SXSW 2019: No Silver Bullet in Election Security Fight

Jeanette Manfra, the assistant director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, discussed the challenges facing her office and where new tech fits.

by / March 9, 2019

AUSTIN, TEXAS  Since the 2016 presidential election, securing voting infrastructure has been top of mind for federal, state and local elections officials. As Jeanette Manfra, the assistant director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, would explain during a SXSW session on the topic, that is easier said than done. 

When intelligence reports began to roll in about anomalies being seen across the country, Manfra said pinpointing details was an arduous process that required not only cybersecurity expertise but election officials at all levels. 

In the time since, news reports that voting machines pose the biggest risk to security have left out many of the other avenues bad actors have to disrupt the democratic process, Manfra said. 

“What we learned early on was that was only one part of the system. You have to focus on the broad process itself, starting from the moment a voter decides to register all the way to the tally of the actual official results,” she said. 

Potential solutions range from a return to physical paper ballots to blockchain technology, but Manfra isn’t convinced a new technology like blockchain would solve all of the problems. She does admit, though, that it could play a role once it's thoroughly vetted. 

“My reaction when people suggest that this is the solution that can solve all of our problems, I’m naturally skeptical,” she said. 

“I do think blockchain has some potential. I think we need to test in a variety of use cases before we would promote the adoption in the case of elections process,” she continued.

Eyragon Eidam Web Editor

Eyragon Eidam is the Web editor for Government Technology magazine, after previously serving as assistant news editor and covering such topics as legislation, social media and public safety. He can be reached at eeidam@erepublic.com.