SPECIAL REPORT: Is your vote safe from hackers?

Husted speaks on cyber-security concerns as election nears

By Jason Hawk - jhawk@civitasmedia.com

Can your vote be hacked during or after your trip to the polls Nov. 8?

With the presidential election nearing, cyber-security is “an ongoing concern,” Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted said Thursday in a media teleconference, pointing to recent threats to Arizona and Illinois voter databases.

Russian hackers were behind the Arizona attack in August, according to the FBI, and prompted a week-long shutdown of that state’s voter registration system. International players were also suspected in the July intrusion in Illinois, where investigators confirmed hackers gained access but altered no records.

Those incidents seemed to be “a run-of-the-mill identity theft effort” and not an attempt to sway the election, Husted told reporters.

None of Ohio’s electronic voting machines, which vary by manufacturer and design across the state’s 88 counties, are connected to the Internet, he said.

However, Ohio’s voter database is.

Husted said his office has consulted with state and federal agencies as well as private sector experts to ensure robust protection for voters. Vulnerabilities have been addressed through updates to the state’s security plan and system. State elections databases are backed up nightly in case of an attack.

“This can only limit threats. I’m not going to suggest it can eliminate every threat,” he said.

All electronic voting machines statewide have backup paper ballots, which helps lessen anxiety.

And three-quarters of ballots this fall in Ohio will be cast on paper, mainly due to popular absentee voting. At last count, there were 806,000 requests statewide for absentee ballots — Husted said most resident concerns voiced to his office have been about making sure those ballots-by-mail are received.

State law requires at least one Republican and one Democrat to work together in all aspects of elections. That means the parties equally staff the polls on Election Day. Lorain County Board of Elections director Paul Adams is a Democrat and by law is balanced by a Republican deputy director, James Kramer. And the board itself is made of two Republicans (Marilyn Jacobcik and Helen Hurst) and two Democrats (Thomas Smith and Anthony Giardini).

The parties work jointly to transport, deliver, store, count, verify, and recount ballots. Through it all, they watchdog each other to make sure tampering doesn’t take place.

But allegations of vote-fixing have already begun.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has charged that the system is rigged if he doesn’t win.

“Nov. 8, we’d better be careful, because that election is going to be rigged,” he said Aug. 1 while campaigning here in Ohio. “People are going to walk in and they’re going to vote 10 times, maybe, who knows?”

He repeated the claims on Fox News, telling host Sean Hannity that “we better be careful because that election is going to be rigged and I hope the Republicans are watching closely, or it’s going to be taken away from us.”

Husted was shy when asked about his feelings regarding Trump’s allegations.

He chose only to generally comment that he is upset when anyone undermines voter confidence in the elective process, whether by suggesting it’s rigged or that certain voters have been disenfranchised.

Regarding the latter, the secretary of state lost a lawsuit in September when the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals deemed Ohio cannot purge its rolls of voters who have not cast ballots recently.

We learned 11,666 were purged last year in Lorain County, touching on Amherst, Oberlin, and Wellington where we publish newspapers. A Reuters study found voters in Democrat-leaning neighborhoods in Cuyahoga, Franklin, and Hamilton counties were about twice as likely to be purged for inactivity as in Republican-leaning neighborhoods.

Rolling Stone published a scathing review of voter-purge initiatives in August, citing close to 500,000 voters flagged for deletion in Ohio by Crosscheck, a software system used by Husted’s office.

Crosscheck has been used by more than two dozen states to find people officials believe will cast duplicate ballots — for example, voting in Ohio and then jumping across the border to vote in Pennsylvania.

“In Dayton (Ohio), we tracked down several of the suspects on our lists. Hot spots of ‘potential duplicate’ voters, we couldn’t help but notice, were in neighborhoods where the streets are pocked with rundown houses and boarded storefronts,” author Greg Palast wrote.

Both Florida and Oregon have stopped using Crosscheck to generate such lists amid concerns they are unreliable.

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.

Husted speaks on cyber-security concerns as election nears

By Jason Hawk