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Advocate demands election system review in Tennessee county

October 11, 2018

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — An elections integrity activist is demanding a rigorous security review of voting systems in Tennessee’s largest county before the November election, and the replacement in the next year of its electronic voting machines with paper ballots.

Attorney Carol Chumney says in a letter she also wants Secretary of State Tre Hargett and Shelby County Election Commission officials to ask the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to perform risk and vulnerability assessments on voting systems ahead of the Nov. 6 elections.

Election security experts say the type of electronic voting system used by Shelby County is easily hacked and unreliable because it does not produce a voter-verifiable paper trail.

Chumney wants the county to let outside experts examine its election management software before and after the election and report any evidence of hacking, possible editing of votes cast or unauthorized software to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

And the county must replace its entire elections system ahead of October 2019 Memphis municipal elections with an optical scan system that uses hand-marked paper ballots, Chumney wrote.

State election officials said steps are being taken to protect the voting system, but they did not directly address many of her demands. Officials said it’s up to the county to decide if it wants to change its voting system.

Shelby County, Tennessee’s largest by population, includes Memphis, where Chumney has served as a City Council member. She co-wrote a 2017 report about problems with Shelby County elections called “Voting on Thin Ice.”

Early voting begins Wednesday. Chumney said she is not trying to discourage voters with concerns about election security, but officials should do all they can to safeguard the process.

“We want them to do everything possible to ensure that, with our flawed voting systems and machines, that we have the highest level of protection as possible in this election,” she said. “And then after this election, we don’t want them to ever use these machines again.”

Cybersecurity experts have long complained that the nation’s antiquated elections infrastructure is vulnerable to tampering, now a critical concern given documented Russian attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election. Those activities included probes of elections systems in at least 21 states, a hack into the Illinois voter-registration database and attempts to hack a Florida maker of electronic poll books.

Two U.S. senators from Maryland said Thursday they are introducing a measure to prohibit foreign adversaries from owning or controlling companies that support election systems.

Problems with elections in Shelby County date back to 2012 and before, including issues with voter registration applications, ballot mistakes and complaints of vote tabulation errors, state and county government reports show.

Chumney’s letter asks that officials require voting systems vendor Election Systems & Software to install advanced security sensors on their system; allow candidates’ poll watchers to observe the collection of memory cards and the vote tabulation process; and order that the Election Commission track all memory cards, including from the time a precinct closes to the time they are brought to collection zones and commission offices.

In a response letter, Tennessee Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins said the county Election Commission is aware that elections infrastructure is a target for those who “want to discredit and dismantle our election process.”

Goins said the election commission joined a nationwide initiative, the Elections Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center. The center offers cyber-defense tools, including threat and vulnerability monitoring.

Goins said the county would not grant access to voting systems to Chumney’s outside expert. Goins also said the tapes printed by each voting machine at polling places are available to be photographed.

A decision on replacing the voting system rests with the Shelby County Election Commission, Goins said.

County Elections Administrator Linda Phillips did not return a call seeking comment Thursday.

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AP Cybersecurity Writer Frank Bajak and reporter Brian Witte in Annapolis, Maryland, contributed to this report

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