Is foreign interference truly a threat to Arizona voters?

Posted at 7:17 PM, Oct 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-28 22:17:28-04

PHOENIX — We've heard of the talk at the national level.

The FBI, National Security Agency and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency have all vowed to keep the 2020 general election safe.

Since August, federal agencies have warned voters of the potential spread of disinformation in an effort to confuse and sow chaos among voters this year.

Last week, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe announced countries including Iran and Russia have already obtained some U.S. voter registration information.

“I think we are much more aware of this across the country than we were four years ago," said Dr. Duncan Buell, vice-chair of the Board of Voter Registration and Elections in Richland county, South Carolina.

"One of the vulnerabilities would be that if one was able to go into the voter registration database and change twenty or thirty or forty thousand addresses in targeted demographic areas," he said. "Those people might show up to vote and be told they were in the wrong precinct, or they weren’t registered, and you would create so much disruption...that you would suppress the vote. You could choose to do this in certain demographic areas to suppress either the Democratic or the Republican vote.”

"Anything on the internet is theoretically a weak spot," said Jeff Ellington, President of Runbeck Election Services. The company partners with the Maricopa County Elections Department to not only print ballots for every election, but process early ballots through several security measures before they're tabulated.

"There’s a lot of effort in keeping things like that secure, and the confidence that goes along with that. That voter information is as secure as it can be.”

Federal officials say keeping systems offline may be the easiest, most effective way to protect votes.

"This year, more than 92% of votes cast will have a paper record, and that’s a great thing because election officials can check the receipts and make sure the count is right," said Christopher Krebs, Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).

In Arizona, all voters fill out paper ballots. Those ballots are later tabulated through machines with no internet connection.

In Maricopa County, the elections department uses a secure server to store election results. Officials connect the server to tabulation machines with physical wires, to keep the machine offline, and prevent any opportunities to tamper with results.

Election officials tell ABC15 just before 8 p.m. on election night, when the first batch of votes are set to be published, credentialed election officials use a pre-approved, never before used hard drive to extract the data from the server, to then upload online for the public to see.

The county also stores voter registration data off-site in a secure facility.

"The voter registration database is supported by the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office," said communications director Megan Gilbertson. "The Recorder's Office works closely with the Maricopa County Office of Enterprise Technology to ensure Maricopa County maintains a rigorous defense in depth via layers of security systems."