State authorities in Virginia have taken an extra step to secure statewide elections this year. The Virginia Board of Elections made the decision this past September to implement new paper-backed voting machines in 22 counties prior to the coming November election.
The reason? Why else — Russian hackers.
According to NPR, the state of Virginia was one of the 21 states affected by the possible cyberattacks by Russian hackers in 2016. Despite no evidence that the hackers gained access to the voter registration system, Virginia authorities aren’t taking any chances.
Up to 17% of everything that’s printed is thrown away as waste, according to StopWaste.org. It’s one of the many reasons states have recently chosen to go paperless with their ballots.
However, the Virginia BOE has decided that this paperless method leaves voters too open for cyberattacks. The new voting system will combine paper ballots with scan machines, which will scan the ballots and store them in a locked container for future counting.
For some Americans, the new voting system may seem drastic. Yet, according to David Bjerke, the director of elections in Falls Church, the decision may be for the best. “Hey, we don’t have to worry about it,” he said regarding the thoughts of many Americans. “Unfortunately,” he added, “we’ve seen localities get targeted.”
Despite the fact that Falls Church only has a voting population of 10,000, the National Security Agency has since reported that up to 100 local election offices had been a part of a phishing attack by Russian intelligence agencies last year.
“In terms of cybersecurity, it’s something we worry about here every day and every night,” said Virginia commissioner of elections Edgardo Cortes. It isn’t the changing of the votes Cortes says he worries about, but rather a cause of confusion at the polls.
To keep such confusion from happening, the state of Virginia has had its local registrars partake in cybersecurity training. The training will enable them to protect private data such as passwords. It will also help them detect the signs of a possible phishing attack. The state of Virginia has additionally been working in close contact with federal authorities.
“…As they ramp up toward the election,” said National Protection and Programs Directorate acting deputy undersecretary Bob Kolasky, “we’re obviously looking to see if there’s any signs of anything which would cause a need for increased attention.”