At R Street, Kristen Nyman and Kathryn Waldron write that human error is the top threat to election systems. Errors include failure to recognize and avoid phishing attacks.
While problems with voting technology can bedevil any election — as was amply illustrated by the chaos surrounding this week’s Iowa Democratic caucuses — human error is a major vulnerability in any voting system. Tales of worker error in elections range from optical scanners left unplugged to distribution of ballots to the wrong precinct. One study of poll workers in California reported several such breaches of standard operating procedures, including leaving a memory card with vote totals at the polling site at the end of the day and leaving the door to a ballot box unlocked.
A majority of poll workers are older than 60, which is unsurprising given that most people under that age are too busy with work or school to take off the time. And without proper training, many older poll workers lack an adept understanding of technology and cybersecurity. This leads to an insecure voting environment.
Additional training may sound discouraging to counties that already struggle to recruit poll workers, and local governments may feel that additional time commitments will only exacerbate that problem and increase their financial burdens. This could explain why election officials in Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania told NBC that they never received cybersecurity training.
Also, the U S election system is decentralized — which is both an asset and a liability. On the one hand, it would be impossible to mount a simultaneous national attack on such a fragmented system. On the other hand, standards and capabilities vary widely.