Of­fi­cials voice hack­ing con­cerns

Sec­re­taries of state say lack of in­for­ma­tion from feds wor­ri­some

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - BRIAN SLODYSKO

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.

AP/DARRON CUM­MINGS

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.”

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