Hackers Can't Change The Outcome Of Ohio's Election, Officials Say
The Russians may be good at computer hacking, but they are not good enough to hack into Ohio's voting system, mainly because it is not connected to the internet.
And, as local election officials and Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted say, there are paper records of every vote cast, to be used as a back-up.
Not even Donald Trump's 400-pound hacker sitting on his couch could do it.
But, nonetheless, federal agencies – the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, in particular – are concerned about recent attempted hacks into the voter registration data bases of more than a dozen states.
And, as FBI director James Comey told a congressional committee last week, they think that Russians may be behind it.
The voter registration database is online.
"I know our voter registration rolls are online and anybody can look up a name to see if that person is registered,'' said Tim Burke, chairman of the Hamilton County Board of Elections and head of the county Democratic Party.
"Theoretically, somebody could get into our voter registrations for some purpose of causing trouble,'' Burke said. "But nobody can hack into our counting process. That is hack-proof, simply because it is not on-line."
But federal officials are worried about what the Russians might be up to, scanning voter registration files in various states. Could they be trying to influence the outcome of the Nov. 8 election?
That's why, in mid-September, Jeh Johnson, the Secretary of Homeland Security, put out a statement offering to help state election officials with a variety of measures, including "cyber hygiene scan" on Internet systems, risk and vulnerability assessments and help from the Department of Homeland Security's 24/7 "National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center."
Last week, Johnson said 18 states have requested cyber assistance from Homeland Security for voting systems.
Husted, Ohio's chief elections officer, has said that his office has been working with Homeland Security and the FBI to address any problems.
And he has made it clear in public statements that there have been no attempts at breaching the voter registration databases in Ohio.
But Husted, a Republican who plans to run for governor in 2018, has also made it clear he wants the federal government to butt out of how states run elections.
Thursday, Husted sent off a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan complaining about an August 3 announcement by Johnson about an administrative review that Husted said "could result in the designation of state election systems as 'critical infrastructure' under the Homeland Security Act of 2002.
"This would be an unprecedented overstep by the federal government into the states' constitutional duty to administer elections,'' Husted said.
"Under the U.S. Constitution the right and responsibility to administer elections is reserved to the states,'' Husted said in his letter. "Any attempt to usurp these duties in the name of security is a step too far."
Husted pointed out in his letter that the bipartisan leadership of Congress has gone on record as being opposed to declaring state election systems to be "critical infrastructure." But he wants Congress to go a step further pass a law saying state election systems can never be put under the control of the federal government.
Husted said he does not believe Johnson wants Homeland Security to come into Ohio, or any other state, and take control of the voting machines and run elections.
"What I am worried about is what might happen sometime in the future,'' Husted told WVXU Friday. "We should clarify in the law that they can't do it. We have all seen mission creep from the federal government in recent years. We don't want that in our election system."
Burke said Husted is over-reacting to the feds' offer of help.
"It's the typical Republican playing the 'I hate big government' game,'' Burke said. "Other states are welcoming the assistance that the federal government is offering. I don't know why he would say he wants them to stay out of Ohio's elections."
But, in his letter to Congress, Husted said he is "not suggesting Secretary Johnson or DHSS has anything but honorable intentions and a sincere desire to ensure our nation's elections are secure."
And he acknowledged that Johnson has "clarified" that the Department of Homeland Security will only study the matter, along with organizations like the National Association of Secretaries of State and has "downplayed concerns about malicious hackers influencing U.S. elections."
Still there is reason to be concerned that someone – whether it be the Russians or someone else - might want to manipulate the U.S. election, might get into voter registration data bases and wreak havoc.
And election officials have to be prepared for it. In Ohio, from Husted on down to the county level, election officials say they are doing all they can to protect the system.
"We back up our voter registration data base every day,'' Husted said. "It is safe."
And, Husted told WVXU, he wants Ohio voters to know that because the voting and counting systems are not online, "there is no threat to an election where the outcome could be altered."
Sherry Poland, director of the Hamilton County Board of Elections, said its online data base of voters is also backed up by an off-line system that has all the voter information.
"I think we're well-protected from any cyber-attack,'' Poland said.
But still, we've seen it is possible that voter registration data bases can be breached. It has happened in other states.
Even Trump's 400-pound guy on the couch could do it.