UVA cybersecurity expert: Virginia is one of the safer states to cast a ballot

Albemarle County in-person voting
Albemarle County in-person voting
Updated: Oct. 21, 2020 at 6:44 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - As the conversation continues about the safety of voting by mail, a machine and cybersecurity expert at the University of Virginia discusses how safe our in-person voting process is.

Each state is responsible for handling the voting process. From voter rolls to ballot security, it is left up to them. After Russia successfully hacked voting systems in a small number of states in 2016, the Virginia General Assembly tackled election security.

“They did not get in here, but we considered ourselves vulnerable and that’s why we passed this legislation," 43rd District Delegate Mark Sickles said.

Sickles introduced HB 2178, which is legislation ensuring voter registration offices across the state stay prepared.

“The state has to do a survey of everybody’s security plan across the state and if they’re not in compliance with state standards, the state can cut them off from the voter file, which is the lifeblood of elections," he said.

That said, David Evans, a security expert at the University of Virginia who spent time on a state committee looking into the safety of voting equipment, has a few areas of concern about the voting machines.

“They’re mostly operated by volunteers that are getting a small amount of training and they’re in physical locations that are schools and county office buildings that are not super secure physically,"Evans said.

The statewide voter registration system went down on the last day to register to vote due to a cable being cut accidentally. Evans says malicious actors could do so intentionally.

“If those kinds of systems are relied on on Election Day and a cable is cut or some malicious actor wants to shut down voting statewide and they can do it by taking out one system, then that’s a real worrying point of single failure," he said.

That said, Evans says voting in Virginia is more secure than some other states for one key reason. The system is not entirely electronic.

“You vote by marking a paper ballot and it goes in a scanner. So, that paper ballot that the voter sees and knows captures their intent correctly is there, so if there are any problems with the tabulation, you have the paper ballots to go back to," Evans said.

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