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Blue Ribbon Commission on Election Security Issues Final Report

Patrick Christmas | 267-940-4503 | pchristmas@seventy.org | January 29, 2019

Blue Ribbon Commission on Election Security Issues Final Report
Report urges voter-marked paper-ballot systems for 2020 elections

PHILADELPHIA, PA (January 29, 2019) – The Blue Ribbon Commission on Pennsylvania’s Election Security released its final report today, urging the replacement of vulnerable voting machines with systems using voter-marked paper ballots. This top-line recommendation was one of 11 issued by the independent and bipartisan commission of civic and government leaders, including cyber security and law enforcement professionals from around the Commonwealth.

The report reinforces and expands upon interim recommendations issued by the commission in September 2018. Recommendation 1 is that “counties using DREs should replace them with systems using voter-marked paper ballots (either by hand or by machine) before 2020 and preferably for the November 2019 election, as directed by the Pennsylvania Department of State.” The commission also urges the state and federal government to support counties in procuring secure voting systems, in addition to adopting comprehensive training and best practices in election security. Find the full report at: www.cyber.pitt.edu/commission

Committee of Seventy CEO David Thornburgh, who served on the commission, reiterated the urgency of replacing the current systems. “The fact that it’s impossible for election officials to audit and confirm the results of an election is one of many substantial risks with our current technology,” said Thornburgh. “The timeline for getting this done is short but doable. We applaud those local and state officials working to meet the end-of-2019 deadline.”

The University of Pittsburgh’s Institute for Cyber Law, Policy, and Security established the commission in May 2018 amid growing concern that a significant portion of the country’s aging election infrastructure is vulnerable to malfunctions or manipulation, and without state-of-the-art safeguards. Pennsylvania, one of the largest battleground states, is particularly vulnerable, with four in five voters currently casting ballots on voting machines with no auditable record.

In Philadelphia, voters have been casting ballots on the Danaher Shouptronic 1242 system purchased in 2002 with Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funding, made available by Congress in the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election recount. City officials have stressed that these machines are at no point connected to the internet, and there is no evidence of tampering or attempts to tamper with the voting equipment. Election security experts, however, point to the lack of an auditable paper trail -- individual, anonymized hard copies of ballots cast -- as a serious and significant risk, in the event of possible hacking, machine malfunctions or a mandated recount.

Officials from the City Commissioners’ Office and the Kenney administration are currently in the process of reviewing vendor proposals for a new voting system and a selection is expected in mid-February. Only systems meeting the security, accessibility and auditiabily standards set by the PA Department of State and federal Election Assistance Commission and certified by those agencies can be purchased.

“We’re pleased that the City Commissioners and others in city government are moving forward,” noted Thornburgh. “It’s imperative that we procure the best available system that meets the needs of the city’s hundreds of thousands of voters, especially those with disabilities, limited English proficiency and seniors. These folks often bear the brunt of the challenges voters face on Election Day.”

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The Committee of Seventy is a nonpartisan civic leadership organization that advances representative, ethical and effective government in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania through citizen engagement and public policy advocacy.

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