Democracy at Risk: More Than 15 Million Voters May Stay Home on Election Day Over Cyber-Security Doubts

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September 29, 2016 / Ben Johnson

More than 15 million voters may stay home on Election Day over cyber-security doubts, according to a recent survey conducted by Carbon Black.  These doubts, our survey found, are tied to the possibility of an election influenced by cyber attack and the prevalence of vulnerable electronic voting machines throughout the United States.

voters_trust_democracyTo date, there have been no indications that technology in previous elections has been tampered with. However, in the wake of recent hacks against the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and election databases, it is becoming clear that tampering with an election is a very real possibility. That potential for tampering, and overall doubts about election security, may play a role in keeping voters home on Election Day.

In September 2016, Carbon Black conducted an online survey of 700 voters in the United States to understand how aware the electorate is of the security risks associated with electronic voting machines, measure possible doubt that these risks have cast over elections and voter turnout, and ultimately, increase awareness.

Click on the image below to download the full report.

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Among the results from the survey, we found:

More than half of U.S. voters (56%) are concerned that this year’s election will be affected by hacking/cyber attack and more than half of U.S. voters (58%) said it’s likely electronic voting machines could be hacked during the election.

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More than one-third of voters (36%) feel their voting information is insecure and 1 out of every 5 voters who said their voting information is insecure will consider not voting in this year’s election given their concerns – amounting to more than 15 million voters potentially staying away from the polls over cyber-security concerns.

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Voters believe a U.S. insider threat (28%), Russia (17%) and the candidates themselves (15%) pose the biggest risks when it comes to hacking the 2016 election.

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Specific vulnerabilities on electronic voting machines and the election system have been public for years, and the prevailing sentiment among voters that the 2016 election may not be safe from cyber attacks adds an additional, clarion call that stricter security standards are needed to instill trust. If voters lose trust in the voting process, our democracy may be at risk.

Our report ties data found in our survey to the ubiquity of electronic voting machines (as carefully laid out by VerifiedVoting.org) in the United States to determine if the doubt voters are experiencing is warranted.

It also includes reasoning why Pennsylvania, largely thought to be a key battleground state in the upcoming election, may post the biggest security risk.

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Our report also includes several security recommendations that may be used to better protect voting data and, ultimately, our democracy. Recommendations focus on hardening, auditing, and transparency to establish public trust and create processes to verify the integrity of the system.

Fundamentally, the strongest recommendation for electronic voting machines is to treat them as fixed-function devices that perform a single function, versus having fully-functioning computers that can be more vulnerable to manipulation. Mitigating risk also includes supply-chain risk. Many of our government processes, including elections, rely on digital systems that must be adequately secured at each stage in the process.

With Election Day fast-approaching, we can work to mitigate the risks inherent in the current systems. Beyond November, we suggest that states take a hard look at the systems they are using.  We hope they go back to the drawing board with security top of mind. We, of course, highly recommend that every eligible voter still vote and encourage the use of paper (or absentee) ballots whenever possible.

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Click here to download the full report.

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