The NCSL Blog


By Ben Williams

In the sweltering summer desert heat, hackers descended upon Las Vegas for the annual “Hackathon,” an annual event where tech companies bring technology in specifically to be hacked.

A group of hackers at the DefCon computer security conference in Las Vegas attempt to (legally) break in to a touch screen voting machine. The effort was part of a weekend-long Voting Machine Hacking Village at the conference aimed at raising awareness about vulnerabilities to the U.S. election system.(Photo: Elizabeth Weise)The goal is to reveal security flaws in a company’s coding and—ultimately—make their products more resilient to outside interference.

This year, hackers were asked to hack actual voting equipment for the very first time. Hackers found previously unknown vulnerabilities in no time, and one hacker even "rick-rolled" a machine to play Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.”

“These are the kinds of people we need to get involved in the effort to strengthen election safety,” said Barbara Simons, president of Verified Voting, a nonprofit advocacy group.   

Who else gets involved in efforts to strengthen election security? Legislators. NCSL’s July edition of The Canvass covers the topic from physical security to cybersecurity, and provides sample questions about security that legislators can use when considering any election legislation. While you can’t legislate hack-proof elections, smart planning can bolster America’s faith in elections.

For more, come to NCSL’s 2017 Legislative Summit in Boston, which features 10 sessions, get-togethers, and working meals dealing directly with elections and election administration. Come join NCSL in America’s Revolutionary City and learn from pollster Frank Luntz, secretaries of state from Colorado (Wayne Williams) and Tennessee (Tre Hargett), members of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, and many fellow legislators.

If you can’t come to Summit, email NCSL’s elections team or call  303-856-1379 for more on elections security. It’s a burgeoning field.

Ben Williams is an intern in NCSL’s Elections and Redistricting program.

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Posted in: Elections
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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.