46 US states seek govt help to prevent election cyberattacks

© Jim Urquhart
To date, almost every state has called on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to help defend their voter registration systems from been hacked. However, a few states have argued that federal interference could disenfranchise voters.

The majority of states, 46, have called on the DHS to try and bolster the cyber defenses of their voter registration systems after the government raised the alarm about foreign hackers ahead of the election, according to CNN.

The number of states asking for federal assistance has grown from 33 states in mid-October.

Nearly half US states have had their voter registration systems targeted by foreign hackers, and four systems were successfully breached, sources told ABC News. Among them were Arizona, Florida and Illinois.

On Friday, however CBS reported 11 states, including the battlegrounds of New Hampshire and Michigan, had not accepted DHS help, fearing that voters would think it was a federal takeover and could lead to voter disenfranchisement.

Seven states have declined the offer outright: Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Of those 11, now only four have rejected federal help. 

“The biggest threats to the integrity of this November’s election and our democratic system are attempts to undermine public confidence in the reliability of that system,” Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York School of Law, testified September 28 before the House Oversight and Government Committee’s IT subcommittee.

The hearing had been convened by Representative Will Hurd (R-Texas) to determine whether a cyberattack would affect the outcome of the November presidential election. The five panelists agreed it would not.

The DHS offered to help state and local governments test and prepare their systems ahead of the election on November 8. The agency offered to scan systems to check for vulnerability and make recommendations for improving cybersecurity on election and voter registration systems.

State officials have questioned whether those efforts were necessary, arguing it could lead to government waste and redundant efforts and “even open the door to a potential federal takeover of elections.”

“The question remains whether the federal government will subvert the Constitution to achieve the goal of federalizing elections under the guise of security,” Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp told technology blog Nextgov in August.

Cyberattack experts say the danger is not in a hacker seeking to change a vote, the larger danger is that a hacker could modify or delete voter registration rolls and disqualify voters on Election Day.

“Let’s say they wanted to intervene on the side of [Donald] Trump,” Herbert Lin, a senior research scholar for cyberpolicy and security at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation told ABC News. “Then what you would do is find a way of invalidating the voter registrations, deleting the voter registrations of 10 percent of the Democrats in the state. That would make 10 percent of them ineligible to vote.”

Voter registration systems are also tempting to hackers because they provide access to personal information like date of birth, driver’s license number, and the last four digits of Social Security numbers.

To date, the largest challenges to voters have come voter registrations roll purging and voting machine problems.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has accused the board of elections in North Carolina of trying to purge voter rolls through a mass mailing.

During early voting in several counties in Texas and North Carolina, voting machines listed the wrong vote for voters.

The hacking threats according to the FBI come from foreign hackers.

"There's no doubt that some bad actors have been poking around," FBI Director James Comey told lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee September 28, without offering any more specifics.

Comey said there had been “some attempted intrusions at voter registration databases” since August when the FBI issued a bulletin to state governments warning that hackers had infiltrated the Illinois State Board of Elections on roughly 90,000 voters.

Arizona, Illinois, Florida and more than two dozen other states have already had their election systems scanned, probed or breached by hackers.

The Obama administration has accused Russia of attempting to interfere in the US presidential election through coordinated cyberattacks on political parties.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking before an audience in Sochi last Thursday, denied the charges, saying that US elites have used the “mythical and fictitious” issue to distract attention from real government problems.