The Virginia Board of Elections has ordered 22 towns and cities to ditch their vulnerable voting machines and upgrade to ones that are more difficult to hack.
One of the main debates during the 2016 election was whether an American election can -- actually -- be rigged. While the Trump campaign floated the prospect of the election being "rigged," the Obama administration responded to these allegations by reasserting that the election systems and voting machines were safe.
Nearly a year later, however, the Virginia Department of Elections has formally recommended that the most hackable types of voting machines be decertified. The Virginia Board of Elections took the recommendation and voted to decertify popular touch-screen voting machines and instructed the 22 municipalities that use them to upgrade to more secure technologies.
The affected localities that currently use these vulnerable Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machines are Bath, Buchanan, Chesapeake, Colonial Heights, Culpeper, Cumberland, Emporia, Falls Church, Gloucester, Hopewell, Washington, Lee, Madison, Martinsville, Norfolk, Poquoson, Portsmouth, Rappahannock, Russell, Surry, Sussex, and Tazewell.
The Department of Elections believes that the risks presented by using this equipment in the November General Election are sufficiently significant to warrant immediate decertification to ensure the continued integrity of Virginia elections,” explained Edgardo Cortés, the Department of Elections Commissioner.
In recent years, "hacktivism" groups have tried to call attention to how vulnerable DRE voting machines are. At a recent DefCon conference, attendees were actually encouraged to try to hack sample voting machines. Almost immediately, the DRE machines were found to be the most vulnerable. The Department of Elections cited these vulnerabilities when recommending the machines be decertified.
The biggest problem with DRE machines is that they do not produce paper receipts, meaning that electronic records cannot be checked against paper records. This makes it next to impossible to actually prove fraudulent activity. Towns can purchase an additional machine to record DRE votes onto paper receipts, but Virginia municipalities do not incorporate this additional security feature.
With the Virginia general election just weeks away, it is unclear whether all of these vulnerable towns and cities will be able to make the upgrade in time for when voters cast their ballots on November 7. Of the 22 municipalities identified to be using now-decertified voting machines, only six have declared that they have entered into contracts to obtain new voting machines. Three municipalities responded to the notice by saying they are in the process of negotiating procurements.
The 13 towns that are unsure whether they can upgrade their machines in time make up just 140 precincts out of the 2,439 statewide electoral precincts, representing 190,452 active Virginia voters.