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Voters cast their ballots at voting machines at Cheyenne High School on November 8, 2016, in North Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo: Ethan Miller via Getty Images

The recent $380 million of federal funding to replace paperless voting machinery and improve cybersecurity is desperately needed, but it is unlikely to ensure the long-term cybersecurity of U.S. election technology.

The big picture: At best, the one-time spending will provide a catalyst for election organizations to gain basic cybersecurity competence. At worst, though, the money will be spent on discretionary purchases (e.g., digital pollbooks or new PC hardware) that only appear helpful and that, without proper security-centric integration, may increase the systems’ exposure to attacks.

The funds help states accomplish three goals:

  1. Pay for replacing unreliable paperless voting systems. While new systems provide paper trails, however, they rely on the same vulnerable hardware design.
  2. Design trustworthy, transparent processes for ballot audits. Audits can detect anomalies, but only if they adopt proven practices statewide.
  3. Fund election organizations to undergo post-election audit training, a process that will take years to implement. Anomaly detection is valuable, but doesn't impede adversaries from using stolen information to discredit an election.

The other side: This funding could also help states' election organizations pay for cybersecurity services, but likely for one-time events, such as basic training for non-technical staff (e.g., defending against phishing) or contracting cybersecurity professionals.

While professional IT services and training would mitigate some of the risk, none of these solutions will address U.S. election technology's fundamental vulnerability. And after 2018, election organizations will remain just as under-resourced to defend against adversaries as they were before.

The bottom line: In order to protect our democracy, the nation must start an intellectually honest discussion about how to design, develop and deliver a new election technology infrastructure.

John Sebes is a co-founder of the OSET Institute and CTO of its TrustTheVote Project. William Crowell is a former deputy director of the National Security Agency and a partner at Alsop Louie Partners.

Go deeper

Rahm Emanuel questioned on murder of Laquan McDonald in confirmation hearing

Rahm Emanuel during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on Oct. 20. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel spoke about the murder of Laquan McDonald during his Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday to become the U.S. ambassador to Japan, saying that "there's not a day or a week that has gone by in the last seven years I haven't thought about this."

Catch up quick: McDonald was a Black teenager who was fatally shot 16 times by Chicago police during Emanuel's tenure as the city's mayor. The 2014 shooting triggered massive protests, both because of its nature and the fact that the officers' body-cam footage was concealed for years.

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Biden's ambassador nominee: "China is not an Olympian power"

Nick Burns testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden's nominee to serve as ambassador to China delivered a stark assessment of the challenges the U.S. faces in confronting Beijing, but stressed that the rising superpower is "not all-powerful" and the West retains "substantial" advantages.

The big picture: Nicholas Burns, a retired career diplomat and former U.S. ambassador to NATO, used his confirmation hearing Wednesday to echo the growing bipartisan consensus that China poses "the greatest threat to the security of our country and the democratic world" in the 21st century.

Scoop: U.S. and Israel to form team to solve consulate dispute

Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (right) meet in Washington. Photo: Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. and Israel are planning to form a joint team to hold discreet negotiations on the reopening of the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, Israeli officials say.

Why it matters: The consulate handled relations with the Palestinians for 25 years before being shut down by then President Donald Trump in 2019. Senior officials in Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's government see the consulate issue as a political hot potato that could destabilize their unwieldy coalition.