Allegations that Russian hacking, fake news and voter fraud influenced the 2016 election have made election security and integrity a paramount national issue.
And with early voting for Nevada’s midterm primary kicking off in less than three weeks, that issue hasn’t been lost on election officials.
“Voters should absolutely have confidence in the system in place,” said Wayne Thorley, deputy secretary of state for elections in Nevada. “They should have confidence that when they go and cast a ballot that it will be recorded correctly and that their vote counts.”
In February, the Center For American Progress, a liberal-leaning think tank, issued election-security grades for all 50 states.
Nevada, along with 22 other states, received a ‘C’ grade. No state received an ‘A,’ 11 states were given a ‘B.’ Florida, Tennessee, Arkansas, Indiana and Kansas received an ‘F.’
Specifically, Nevada was dinged for not requiring cybersecurity training for county-level election officials and allowing military and overseas voters to submit ballots by email.
Thorley acknowledged that allowing votes by email “is not the most secure method for returning a ballot.”
“But it allows them to participate in the election, which is important,” he added.
Thorley said the secretary of state’s office may pass a regulation or push for a new law next year to require all local officials to take annual cybersecurity training.
“It’s an important issue,” he said.
But the biggest threat to elections might not be cyber attacks or rampant fraud, but rather old and outdated technology, according to the think tank’s report.
“Old voting machines pose serious security risks and are susceptible to system crashes, ‘vote flipping,’ and hacking, as many rely on outdated computer operating systems that do not accommodate modern-day cybersecurity protections,” the report states.
A report from the Brennan Center for Justice, a division of the New York University School of Law, found that 43 states will hold elections this year with voting machines that are more than a decade old.
Nevada, however, won’t be one of them.
Lawmakers last year approved an $8 million grant that allowed local governments to replace its outdated equipment — most machines across the state were 12 to 14 years old, Thorley said — and all 17 counties will have brand new voting machines and poll books for the June 12 primary. Clark County has about 5,000 new machines.
When it comes to security technologies, newer is always better, according to county Registrar of Voters Joe Gloria.
Like the old machines, the new ones do not connect to the internet, which limits cybersecurity vulnerabilities, Gloria said. But the new machines have significantly beefed up the security measures to deal with other threats.
“As far as security, from the old systems to the new, we’ve got several levels of encryption that weren’t there before,” he said.
The other issue with older machines, Gloria said, was that replacement parts are no longer made. So when a machine broke, the county had to buy old machines and cannibalize them for parts.
On top of the new voting machines, the state received $4.3 million in federal grant money from the Help America Vote Act that will go toward bolstering election security across the state, Thorley said.
The state also has applied for a grant from the Nevada Homeland Security Commission that would go toward paying for intrusion detection systems to help combat potential hacking threats.
“We’re constantly pursuing new measures,” Thorley said.