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Cyber Security Experts Say California Vote Audit Has Exploitable Problems

Federal officials told California Friday that Russians probed the state's election system for vulnerabilities before the 2016 election. That's raising new questions over a bill on Governor Jerry Brown's desk. Cyber security experts say the measure could weaken California's voting systems.

California relies on machines to tabulate the millions of ballots cast during an election, but counties also do a manual audit of one percent of precincts.

A bill on Brown’s desk clarifies the audits only have to include ballots cast on or before election night—not provisional or late-arriving vote-by-mail ballots.

Elections cyber security experts say that creates an opening malicious actors could exploit. Computer scientist David Jefferson chairs the elections transparency group Verified Voting.

"The one percent manual tally is intended to be an end-to-end check on the correctness of the tally, and you can’t do that if you exclude a large fraction of all the ballots cast," says Jefferson.

James Schwab of the California Secretary of State’s office told lawmakers this month that many counties have always done their audits this way, because waiting for all ballots to come in could take too long.

"Counties could potentially be rushed to complete the tally, undermining its integrity and not being able to meet the 30-day deadline to complete it," says Schwab.

The measure is in response to a San Diego court case that counties say created ambiguity over how they’re supposed to conduct the manual tally.

Brown has three weeks to act on the bill.

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