Virginia’s State Board of Elections has decided to scrap the current generation of electronic voting machines, judging them to be too vulnerable to hacking, ordering them to be replaced before the state’s gubernatorial election on November 7 of this year.
Evidence of the potential vulnerability of the voting machines was demonstrated at DefCon, an annual “hack-a-thon” in Las Vegas held in July. Participants in this year’s gathering displayed that some machines shared a single, hard-coded password, and could be broken into, both directly and wirelessly.
The Virginia Information Technology Agency (VITA) was ordered to investigate the three models of machines used in the state before the vote, with none passing the test. VITA told the board that “each device analyzed exhibited material risks to the integrity or availability of the election process.”
State election officials also expressed their concern in a report put to the board:
DefCon, an annual conference of hackers, promoted the ‘Voting Machine Hacking Village’ at which multiple voting machines, mostly DREs, were made available. Multiple types of DREs, some of which are currently in use in Virginia, were hacked according to public reports from DefCon. Additional troubling reports from DefCon were publicized, including one that expressly stated the password for a DRE that was in use in the Commonwealth, and one that indicated that some DREs in use have a single password shared by all machines from an individual vendor.
All three members of the board voted to order the replacement of the machines. Board Chairman James Alcorn said the move was completely necessary, in order to “ensure the integrity of Virginia’s elections.”
Seven of the current 22 localities that use these machines have already begun to replace them, with another three saying they intend to start the process. Around 190,000 of Virginia’s 5 million active voters will be affected by this change, with the voting precincts being forced to pick up the tab for new machines.
Elections Commissioner Edgardo Cortés said in a written statement that “the ability to meaningfully participate in our democracy is one of the most important rights that we have as citizens, and the Department of Election is dedicated to maintaining voters’ confidence in the democratic process.”