The Truth About Hacking Election Machines

RNLA's Executive Director Michael Thielen wrote today in the Daily Caller about one of the hot stories of this week, how hackers were able to gain access to voting machines at the DEF CON conference.  While this made for sensational headlines, the truth is a little more nuanced:

The first and most obvious problem is hacking the machines required physical access and proximity.  One of the beauties of partisan poll watchers, let alone election officials, is they would all notice and immediately raise an alarm if someone were taking a screwdriver to a voting machine or standing close to one for a long period of time. . . . But what about physical access before election day?  States have laws and procedures to physically protect voting machines, and machines are always checked before voting begins to ensure their vote tallies are zero.     

Second, the hacks were done on machines purchased on eBay that were scrapped or decommissioned.  In other words, the hackers proved with sufficient physical access to a machine they could go back in time and hack a prior election.  

So what does this mean?  The elite hackers were not able to change votes or gain access to the machines remotely.  Unlike modern light switches, refrigerators, cars, and door locks, voting machines are never connected to the internet. While our current system of voting machines is far from perfect, it would be very difficult for a Russian, a teen techie in his mother’s basement, or a political operative to alter votes for an election. But a possible solution to the problem of hacking could change all this: the federal government’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) declaring elections “critical infrastructure.”  

Let’s be clear: the word is “could.” The designation of critical infrastructure is very ill-defined, especially as to what DHS has unilaterally asserted jurisdiction over and what it may do about it. At a meeting last monthDHS officials spoke with state officials, but according to Republican Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett, it cleared up nothing and he was “disappointed” by how unprepared the DHS officials were. Democrat California Secretary of State Alex Padilla echoed Hargett in calling the generic quality of the conversation “disappointing,” as it was months after the designation and DHS officials could not provide details.

As Thielen points out, while real threats to the security of our elections exist, the mainstream media's hysteria over election hacking, reignited this week, and the Department of Homeland Security's designation of elections as critical infrastructure do not help election officials do their important job and further erode the American people's confidence in our election system.