- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 13, 2016

Congress should consider implementing a federal vote-by-mail system as ongoing cyberattacks raise concerns about the potential for U.S. elections to be swayed by hackers, a Democratic senator said.

In the wake of the Obama administration formally blaming Russia for cyberattacks endured by Democrats in the run up to next month’s presidential election, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon is once again touting a bill that would let registered voters cast ballots by mail.

“We should not underestimate how dangerous … attacks on election systems could be,” he wrote in an email to Ars Technica. “If a foreign state were to eliminate registration records for a particular group of Americans immediately before an election, they could very likely disenfranchise those Americans and swing the results of an election.

“Recent efforts by some states to make it more difficult to vote only serves to increase the danger of such attacks,” Mr. Wyden wrote. “This is why I have proposed taking Oregon’s unique vote-by-mail system nationwide to protect our democratic process against foreign and domestic attacks.”

Oregon is one of three states where its elections are held entirely by mail, and more than a dozen others have rules that permit casting ballots by post in certain circumstances, Ars Technica reported. In August, Mr. Wyden offered a bill with Sen. Jeff Merkley, Oregon Democrat, that would let every registered voter in the country cast ballots by mail.

“Too many states are making working Americans, people of color, young people and those with disabilities go to absurd lengths just to exercise their constitutional right to vote,” Mr. Wyden said when he proposed the bill. “Government can never truly represent the American people if citizens don’t have the opportunity to have their voices heard at the ballot box.”

Weighing in this week, Mr. Wyden said recent cyberattacks epitomize the government’s need to take digital security seriously and protect its networks, election systems included, particularly by using uncrackable encryption that can’t be compromised under any circumstances.

“The announcement that the Russian government is responsible for the hacks into American political organizations and election systems is one more reminder how foolish it would be to undermine strong encryption, which is the foundation of digital security,” he said in an email to Morning Consult. “History has shown us that anytime you build a backdoor for the good guys, bad guys will exploit that security weakness. I’ll certainly be making that argument to my colleagues when Congress returns.”

No fewer than 33 states and 11 local election agencies have asked the Department of Homeland Security for help protecting their voting systems ahead of Election Day, Ars Technica reported.

In a statement Tuesday, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson “encouraged other election agencies to do the same.”

“Time is a factor,” Mr. Johnson said. “There are only 29 days until election day, and it can take up to two weeks from the time we receive authorization to run the scans and identify vulnerabilities. It can then take at least an additional week for state and local election officials to mitigate any vulnerabilities on systems that we may find.”

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