Berks County, Pa., Disputes Report of Election Vulnerabilities

The Associated Press found that many Pennsylvania counties purchased new equipment that uses the nearly obsolete Windows 7 operating system to create ballots, program voting machines, tally votes and report counts.

by Karen Shuey, Reading Eagle / July 18, 2019

(TNS) — A reported problem with a computer operating system in many of Pennsylvania's new voting machines is overblown, at least when it comes to machines purchased earlier this year by Berks County, according to a county official and the company that made the $4.5 million sale.

An Associated Press report last week about counties buying new machines to increase the security of elections in response to a state mandate said many of the new systems run on old software that will soon be outdated and more vulnerable to hackers.

The AP found that many counties, including Berks, purchased new systems that use Windows 7 to create ballots, program voting machines, tally votes and report counts.

While the AP report considered that fact significant because Windows 7 becomes obsolete in January, leaving the systems vulnerable to hackers, Berks County Commissioner Kevin S. Barnhardt and a spokeswoman for Election Systems & Software disagreed in interviews this week.

"This latest report just adds to this whole national hysteria surrounding election hacking," Barnhardt said. "I'm very confident in the system we purchased and we are going to be fine."

ES&S spokeswoman Katina Granger said Monday that the company is testing on Windows 10 with the expectation that it will be available for examination by the Pennsylvania Department of State this fall. She added that ES&S and Microsoft will provide ongoing support for systems that use Windows 7 until jurisdictions can upgrade to the newer versions of Windows.

"Please keep in mind, none of these systems are connected to the Internet, reducing potential security issues," Granger said in an email.

Barnhardt and commissioners Chairman Christian Y. Leinbach voted earlier this year to spend $4.5 million on new machines from ES&S for all of the county's polling places.

The new system, the ExpressVote, will allow voters to use touchscreens to make their selections. The machines then print paper ballots with a bar code and plain text for the voters to read and verify. The bar code is read by a scanner — casting the vote.

The plain text version will be the official record of votes. The Pennsylvania Department of State, which certified the ExpressVote system last November, has ordered that the text will be used for audits and recounts.

Barnhardt said he was aware Windows 7 was nearing the end of its life when he voted to purchase the new system from ES&S and expected the necessary improvements would be made.

The contract between the county and the company allows for such software upgrades for free.

©2019 the Reading Eagle (Reading, Pa.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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