By Perry Busby
When news broke that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report stated that prior to the 2016 general election two Florida counties, as well as VR Systems, the company who manages the state’s voter database, had been breached, political leaders from both parties demanded answers.
The primary question leaders were asking was the same one Florida voters were asking: who were the two named counties?
It sounds like a question any reasonable person might ask. According to Google, a lot of people were asking; it was a top trending search topic. Within days, the chorus of voices demanding to know grew louder.
Although I was just as interested as everyone else, I wrestled with whether or not it was the most important question to ask at the time.
Before you call me crazy and move on to the next article, hear me out.
First, I’m not knocking anyone’s logic; I’m simply saying the question wasn’t as important as many would have us believe. Identifying the counties makes perfect sense, logically speaking. Unfortunately, in this net centric world of ours, cyberattacks are real and they’re performed by really accomplished people (hackers) who have a reputation for defying logic.
From a voter perspective, the question yields very little value beyond satisfying one’s curiosity. Once Washington County officials acknowledged they were one of the counties and it was understood that the FBI wouldn’t release any info because of pending investigations, voters moved on, not having learned much in the process. Think about it, do you feel your vote is better protected now, knowing it wasn’t your county?
Voters aren’t the only ones who’ve moved on. County and state leaders appear to have moved on as well. Many election officials were seen giving a thumbs up, signaling they were in the clear, although the only thing they had been cleared of was being named in the report.
This further increases the risk for voters going into the 2020 election. Studies show the time we are least acceptable to change is when all appears well. Honestly, do you think county leaders are more inclined to implement additional safeguards now that they’ve been cleared?
To understand the gravity of the breach, it might be helpful to know that months before the Florida breach Neil Jenkins, a Cybersecurity and Communications Director with Homeland Security had discovered an Illinois Board of Elections office had been hacked.
In a New York Times Magazine inter-view, Jenkins said the attack happened a month after Russians hacked into Democratic National Committee computers. Security analysts only became aware of the intrusion when hackers caused a DNC server to crash. A forensic study showed hackers had infiltrated the election system and downloaded voter information.
After Illinois, hackers broke into the Arizona state website, then other states started reporting similar activity on their networks. When Jenkins and his team discovered a group of identical network addresses in each incident, including the DNC, they notified state election officials.
When Jenkins and Homeland Security officials met with state election officials, they soon learned that overseeing elections was an autonomous process; no two states ran elections alike, and in some states no two counties ran elections the same.
“Coming into the meeting, we thought Internet voting would be the biggest concern. As it turned out, that was the least of our concerns. The real problem was the machines being used to cast and tally votes and the voter registration databases Russians were starting to hack,” Jenkins acknowledged.
The Department of Homeland Security allocated funds to assist counties. Most of the funds were used to purchase updated equipment. Many argue that funds should be made available to assist counties in assessing vulnerabilities and providing additional security training.
When asked what outcomes he was looking for in the 2020 election, current Broward Supervisor of Election, Peter Antonacci said, “I want to have an election that is run according to the law and reported in an efficient and timely manner.”
I have no doubt that such a goal will be achievable under Mr. Antonacci, but I ask you, does that really give you assurance that your vote will be protected?
I want to hear your thoughts about this issue. In the coming weeks I’m going to hit the streets with a video team to get your input and suggestions. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to participate. Also, if you are an elected official, we want to hear from you and find out what you’re doing to help ensure our 2020 election is secure.
Stay tuned to the Westside Gazette for more information on how you can ensure your voice will be heard and your vote secured in 2020.