Protecting against a hack attack this election

Jun 5, 2018

With the elections season heating up, there is increasing attention to making sure someone with bad intent cannot interfere with the vast computer systems behind the vote.

The country is filled with different election systems. Some are completely computerized, others not and a lot in between. Erie County has voting machines that scan paper ballots and deliver a count when the polls close. However, those paper ballots are still available if there is a recount.

New York is conducting a series of cybersecurity drills through mid-June to test how vulnerable the state's election system is to hacking. The exercises will simulate scenarios in which a hostile group seeks to tamper with voting systems, change election tallies or otherwise undermine voter confidence. The events are meant to help officials identify problems with election security before they can be exploited.

Credit New York State Board of Elections

"Absolutely, we have taken it very seriously and been very proactive on things, working with the Department of Homeland Security and the State of New York and Erie County," said Erie County Democratic Elections Commissioner Jeremy Zellner. "We've been able to really work hard to have preventive measures in place."

There is also the issue of the vast computerized databases of voters, with lots of personal information. Zellner said there is always concern about the voter list.

"That's the only thing that could be tampered with and we've done a pretty good job of making sure that that is safe and secure," he said. "There's always new threats that come up, but we want the voters to be assured that our elections are foolproof here in New York State and they are. We don't have a lot of funny business going on and it's because of the great work that the staff of the boards of elections across the state and particularly the state board."

Zellner said the Board of Elections has computer techs for its work, but the actual computer work is done by a very large Erie County IT staff, which maintains the computers and their data. Working with the State Board of Elections, Erie County works on state-set standards for security.

There is a constant updating of voting machines. That is done by workers going from machine to machine, not by some WiFi system.