Hacking the Ballot: How safe is your vote?

Hacking the Ballot: How safe is your vote?
(Source: WTOL)
(Source: WTOL)

(WTOL) - Hacked elections might be a big worry when it comes to this upcoming election. But are those concerns justified? Toledo's News Leader investigates the potential for hacking and if your vote is safe.

Recent events might make you wonder, when you vote early or when you make your voice heard on November 8, can you trust the system?

In August, the FBI sent a warning to state governments saying hackers were able to electronically infiltrate the Illinois State Board of Elections, and that hackers tried to get into Arizona's election system.

The warnings come after increasing concerns foreign governments might be trying to electronically break into American elections systems and influence the presidential outcome. That's downright dangerous to the legitimacy of our elections.

U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown said he's not worried about widespread fraud by individual voters, but rather from a higher, more sophisticated level.

"It's potentially a technology thing that we've got to guard against. And that should be bipartisan. We have got to make sure that it is. But particularly if a foreign entity comes in and tries anything, we particularly need to be on guard," said Sen. Brown.

Lucas County Board of Elections Director Gina Kaczala said, "We're always concerned. It is a concern."

Kaczala is in the thick of the presidential race and important local elections. You can now add cyber-attack prevention to her list of responsibilities.

"We're all afraid of that. We know once something is on the internet, you can be hacked. We know that. We know there are groups out there and that's what they're going to do," Kaczala said.

So what happens to your vote? Could it be compromised by hacking? Kaczala said it's well protected.

"Oh, it would be tragic and we're doing everything we can here to instill that the voters have confidence in us," said Kaczala.

When you cast your ballot in Ohio, your vote is stored in three places. On the machine itself in its hard drive. Also on a verified paper trail that's in every machine. And on the key card that is used to transport the results to your county's Board of Elections to be tabulated.

The machines have tamper resistant seals and when the early vote center closes each day, machines are stored in a room behind a double locked door. One Republican board of election member and one democrat has a key and must enter the locked room together.

And Kaczala said electronic hacking of your vote really isn't possible.

"That tabulation process is never on the internet. Our server is not allowed by law to be on the internet. So it is safe. The voting machines that you see at all of the polling locations, they can never be on the internet," said Kaczala.

Attention on Ohio is even more prominent right now because we're a swing state in such a hotly contested Presidential race. So does that put more pressure on the secretary of state in Columbus, who oversees the election process?

"We see this every four years. We see the hottest fires. We're now the strongest steel. We've learned lessons from the past," said Jon Husted, the Republican Secretary of State.

Husted admits the state's voter database, the list of who is eligible to vote, is online and in theory, could be hacked. But he said it's backed up daily to make sure a cyber-attack cannot damage it. He also stressed that no voting machine or counting process is connected to the internet in any way and is not vulnerable to a cyber-attack.

When asked if voters should feel safe about their vote, Husted said, "Voters should feel absolutely safe about the vote they cast…At the Secretary of State's Office and at the local level, with our boards of election, we're working every single day to make sure that this is as secure as it can possibly be."

Husted said the only part of the voting process that appears online is the results. They're posted on the Secretary of State's website after they're counted in an open public meeting.

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