Extreme measures to protect Maricopa County voting systems from - News, Weather, Sports, Toledo, OH

Extreme measures to protect Maricopa County voting systems from hackers

(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

On the day of the general election in 2016, Maricopa County voters experienced problems at the polls. Some of those problems, according to elections officials, were the result of the "epoll books" used in the place of paper voter rolls. Officials say the software had trouble handling the sheer number of voters the Phoenix metro area was seeing.

"There were several instances of double voting," said Adrian Fontes, who was elected Maricopa County Recorder that day and has been tasked with figuring out what went wrong.

In addition to the double voting, county officials say the epoll books disconnected and reset multiple times during election day. The subsequent investigation found the problems had no impact on the outcome of any races, but similar problems were occurring at polling places across the country in states like Virginia and North Carolina.

In those states, jurisdictions used a different epoll book provider. A top secret NSA report obtained and made public by the national security news site, The Intercept, concluded that two epoll book providers had been attacked by Russian hackers shortly before the general election. The NSA report did not contain information on whether the hackers were able to access sensitive voter information.

"Were they vulnerable? I suppose as vulnerable as any electronic system is," said Fontes. "Were they penetrated or were any of those vulnerabilities ever taken advantage of? We don't have any indication that they were," he said.

The president of Robis Elections, the company that provided epoll book services for Maricopa County, told CBS 5 Investigates that his company was not hacked by Russians or anyone else.

"No outside party has gained access to any government data or control of our software. We were guarding against such threats and attacks long before the Russians came into the media consciousness," said David Davoust, the president of Robis Elections.

But after Fontes took office, he took the drastic measure of ending the contract with Robis and tasking county employees to create a new system from scratch -- one that would avoid the problems and alleged security vulnerabilities of the 2016 election.

Fontes and a team of his employees attended a hacker conference over the summer -- an effort to get familiar with the threats voting system face now and will face in the future. He said elections officials from counties across the country were there, as well as FBI agents and officials from the U.S. Department of Justice.

The result, says Fontes, is a system that will make it easier for voters to cast ballots, reduce the need to cast provisional ballots, which are often discarded, and be tougher for hackers to attack.

"Right now, we're probably as secure as you can get for any of the elections services in the country," said Fontes.

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Morgan  LoewMorgan Loew is an investigative reporter at CBS 5 News. His career has taken him to every corner of the state, lots of corners in the United States, and some far-flung corners of the globe.

Click to learn more about Morgan .

Morgan Loew
CBS 5 Investigates

Morgan’s past assignments include covering the invasion of Iraq, human smuggling in Mexico, vigilantes on the border and Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Maricopa County. His reports have appeared or been featured on CBS News, CNN, NBC News, MSNBC and NPR.

Morgan’s peers have recognized his work with 11 Rocky Mountain Emmy Awards, two regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for investigative reporting, an SPJ First Amendment Award, and a commendation from the Humane Society of the United States. In October 2016, Morgan was inducted into the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Silver Circle in recognition of 25 years of contribution to the television industry in Arizona.

Morgan is graduate of the University of Arizona journalism school and Concord Law School at Purdue University Global. He is the president of the Arizona First Amendment Coalition and teaches media law and TV news reporting at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

When he’s not out looking for the next big news story, Morgan enjoys hiking, camping, cheering for the Arizona Wildcats and spending time with his family at their southern Arizona ranch.

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