How secure is our election system?

Testing the election equipment.
Joan Curtis (center) examines a test ballot and Merle Davis works through a checklist as election officials conduct a public election equipment test in northeast Minneapolis on Nov. 1, 2016.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

How secure are our voting systems? Elections expert Doug Chapin talks about what we know has happened, how we know, and what's next in the fight to secure American democracy.

How do we best protect elections from hacks? Chapin says it's important "not just to keep people out, but to know when they get in, whether the threat comes from across the sea, or across the street."

Minnesota's statewide primary elections are only three months away, and the national mid-term elections loom large in November.

There's a general consensus that America's election system was the target of attacks in 2016, so now our voting systems have been designated "critical infrastructure," like the power grid, the financial system and transportation networks.

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But what are the federal, state and local governments actually doing to identify, resist and prevent future attacks on our voting system? Chapin says, "at least for the time being, the bright new future of election administration seems to be paper ballots. What a world, right?"

"Nothing is ever secure," Chapin added. "You can say something is more secure. Any security feature is in danger of being attacked and overcome. So all you can say is we are as secure as we can be right now, but acknowledge that we can get more secure. I have no doubt that five, 10, 15 years from now the machines we think are good enough now aren't good enough anymore."

He says we need to preserve the integrity of the election results, but also protect the personal information of the voters. We must find "ways to protect voters. The information they give us is just as important as protecting democracy," Chapin said.

"I worry less about 'well, it can't happen here because we're so far from Russia' and worry more about "my friendly neighborhood hacker taking the information of my voters and using it to hurt them in other ways."

Doug Chapin is director of the Program for Excellence in Election Administration at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School. For a decade he was director of election initiatives at the Pew Center on the States. University of Minnesota professor Larry Jacobs moderated the event at the Humphrey School on May 2, 2018.

To listen to his speech, click the audio player above.