Officials voice hacking concerns
Secretaries of state say lack of information from feds worrisome
INDIANAPOLIS — State election officials voiced doubt Saturday that adequate security measures can be adopted before 2018 elections to safeguard against the possibility of a foreign government interfering in U.S. elections.
That’s according to attendees at a weekend gathering of the National Association of Secretaries of State, whose conference was being held during an uproar over a White House commission investigating President Donald Trump’s allegations of voter fraud and heightened concern about Russian attempts to interfere in U.S. elections.
The Department of Homeland Security said last fall that hackers believed to be Russian agents targeted voter registration systems in more than 20 states. And a leaked National Security Agency document from May said Russian military intelligence had attempted to hack into voter registration software used in eight states.
But both Republican and Democratic secretaries of state, who are responsible for carrying out elections, said they have been frustrated in recent months by a lack of information from federal intelligence officials on allegations of Russian meddling with the vote. They say that despite the best efforts by federal officials, it may be too late in to make substantive changes.
“I’m doubtful,” said Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, a Democrat. “We shouldn’t feel like we’ve been tied to a chair and blindfolded. … It’s very hard to help further instill public confidence that you know what you’re doing if you don’t have any information.”
The conference in Indianapolis, which began Friday, is being attended by officials from 37 states. The FBI and Homeland Security attempted to allay fears by holding a series of private meetings Saturday on voting security.
“This is a new thing and it takes a while to get things running and everybody talking,” said Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, a Republican. “I think this is something we will build on and it will get better over time.”
There is no indication so far that voting or ballot counting was affected in the November election, but officials are concerned that the Russians may have gained knowledge that could help them disrupt future elections.
The conference also lands a week after the commission investigating Trump’s allegations of election fraud requested voter information from all 50 states, drawing bipartisan blowback. The request seeks dates of birth, partial Social Security numbers, addresses, voting histories, military service and other information about every voter in the country.
Trump has repeatedly stated without proof that he believes millions of fraudulent ballots were cast in the November election, when he carried the Electoral College but lost the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton.
The commission was authorized to investigate those claims and is being led by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who sent the information requests.
Kobach was not in attendance at the weekend event, prompting Democrats to reiterate their skepticism of the commission’s intent and their concerns that the information could be used to justify stringent new voter-security procedures that could make it more difficult for people to cast ballots.
“For him not to be here is awkward, to put it mildly. What does he have to hide?” Padilla said. “If he’s serious about working with states to improve the integrity of the election, this is the place to be, and he’s not.”
A spokesman for Kobach did not respond to a request for comment Saturday.
It remains unclear what exactly the hodgepodge of data will be used for. Pence spokesman Marc Lotter said the commission will look for irregularities in voter registrations and advise states on how they can improve their practices.
But many secretaries of state say all or parts of the requested data are not public in their states. Some Democrats have said the commission is merely trying to provide cover for Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud.
The U.S. does not have a federalized voting system. Instead, the process is decentralized, with 9,000 voting jurisdictions and more than 185,000 individual precincts. Officials believe that actually makes it difficult for hackers to have any sizable effect on the vote.
Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have said they will refuse to provide the information sought by the commission. The other states are undecided or will provide portions of the data, according to a tally of every state by The Associated Press.
Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams said Saturday in Indianapolis that “the chief election official in each state should be told if there are potential breaches of that state’s [voter] data or potential intrusions.”