State officials address voter identity hacking concerns

A recently-released report, shows Alabama is one of 35 states and Washington, D.C. that could have its election system hacked.

Posted: May 10, 2018 11:32 PM
Updated: May 11, 2018 8:32 PM

There is less than a month until the state primary elections in Alabama.

WAAY 31 found new evidence that your vote may not matter. A recently-released report, shows Alabama is one of 35 states and Washington, D.C. that could have its election system hacked.

We wanted to know what the state is doing to protect your civil rights.

Nichole Harris has been a registered voter in Morgan County since she was 18. Harris prides herself in being one of the 3,365,125 registered voters in the state. 

But, she does not vote.

"The reason I don't vote is because I don't feel like it counts. They sway votes to go to where they want it to go and put who they want to put in office anyway," said Harris.

The lack of confidence in the voting system is a big concern, especially to people such as Morgan County Probate Judge Greg Cain.
As the "Chief Elections Officer," his office proofreads and prints ballots, sets up election precincts, trains poll workers, and administers usernames and passwords for voter registration information.

He has a stern message for those doubting the voting system. "It's safe and secure. To get to where our voting machines are located, you have to have a swipe card. [We can] see how many times someone has swiped in and out of the building. We have video cameras there," said Judge Cain.

Those measures would prevent someone from physically altering votes, but what if someone wanted to virtually hack into the system?

Judge Cain said it would be difficult because none of the machines are on WiFi or connected to the Internet.

A report by researchers at Harvard University shows hackers are not waiting until after you cast a vote, they are now targeting voter registration websites. The report states a hacker could get some of your personal information: such as your driver's license number, address, date of birth, or social security number and and change your address, gender, party affiliation, or delete your information altogether. On election day, when you show up to vote your name could not be placed on the precinct's register. Researchers say this could be done on a larger scale, even affecting the outcome of an election.

Alabama is one of 35 states listed in this 89 page report, whose vulnerable to a voter identity theft attack. WAAY 31 asked the Secretary of State John Merrill what the state is doing to fix this problem.

"It's very interesting to me when academics come out with reports. These people sit in their ivory towers and say this is what's wrong. We remain diligent in ensuring the integrity and credibility of the process," said Merrill.

When asked what the state is doing to fix the issues, Merrill could not go into specifics. "I could tell you about specific things we are doing in Alabama to protect our system. If I did, one of the foreign or domestic actors would try to prevent us from doing things the way we need to do it," he said.

Aside from hacking into the system, the report states another way to steal your identity is through what's known as the Darknet or through data brokers. A hacker can spend $40 a month to compile a swipe of the magnetic strip on your driver's license and images of your license. The magnetic strip contains a number linked to official documents.

The report states a third way is through the government's voter lists. Voter lists contain the name, personal demographics, and voting history of each registered voter. Things you would need to access the system. But, Secretary Merrill insists this is not true. "Anybody within the sound of my voice that wanted to purchase the voter list, can do it for a penny a name. You will get a little information about me, but you won't get enough to change the voter file. The voter rolls are preserved and protected, so no one can corrupt that data."

The report states if your information is changed and you go to the wrong precinct, your provisional ballot will not count in Alabama.
Judge Cain says that is false. "Every provisional ballot always gets counted. Every election," he said. Cain says workers have seven days after Election day to get in contact with the voter to verify the information was changed. "If it checks out and everything is verified, your vote will count," said Judge Cain.

Cain thinks the report from Harvard is flawed, but admits there are places the state needs to improve. "Based on the hypotheticals used in the article, some of the things could happen. We have to figure out how to tighten that up so we don't have these hypotheticals become reality." Cain went on to say he thinks anytime you do something online and not face-to-face, there is a possibility of your information getting into the wrong hands.

Secretary Merrill says the study fails to include three things: examples where certain systems have failed, been corrupted or violated in Alabama. He insists the election system is safe and secure. He states the system is attacked multiple times a day, but has never been breached.

Hearing that, brings some relief to Harris. "If it's never been breached and they are completely true, that gives people a sense of confidence. That would keep people voting like they normally do," she said.

But, she still remains firm in her stance of not voting.

Secretary Merrill says Secretarys across the country had a classified meeting in Washington, D.C. in February to make sure voter hacking does not happen here.

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