House Democrats rank Louisiana among worst states for election security

    In an effort to prevent election hacking, Democrats on the U.S. House Administration Committee last week released a report highlighting election vulnerabilities in 18 states.

    Louisiana was among the five lowest-ranking states—a criticism the Secretary of State’s office, which is in the process of replacing thousands of voting machines as a preventative measure, deems unfair.

    In the report, Louisiana is identified as one of the five states using voting machines that do not provide a paper record, which some officials consider an added layer of protection against hackers. The state also doesn’t require post-election audits, the document charges, another red flag for the committee members.

    While there’s no proof that any actual votes were altered by hackers in 2016, a dozen Russian agents have been indicted for interfering with the 2016 election. Couple that with the recent revelation that some U.S. voting machines—created by a firm Louisiana does not use— had remote-access software, heightening hacking concerns, and public confidence is nonetheless undermined.

    So what’s being done by the Secretary of State’s office to protect Louisiana elections from potential interference?

    “It’s important to remember Louisiana was not hacked,” says Meg Casper Sunstrom, press secretary for the Secretary of State’s Office, noting the office conducted post-tests on the machines to confirm the votes. “There were no problems with elections here in 2016.”

    Louisiana owns all its voting machines, Sunstrom notes—a safer method than most states’ practices of handing ownership and maintenance over to individual counties. Louisiana also wasn’t among the states that authorities have said were targeted, she adds.

    Still, the state has requested the $5.9 million available from the federal Election Assistance Commission, according to the House document, to replace its 10,000 paperless voting machines by 2020. However, doing so will cost between $40 million and $60 million. The source of additional needed dollars is unknown.

    So far, interim Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin plans to use some $10 million gifted to Louisiana through Congress’ Help America Vote Act, as well as through the Louisiana Legislature, which will get the state through Phase 1.

    As for Phase 2 and beyond? Additional financial assistance, either from the federal government or the state legislature, will be required to replace all machines. And Sunstrom says Ardoin’s office is still asking for those dollars.

    Ardoin reiterates that Louisiana’s election system is as safe and protected as it possibly can be.

    Louisiana has also completed the penetration testing recommended by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Sunstrom says, noting statewide election officials monitor their election computer services 24/7, harden physical access to election equipment, and follow all the best practices—including implementing tamper-proof seals on machines and updating its software.

    The new voting machines—all of which will have a verified paper trail—are on track to be available in 2019, Sunstrom says.

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