WASHINGTON – Voting machines that don’t provide a paper trail should be “removed from service" and other security steps put in place to thwart cyberthreats before midterm elections, experts said Thursday.

In a new report, “Securing the Vote: Protecting American Democracy,” by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, experts call for more federal funds to improve election systems and more post-election audits of voting machines.

The 181-page report released Thursday highlights concerns among state and local election officials, including aging machines and a shortage of poll workers. But one of the biggest concerns, the report said, is cyberthreats. 

“Long-standing  concerns  about  outdated  and  insecure  voting systems  and  newer  developments  such  as  cyberattacks,  the  designation  of election  systems  as  critical  infrastructure,  and  allegations  of  widespread voter  fraud,  have  combined  to  focus  attention  on  U.S.  election  systems and  operations," the report said.

Cyberattacks have been the focus of several reports, congressional hearings and conferences of election officials.

The Election Assistance Commission recently disbursed $380 million approved by Congress to help states protect against cyberattacks for the midterms. Election officials called the package a “down payment” and said they need more for upcoming elections.

Lawmakers and election officials pushed for the funding after U.S. intelligence reports that Russians tried to meddle in the 2016 presidential election. Experts say the threat is real this fall as well.

“The 2016 presidential election was a watershed moment in the history of elections, one that exposed new challenges and vulnerabilities that require the immediate attention of state and local governments, the federal government, researchers, and the American public,” Michael McRobbie, president of Indiana University and co-chair of the committee, said in a statement.

State and local election officials say they have been preparing for the midterms, hiring cyber experts, adopting paper trails and adding layers of protection.  

“You hope that terrible things won’t happen," Susan L. Graham, a computer science professor at the University of California at Berkeley, said Thursday at a briefing to release the report. “But preparedness is really important.”

The report recommends election officials adopt paper ballots because they are less vulnerable to faulty software and hardware and can be verified.

“Voters  should  have  an  opportunity  to  review  and  confirm  their  selections  before depositing  the  ballot  for  tabulation," the report said.

Other recommendations:

• Election officials should not use the internet for voting because it can be vulnerable to hacking. 

• Congress should provide more funds for election officials to maintain and upgrade voting equipment and beef up cybersecurity.

• Election systems should continue to be designated as “critical infrastructures’’ by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Some state election officials oppose the designation.

“It is important the states run their own election process,'' Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said earlier. "This creeps towards a federal standard."

• Congress should continue to fund the EAC and confirm other commissioners. The board has two of four commissioners. Neal Kelley, registrar of voters in Orange County, California, and a member of the committee, said the agency plays a vital role.

Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., chairman of the House Administration Committee, has proposed eliminating the agency because he said it has outlived its usefulness.

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Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., chairman of the House Administration Committee, said, “There’s simply no place for sexual harassment in our society and especially in Congress."
Deborah Barfield Berry, USA TODAY