Are New Jersey Voting Machines Vulnerable to Hacking?

NJ Spotlight News | August 31, 2016 | Elections, Politics
A former FBI agent says NJ's 11,000 computerized voting machines are easy to hack.

By Brenda Flanagan

“New Jersey’s definitely vulnerable,” said former FBI agent Manny Gomez.

He means the statewide system of 11,000 computerized voting machines, where New Jerseyans will close the curtains and pick a president this November. It’s a network that hackers could break into, without even breaking a sweat, because these systems were designed for efficiency, not security, according to Gomez.

“Jersey’s very vulnerable from foreign attacks or just some goofball sitting in his basement that has the skill set. It’s not that complicated to hack into a government entity these days,” he said.

The FBI confirmed hackers have already breached state elections systems — Arizona’s in June and Illinois’ in July. During the Illinois attack, hackers obtained personal information for tens of thousands of registered voters on file there, leaving algorithmic fingerprints the FBI identified as possibly Russian — like the hack attacks on Democratic National Committee computer systems earlier this year. That prompted the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Aug. 15 to offer states guidance on how to guard against attacks.

“We already know that Russia, North Korea, China has a very keen eye on these elections. The possibility of them hacking into the New Jersey electorate and trying to change the outcome is very real and very possible. So that’s something the government is aware of, really doesn’t want to put out there, because they don’t want people to — not panic, but to be concerned that the election could be guided by a foreign power,” Gomez said.

New Jersey’s Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness said in a statement, “Working with our federal and state partners, we are continuously reviewing the effectiveness of the security controls for all state systems and monitoring them for any suspicious activity. One major difference between New Jersey’s voter registration system and that of Arizona and Illinois is that we do not allow online voter registration like they do.”

Integrity’s important — particularly after Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump charged the system’s malleable.

“First of all, it’s rigged. And I’m afraid the election’s going to be rigged, I have to be honest. Becuase I think my side was rigged,” Trump said.

“That’s ridiculous. That doesn’t make any sense. I don’t think anybody would take that seriously,” said President Barack Obama. “If we see signs that a voting machine or system is vulnerable to hacking then we inform those local authorities running the elections that they need to be careful.”

New Jersey’s also one of only a few states — including Louisiana, Virginia and Pennsylvania — using Sequoia AVC Advantage voting machines.

“Election results can be altered through a hack and they can also be altered through human error. The problem with New Jersey’s voting machines is, there’s no way to check,” said Rutgers Professor Penny Venetis.

Venetis says the AVCs contain no paper backup to verify votes cast, although that’s required by New Jersey law. She sued the state — which refused to replace the machines — but agreed not to connect them to the internet.

“The system is very, very vulnerable to attack on multiple levels. And what they should do is demand from county and state officials that the letter of New Jersey’s law be followed and that New Jersey voting machines be made verifiable,” Venetis said.

Neither Dominion Voting — which bought Sequoia six years ago — nor New Jersey’s Division of Elections — responded to requests for comment.

Experts believe hackers don’t need to actually change a vote count to impact the political process. With a political climate this volatile, even suggestions of tampering could undermine public confidence in election results.

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