City College President Paul McNulty, a former deputy U.S. attorney general, said the threats to election security are great.

“We have little doubt that foreign adversaries will increase their efforts in the lead-up to the presidential election in 2020. The persistence and sophistication of these actors are only increasing.

“We must not pretend that the existing election architecture from an era of flip phones is sufficient to withstand a determined foreign adversary. Improving it will require political will, including funding. And it will require that the commonwealth and counties be prepared to administer an election even in the face of a cyber attack,” Hickton and McNulty wrote in the 72-page report.

Hickton said he’s hopeful that lawmakers will accept the commission’s recommendations and act swiftly.

Pennsylvania is among 13 states where most or all voters use machines that store votes electronically without printed ballots or backups that could be audited to check votes.

The push for new machines followed a finding by federal authorities that Russian hackers targeted at least 21 states during the 2016 presidential election.

Hickton convened the Blue Ribbon Commission, a group of about two dozen civic leaders and election experts, last spring to study Pennsylvania’s vulnerabilities and offer recommendations for improvement. The commission studied the state’s voting machines and election management as well as voter registration processes and provisions for operations in the event of a cyber attack of technical failure.

Its conclusions echoed those of Gov. Tom Wolf, who last year concluded a costly overhaul was necessary to ensure the security of the state’s elections.

In addition to calling for upgraded voting machines, the commission called for better training of poll workers to provide for procedures in the event of equipment failure as well as modifications to the election code to provide “clear authority for the suspension or extension of elections due to a wide-scale, cyber-related attack, nature disaster or other emergency that disrupts voting.”

The report comes as county officials across the state look to buy new secure voting systems.

Beth Lechman, director of Westmoreland County’s election bureau, said county officials are weighing five different vendors who demonstrated systems believed to meet new specifications. Three of them have been approved by the state. The other two are expected to be approved shortly.

The system would replace an electronic system purchased in 2006. Lechman said preliminary estimates place the cost for the county, which counts 235,175 registered voters, at about $7 million.

Lechman said officials hope to make a final decision in March and have the new system installed in time for the general election this fall.

Allegheny County has about four times as many voters, and officials have pegged the cost of voting machine upgrades at about $25 million.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 724-850-1209, [email protected] or via Twitter @deberdley_trib.