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Report: Millions of US Voters Will Use Machines with No Paper Backup


An electronic voting machine in Columbus, Ohio, Nov. 3, 2015. Democrats and Republicans compete in primaries and caucuses in at least 11 states and one U.S. territory on Tuesday.

An electronic voting machine in Columbus, Ohio, Nov. 3, 2015. Democrats and Republicans compete in primaries and caucuses in at least 11 states and one U.S. territory on Tuesday.

Many Americans will be using use paperless voting machines when they vote in the U.S. elections.

About one-fourth of registered voters are expected to use electronic machines that do not produce a paper backup, according to the Reuters news service.

Some of the touch-screen equipment is over 15 years old.

Security experts say the paperless machines can have issues that result in votes being wrongly recorded. The lack of a paper record makes it impossible to make sure the systems are working correctly, they said.

The Reuters story was based on information from three groups: U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission and the Verified Voting Foundation watchdog group.

Americans will choose a new president, a new Congress and vote on local issues in the November 8 election.

FILE - A voter casts his ballot behind a ballot booth during the U.S. presidential election at a polling station in the Staten Island Borough of New York, U.S.

FILE - A voter casts his ballot behind a ballot booth during the U.S. presidential election at a polling station in the Staten Island Borough of New York, U.S.

About 44 million registered voters – about 25 percent of the total – live in areas using paperless systems, Reuters said. These include the battleground states of Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Alex Halderman teaches computer science at the University of Michigan. He has helped find security problems with touch-screen voting systems.

“Clearly we still have a long way to go to ensure that all Americans have access to a form of voting technology they can trust,” Halderman said.

Most of these machines are nearing the end of their life expectancy, he said. This has led to more breakdowns. Repair parts are also not easy to find.

But Matthew Masterson of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission disagrees. He told Reuters that election officials “have taken the necessary steps to secure these systems and ensure the integrity of the process.”

Some election officials have said a cyberattack involving voting machines is not likely because they are not connected to the internet.

The National Security Administration campus in Fort Meade, Md., where the U.S. Cyber Command is located. The U.S. military has launched a newly aggressive campaign of cyberattacks against Islamic State militants.

The National Security Administration campus in Fort Meade, Md., where the U.S. Cyber Command is located. The U.S. military has launched a newly aggressive campaign of cyberattacks against Islamic State militants.

But experts point out that voting data can also be destroyed through memory cards -- with no internet needed. They say the best way to prevent that kind of hacking is to move to a system with a paper backup.

Last week, U.S. defense officials repeated their concerns that cyber attackers might try to disrupt U.S. elections in November. During a Senate hearing last Tuesday, the nation’s top cyber security official said the issue continues to be “of great focus.”

The official was Admiral Michael Rogers. He serves as both National Security Agency (NSA) Director and chief of the Defense Department’s Cyber Command.

Rogers told the Senate Armed Services Committee he could not go into detail about the cyber activity. However, he added, “I think there are scenarios where you could see capability applied.”

U.S. Cyber Commander Commander, National Security Agency Director Adm. Michael Rogers testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 9, 2015.

U.S. Cyber Commander Commander, National Security Agency Director Adm. Michael Rogers testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 9, 2015.

Committee Chairman Senator John McCain of Arizona first raised the question about a possible disruption of the upcoming presidential and local elections. McCain identified Russia as one country where cyber attackers are operating.

“Russia is using cyber to undermine American national interest, and now it appears our democracy could be the next target.”

U.S. defense, intelligence and law enforcement officials have long worried about the Russian government’s possible cyber activities. The officials believe hackers in Russia or elsewhere could enter the computer systems of U.S. states during the voting process.

Defense Undersecretary for Intelligence Marcell Lettre told the Senate panel the government is currently taking these possibilities “quite seriously.”

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports by VOA correspondent Jeff Seldin and Reuters. George Grow was the editor.

We want to hear from you. Do you think hackers could disrupt this year's U.S. elections? Write to us in the Comments section, and visit our Facebook page.

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Words in This Story

watchdog n. a person or group that monitors companies or governments to make sure they are not doing anything wrong

battleground adj. states with very hard fought elections

integrity n. the quality of being honest and fair

hack v. illegally gain access to a computer

disrupt – v. make something not be able to normally continue

scenario n. description of a future situation that may develop

undermine – v. to make something weaker or less effective

life expectancy - n. a measure of the average time a machine (or organism) is expected to continue working

cyberattack – n. an attack on a computer or computer system

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