State officials are reassuring members of Congress that the integrity of November’s elections is secure amid growing concerns over cyberattacks by foreign actors tied to Russia.
In an open letter to Congress, the National Association of Secretaries of State warns against damaging public confidence in the electoral process. The group, made up of bipartisan election administrators across the nation, says security measures currently in place are sufficient to guarantee an accurate vote count.
Vote-counting systems “have their own fail-safes and contingency solutions that would make it highly difficult to leverage them for changing outcomes,” the association said. “Poll books, printed records, back-ups and back-ups of back-ups all provide multiple layers of security around this part of the process.”
The association said there is no fix-all to guard against all cyberattacks but pointed out that recent hacks of voter registration systems in Arizona and Illinois are unconnected to separate systems that tally votes.
The decentralized nature of American election administration acts as its own safeguard, the association said. In November, Americans will vote at hundreds of thousands of polling locations, and those votes are counted by more than 9,000 election administrators, making large-scale hacking almost impossible, it added. What’s more, voting machines themselves are not connected to the internet, providing more security.
“There is no evidence that ballot manipulation has ever occurred in the U.S. via cyberattack,” the letter says.
The Department of Homeland Security has said it is considering designating election systems as critical infrastructure, though Secretary Jeh Johnson has made clear such a designation would not free up additional funds for state and local administrators. Some state administrators are concerned that federal involvement would undercut their constitutional duty to run elections.
Cybersecurity experts have said Russia-linked hackers who tapped into systems in Illinois and Arizona, and others who have sought access to systems in other states, are not trying to change the outcome of November’s elections. Instead, they are trying to raise questions about the integrity of the results.
“It’s just enough to create scandal,” Chris Porter, who runs strategic intelligence for the cybersecurity firm FireEye Horizons, told The Hill earlier this month. “That’s sufficient for Russian aims.”
Secretaries of state warned against members of Congress falling prey to those aims.
“In the short-term, our goal is to avoid distractions and work together with our federal partners to secure the systems that are in place for the November election,” the group wrote. “Our collective imperative must be to ensure that actions to protect our elections do not create undue alarm or mistrust that will threaten voters’ confidence in the outcomes.”