A top Kentucky election official says foreign hackers scan the state’s election systems looking for vulnerabilities “on a regular basis” and that lawmakers need to create a more stable funding source for election security.
Jared Dearing, executive director of the State Board of Elections, said election officials don’t know if the hacking attempts are coming from foreign governments, but that they “don’t have good intentions.”
“We are routinely scanned by Venezuela, by North Korea, by Russia on a regular basis,” Dearing said.
Hear the audio version of Ryland's story.
“This is not something that is in the past that happened in 2016, it happens on a weekly basis. We don’t necessarily know that those are coming from nation-state actors, but we know the IP ranges are coming in from those localities.”
Dearing made the comments during a hearing with lawmakers on the House Budget Review Subcommittee on General Government.
He said that efforts to boost security in recent years “have paid off,” but that Kentucky has become reliant on irregular financial windfalls from the federal government to prop up the state’s election security posture.
Kentucky received about $6 million in both 2018 and 2019 as part of special Congressional initiatives to boost election security in the states in the wake of Russian hacking in the 2016 election.
Dearing said that as the state has beefed up its security, those looking to spread misinformation and disrupt elections have shifted their attention to local elections.
“The world that we live in now is fraught with cyber danger. There is an increase of ransomware and phishing attempts and malware attacks at our local level is only increasing dramatically over the last several election cycles,” Dearing said.
“In many ways we are asking of our 120 county clerks, many of whom in very small counties that are resource-strapped to begin with, to participate in national defense.”
Despite recent transfusions from the government for states to boost election security, the amount received by Kentucky represents only a fraction of the amount needed to upgrade the state’s voting infrastructure—somewhere between $60 to 80 million, Dearing said on Tuesday.
By this year’s General Election, Kentucky will likely be one of only eight states in the country that use voting machines that don’t create a paper trail—an industry standard.
Only five of the state’s 120 counties have full fleets of voting machines that create paper records of voting results.
Buying voting machines is ultimately the responsibility of the 120 county governments around the state, most of which have been financially hamstrung by massive pension payments and other obligations in recent years.
Dearing said with increased funding, the State Board of Elections would fund a new information security officer and IT training opportunities for county clerks who administer elections.
The State Board of Elections received $4.2 million from the state this year. Dearing asked for $5.7 million and 5.8 million from the state over the next two years.
Kentucky residents can now get a REAL ID at four offices in the state, but only if they pay with a credit or debit card. Cash and check are currently not accepted at the new offices, and it’s unclear if that’s legal.
The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and the Attorney General’s office said they could not locate a statute requiring state government offices to accept specific types of payment, such as cash.
But the United States Federal Code says cash is considered legal tender and must be accepted as payment for all debts, public charges, taxes, and dues.
Hear Becca's story about how Kentucky's Real ID offices accepting payment via cash or check.