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Election Security Commission recommends immediate action on vulnerable voting machines

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Saying Pennsylvania elections are at risk, the bipartisan Blue Ribbon Commission on Pennsylvania’s Election Security on Tuesday issued a series of recommendations months in advance of the release of its full report.

The commission, convened by former U.S. Attorney David Hickton, founding director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Institute for Cyber Law, Policy, and Security , and Grove City College President Paul McNulty, said it is critical that counties act to replace voting machines that lack paper back-ups in time for the 2019 election.

Although there is no publicly available evidence the state’s voting machines were hacked in the 2016 general election, Hickton said many systems are not secure.

“The vast majority of Pennsylvania’s voting machines are vulnerable to electronic manipulation and have no paper back-ups to ensure the integrity of elections. Giving voters in Pennsylvania and across the country access to trustworthy equipment is a civic duty of the highest priority,” said Hickton.

McNulty, a former U.S. deputy attorney general in the Bush administration agreed.

“This is not a partisan issue,” said McNulty. “We must not leave our elections — and therefore our democracy — at risk of cyber attack. There is no question that Pennsylvania’s outdated voting machines must be addressed.”

Officials in Southwestern Pennsylvania began exploring alternative voting systems earlier this year when Gov. Tom Wolf called on counties to replace systems without paper back-ups in time for the 2020 election. But cost has been an issue.

The Commission on Election Security estimated that about 80 percent of voting machines statewide lack paper back-ups.

Officials in Westmoreland County, who previewed several alternative voting systems earlier this year, estimated it will cost $7 million to buy new voting machines that meet the new criteria.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald estimated the cost there could run as high as $25 million, given the number of machines that would be necessary.

The Pennsylvania Association of County Commissioners has estimated that costs statewide could be as much as $125 million.

The Commission on Election Security recommended the state and federal governments should help underwrite the bill and that officials should follow best practices to minimize balloting vulnerability in the future.

The Commission is expected to release a complete report including recommendations on securing registration systems in early 2019.

Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 412-320-7996, [email protected] or via Twitter @deberdley_trib.

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