Surry voting machines to go

Published 12:37 pm Wednesday, September 13, 2017

By Ryan Kushner

Staff writer

SURRY—After major security concerns were brought to light over the summer, DRE voting machines used by Surry County were decommissioned by the Virginia Department of Elections Friday.

In anticipation of the decommissioning, the Surry County Board of Supervisors voted Thursday to replace its compromised machines with eight new DS200 voting machines, to be used in the upcoming November election. The payment of $82,999 for the new election equipment will be deferred by the county until July 2018. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

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The now-vulnerable Direct Record Electronic (DRE) machines, used by 21 other localities in the state besides Surry, were already on track to be phased out by 2020, according to Surry Electoral Board Secretary Laurie Weber, but a computer-hacking conference held in Las Vegas this summer known as “DefCon” made the need for change more immediate.

Hackers at the annual conference, where different systems are tested for their security, were able to breach the security of DRE voting machines in about 90 minutes, according to Weber.

“Obviously we do not ever allow somebody to have access to our machines, but the concept is if it took someone 90 minutes, next time it might take them less time,” said Weber to the Board Thursday, Sept. 7, in a request for new voting machines. “There’s just a potential risk factor there.”

The registrar will obtain the new machines from a company called Printelect and then re-train its staff and election officers to be prepared to use them by November.

“So we are on a very tight time schedule,” Weber said.

The DS200 voting machines are optical scanners and will feature a separate locked ballot bin as a backup in case there is a power-outage or a screen malfunction, according to Weber, an issue that the county experienced last November that held up voting.

With the DS200, “We would not miss a beat,” said Weber of the chance of a screen malfunction during voting.

As for security, the new machines will have passwords that can be reset with each election, two separate keys to enter the machine and four sets of seals, with the option for more.

“Those machines are very secure,” said Weber. “No one can tamper with those machines between the elections.”

Isle of Wight County also recently moved to DS200 voting machines, according to General Registrar-Director of Elections Lisa Betterton, using them in the primaries this past spring.

The state’s decertification of the DRE machines is effective immediately, and they may no longer be used in elections, according to a press release by the Virginia Department of Elections.

Other localities that had utilized DRE machines before they were officially decertified Friday, Sept. 8, include Bath, Buchanan Chesapeake, Colonial Heights, Culpeper, Cumberland, Emporia, Falls Church, Gloucester, Hopewell, Lee, Madison, Martinsville, Norfolk, Poquoson, Portsmouth, Rappahannock, Russell, Sussex, Tazewell, and Washington, according to the press release.

DefCon held its 25th convention in late July this year, with the weekend-long event focusing on busting into 30 different voting machines dubbed “The Voting Machine Hacking Village,” according to a report by USA Today.

None of the machines were compromised wirelessly during the event, according to the report.

During the event, one hacker was able to manipulate a WinVote touchscreen voting machine enough to make it play the 1987 Rick Astley song, “Never Gonna Give You Up.”  {/mprestriction}