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Virginia scraps touchscreen voting machines

© Greg Nash

The Virginia State Board of Elections moved Friday to do away with touchscreen voting machines in the state by November’s election, a move aimed at boosting security. 

The board decided to phase out the machines this year after the Virginia Department of Elections recommended that the touchscreen voting machines be decertified. The recommendation came after security experts breached numerous types of voting machines with ease at the DEF CON cybersecurity conference in Las Vegas in July, according to The Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The move comes amid heightened concerns over foreign interference in future elections, in light of the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia used cyberattacks and disinformation to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

Virginia’s gubernatorial election will take place in November, meaning that the move to get rid of the machines would result in 22 localities having to replace their equipment less than two months before the vote.

The state has already passed a law mandating that the machines be phased out by 2020. According to the Times-Dispatch, 10 localities have already started purchasing new equipment. The remaining 12 would need to work quickly to phase out the old equipment by Nov. 7.

“The security of the election process is always of paramount importance. The Department is continually vigilant on matters related to security of voting equipment used in Virginia,” Edgardo Cortés, the state’s election commissioner, said in a news release Friday. “The ability to meaningfully participate in our democracy is one of the most important rights that we have as citizens, and the Department of Elections is dedicated to maintaining voters’ confidence in the democratic process.”

Cyber experts have raised alarm over the touchscreen devices, called direct-recording electronic, or DRE, voting machines, because they yield no paper records that can be checked with the electronic records to make sure votes are tallied accurately.

More than 100 cyber and voting experts penned a letter to Congress in June urging them to take steps to secure future elections, including a recommendation to phase out DRE voting machines and others that do not produce a voter-verified paper ballot.

“While there has been encouraging progress to improve election security in recent years, too many polling stations across the nation are still equipped with electronic machines that do not produce voter-verified paper ballots,” they wrote. “Many jurisdictions are also inadequately prepared to deal with rising cybersecurity risks.”

The letter was sent the day that Department of Homeland Security officials testified of evidence that Russia targeted election-related systems in 21 states ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

While officials maintain that the systems targeted were not involved in vote tallying, Moscow’s interference campaign has nevertheless stoked fears about the possibility that foreign actors could attempt to use hacking to affect vote counts in the future.