Senators Examine Election Security
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
One of the biggest issues in this year's midterm congressional elections is not necessarily who is running. It is whether the voting itself is going to be safe. The Senate intelligence committee has a hearing today to investigate how much work this country needs to do in order to protect this year's elections. And joining us to talk about this is NPR's Miles Parks who covers election security. Hi, Miles.
MILES PARKS, BYLINE: Hi, David.
GREENE: So we're dealing with an issue that is in all 50 states with, I'm sure, different questions, different vulnerabilities. So if you're senators trying to look at this, where do you even start?
PARKS: Yeah, it is an absolutely massive story. And the Senate intel committee has been investigating a number of different portions of it, from the disinformation campaign on social media to the hacking and dumping of emails. But today, they're going to focus on a small section of that, which is the actual threat to the voting systems in America - which isn't just kind of how you vote in terms of filling out a ballot. It takes you through the entire process, both from - all the way from registering to vote online, finding out where your polling place is, then you show up, you actually cast a ballot and then, afterward, finding out the results of that election and being confident in that result.
GREENE: They want to make sure that process that you just described is clean and safe from any sort of interference - because wasn't Russia able to hack into some of the state's voting systems in 2016?
GREENE: So I mean, they've got to be concerned about how to stop that.
PARKS: Yeah, that's right. The Department of Homeland Security says that Russia targeted 21 states - their voting systems - but was only able to hack into just one. That was Illinois. They were able to see some voter registration data there, but they weren't able to alter it. And senators, intelligence officials make a big point of saying no votes - there's no evidence that any votes were actually changed in 2016. But the problem is DHS took a really long time to be able to get all of that information to the states and the local officials who needed it. Local officials are obviously under the gun to keep their processes safe, so they say they need that intelligence information quickly. DHS took almost a year to get that 20 - that information to the 21 states and the election officials there that needed it.
GREENE: OK. So senators - this committee, at least, showing some urgency at this point. What else are they going to talk about?
PARKS: Well, the biggest thing is that - we've seen over the last year, since we've been assessing and reassessing what happened in 2016, that cyber security and voter security, at this point, are just absolutely, completely linked. You're going to hear about software upgrades that are needed. You're going to hear about - senators have been likened to toss around this number - 43 states in 2016 used election equipment - some sort of election equipment - that was more than a decade old.
PARKS: Yeah, exactly. So what all of these issues come back to is money. Where is this money going to come from? There hasn't been meaningful legislation to revamp the American election system since after the 2000 election.
GREENE: Are we talking about a huge amount of money that would be needed to upgrade all this?
PARKS: Well, that's kind of the amazing thing - is there's not really a great number that experts, academics as well as senators are able to really look at. One expert I talked to called finding out how much money elections actually cost the great white whale...
PARKS: ...Of studying elections. So if you're unable to figure out exactly how much elections cost, it's really hard to nail down on a number for how much it would cost to improve those elections.
GREENE: Wow. That shows you where they are in the process - not even able to come up with a number for what it might cost to make the...
PARKS: Yeah, exactly. So that makes it really hard to draft legislation, obviously, as well.
GREENE: Yeah. Miles Parks covers election security for NPR. Miles, thanks.
PARKS: Yeah. Thank you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.