The Washington Examiner ran this story the other day, "DHS Eyes Special Declaration to Take Charge of Elections". The tabloid nature of the news site should cause one to examine carefully what is being reported, however the main points of the story are still alarming.
As we have seen repeatedly during this election cycle, politicians and political parties are having their computers and accounts regularly hacked. Back 2010, Wikileaks became infamous for releasing US State Department classified documents. Our belief that our networks are secure is often times more myth than fact.
Heading into one of the most tumultuous Presidential elections in history, the potential to alter election results by some outside group is too tempting. The US public is already at each other's throats over everything from who is running for President to whether or not an NFL quarterback should be fired over not standing for the national anthem.
For those who may have forgotten, if an attack were to alter elections results it would not be the first time the Presidential election process faced scandal. Remember the hanging chads of the 2000 election in Florida? As a result of that election, more electronic voting measures were adopted through the country, which means even more systems are vulnerable to a cyber attack.
Which brings up two very different issues about the Washington Examiner story, first of course is what if anything can be done to insure the 9,000 different voting districts are secure from attack? The second is, should that responsibility be placed in the hands of DHS?
The election process of the US is run either by the state or county (as it is here in Ohio), not the federal government. This is how it is framed in the US Constitution is gives us our republic form of government. Changing that is way beyond the scope of the 60 plus days before the election and would represent a huge increase in the power of the federal government over the states. Should a change happen, Washington then could null and void any election they deemed fraudulent.
Even if no changes were made to how elections are done, then the other major question is why DHS (which is really an amalgamation of 7 different federal agencies hurriedly slammed together after 9-11) suited to deal with this threat? According to the article, there are 9,000 different voting districts in the US and there is only really 2 months left before the election. DHS is hardly the most nimble federal agency and lacks the necessary manpower and equipment to take on such a huge task.
The dual-edged sword of the 21st Century is that technology flows information around globally, which requires networks to be open enough to allow that flow of information. And that is all the hackers need to get in.
All of those voting districts are at the county level which already challenged dealing with preventing voter fraud. To further challenge them to harden their systems against cyber attack (especially in 60 days) is beyond even the most affluent districts. Compound that problem with the results having to be shared with the state board of elections (another point of vulnerability) and magnitude of the problem becomes apparent.
And this would be even if there wasn't such an emotional state surrounding the elections! With tempers running hot, no one wants to see the other guy even get close to winning. A few well placed cyber attacks to call into question the results and hell will be break lose.
Yes folks, we have a big problem but DHS is not the answer.
Update: Since I posted this entry, US News published a very interesting article on what might happen should a candidate die. Why this article is so interesting is it details how the electors of the Electoral College are not bound to vote according to their state's results.