Age of Pennsylvania’s voting machines serves as safeguard against cyberattack

Technician Tom Mattia Jr. (left) and Malcolm Kenyatta test a voting machine in 2011 in Philadelphia. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

Technician Tom Mattia Jr. (left) and Malcolm Kenyatta test a voting machine in 2011 in Philadelphia. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

For weeks, we’ve been hearing about whether a cyberattack could somehow interfere with the upcoming presidential election results.

Different types of voting machines are used on Election Day throughout the area, and some are more vulnerable.

“I don’t think a large-scale attack is likely,” Henry Carter, an assistant professor at Villanova University, said. His expertise centers on cybersecurity and cryptology.

“The good news about the Pennsylvania voting machines, in particular, is that none of them are connected to the internet,” he said. “Any malicious attackers will have to be physically present and have physical access to the voting machines to carry out an attack.”

The fears of a hacker causing trouble with the vote have been stoked by incidents such as the Democratic National Committee email hacking. Carter said, however, that voting machines in Pennsylvania — one of the most hotly contested states in the race — go through a number of procedures that make it difficult for a computer hacker to break through.

“The only thing stored in a voting machine is a record of each ballot cast in that machine,” he said. “Those results are then combined in a different computer, which actually does the recording and tabulation.”

Carter said the information is stored on a flash drive and placed on a different computer to count the votes. The movement from one machine to the next opens the door for possible problems.

“One concern about that is that a lot of those machines are running standard operating systems, which could potentially still have vulnerabilities — especially if they haven’t been updated,” he said. “The good news about Pennsylvania, in particular, is we have a mandatory audit regulation, which means that a random selection of the ballots that are recorded will actually be recounted after the fact to ensure the computer doing the total tabulation is correct.”

To hear more of Jennifer Lynn’s conversation with Henry Carter on whether any cyber troublemakers could cause problems on Election Day, press play at the top of the page.

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