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Can Hackers Break into U.S. Voting Machines?


DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., has to speak over protesting Bernie Sanders supporters during the first day of the Democratic National Convention last month. She resigned her party position after hacked emails showed the party organization backing Hillary Clinton over Sanders for the Democratic nomination. It was supposed to be neutral. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., has to speak over protesting Bernie Sanders supporters during the first day of the Democratic National Convention last month. She resigned her party position after hacked emails showed the party organization backing Hillary Clinton over Sanders for the Democratic nomination. It was supposed to be neutral. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Recent attacks on American computer systems have raised concerns that electronic voting machines could be future targets.

Emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) recently appeared on the WikiLeaks website. The emails showed that Democratic Party leaders failed to be neutral during the party’s presidential nomination process. They worked against Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who battled former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the nomination. She was officially nominated last month.

The leaked emails led top DNC officials to resign. Democratic Party officials have pointed to possible Russian involvement in the attack.

Richard Forno is a computer expert and director of the University of Maryland’s Center for Cybersecurity. He said the political response to the hacked DNC emails will lead to more attacks designed to influence the U.S. elections.

“Interfering with the electoral and political process of countries is a classic tool of intelligence and foreign policy,” said Forno. He made the comment on the program “HashtagVOA.”

The Brennan Center for Justice reported last year that 43 of the 50 American states will use voting machines thought to be 10 or more years old. It said these older machines are more at risk for “serious security and reliability” problems.

But it is not like there haven’t been problems already.

Last month, Illinois officials reported that the state’s voter registration system was attacked. It forced the temporary shutdown of the system.

On Wednesday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said he might make election equipment part of what the government calls “critical infrastructure.”

In the United States, state and local government officials are responsible for organizing elections. Making elections “critical infrastructure” could free up federal money to make voting machines more secure.

“There’s vital interest in our election process,” Johnson said. “We’re actively thinking about the election and cybersecurity right now." He spoke at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast with reporters in Washington, D.C.

Edgardo Cortés is Commissioner of Elections in Virginia. He said an attack on his state’s electronic voting machines is unlikely.

He told VOA that Virginia moved to take away the wireless technology for electronic voting machines to make them less open to hacking. The state also brought in an outside expert to help the state government improve security, Cortes said.

He noted that Virginia is working to provide enough paper ballots in the event the voting machines fail or are hacked. But he said local governments need federal money to make their systems more secure.

The Republican Party’s candidate for president, Donald Trump, has raised concerns about whether voting in the November elections will be fair. He spoke to the Washington Post newspaper earlier this week.

“If the election is rigged, I would not be surprised,” Trump said. The businessman expressed concern after courts in five states overturned state laws that required voters to show identification or proof of citizenship.

In North Carolina, an appeals court ruled that the state’s new voting law seemed targeted at African-Americans by making it more difficult for them to vote. The court said there is no evidence of the widespread voter fraud that would require such a law.

I’m Bruce Alpert.

Michael Lipin reported this story for VOA News. Bruce Alpert adapted the story and did additional reporting for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in this Story

hacked – adj. of or related to a break-in or an attack on a computer system

reliability - adj. how well something works

classic - adj. used to describe something that has been popular for a long time

shutdown - n. the act of stopping the operation or activity of a business, machine

critical infrastructure - n. the most important equipment and structures (such as roads and bridges) needed for a country to function properly

rigged - v. set up for someone to fail or success in an election or contest

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