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American voters deserve better security

Thanks to its vote-by-mail, paper ballot election system, Oregon has little to fear from hackers seeking to tamper with votes. But the same can’t be said for all states. Both parties in Congress are playing politics with election security legislation, but there is no excuse for the Senate Republican leader’s refusal to even consider new measures.

At Def Con, a hacker’s conference held in Las Vegas last week, tech experts did their best to infiltrate voting systems, many of which are still in use around the country. They had little difficulty infiltrating the systems, although voting equipment companies said the “Voting Village” room at the conference did not reflect the physical security measures in place during real elections.

The systems used by various states are vulnerable to hacking in a variety of ways. Some produce no paper trail, which can be used to verify election results. Others use machines that are connected to the internet, which makes them vulnerable to remote access by hackers.

There is no question that Russian hackers attempted to infiltrate voting systems in the 2016 election, although there is no evidence that any actual votes were changed. Federal investigators, including former Special Counsel Robert Mueller, have said they expect more efforts to tamper with the 2020 election.

Democrats tout a House-passed bill, the Securing America’s Federal Elections (SAFE) Act, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has blocked from consideration in the Senate, and they blame Republicans for putting the next election at risk by refusing to take up the bill.

As usual in Washington, it’s not that simple.

The bill would appropriate $600 million to help states upgrade their voting systems, and require paper ballots for all federal races. But the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board points to some questionable provisions in the bill. It would require all paper ballots to be printed on recycled paper, which some elections officials have said could increase the risk of false readings by sensitive scanners. The measure also would require states accepting federal grant money to make sure any new voting equipment was capable of implementing ranked choice voting — an experimental system in which voters list their preferences in numerical order. A few states and localities have implemented ranked choice voting, but a federal mandate to encourage that is not appropriate in an election security measure.

Republicans in the House tried to amend the bill, but were voted down.

The House bill is not perfect, but it is a step in the right direction. Republicans control the Senate. Nothing prevents them from amending the House bill, or taking up any of a number of Senate proposals.

What’s not acceptable is to do nothing. All Americans deserve an election system as secure as Oregon’s.