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Electronic Pollbook Security Will Be an Issue in 2024

When people check in to vote, poll workers verify that they are registered by looking them up in a pollbook. These things used to be actual books. Nowadays, many jurisdictions use iPads or equivalent. They are typically connected to a central database by a wireless network, which means they can be hacked, potentially by Russia or Iran, not to mention domestic partisans. In 2016, Russian hackers got into the voter registration database in Illinois. It is thought that they didn't change anything, but in a future hack, they could remove voters in precincts that are known to vote heavily against Vladimir Putin's preferred party. In 2020, Iranian hackers got voter data and sent misleading emails to voters. Imagine what could happen if voters in certain precincts got an official-looking email from the county registrar on the Monday before an election starting that due to technical issues, the election has been postponed until Wednesday (when, of course, it was not).

But even if pollbooks are not hacked, they can cause trouble. If the wireless network goes down due to equipment malfunction or other reasons, no one can check in so no one can vote. Electronic pollbook failures caused long lines in Los Angeles in the 2020 presidential primary, in Columbus, OH in the same year, and at other places and times. In counties where people can vote in any precinct, the pollbooks must be connected by a network so checkins can be recorded and voters can't check in at two or more precincts and vote multiple times. Consequently, the networks are essential but network failures give rise to numerous conspiracy theories and made even more people question the honesty of elections. More security-related problems are expected in 2024.

One way to increase confidence in electronic pollbooks would be to have national standards the pollbooks and the software on them must meet. Currently no national standards exist and work to develop and deploy them is not going to be finished in time for the 2024 election. In 2020, 15 states, including Arizona, Florida, and Nevada, did not require any kind of pollbook certification or testing. The county registrars were basically free to do an online search for "electronic pollbooks," find the cheapest vendor, buy them, and hope they were not compromised or hackable. There are at least a dozen manufacturers of electronic pollbooks and over 70 models. Few, if any, have been subjected to outside testing. Getting the manufacturers to allow outside experts to examine the source code will be a steep hill to climb unless state law requires it. The Election Assistance Commission is starting to address these problems, but they are thinking more about 2026 and 2028 than 2024. (V)

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