While states have spent years thinking about and planning for other types of crisis that can mess with voting — from hurricanes to power blackouts and terrorist attacks — they’ve been slow and ill staffed to develop contingency plans responsive to a hack attack that would adequately protect their systems in time for the 2016 presidential election.
“They’re waking up to it, but they largely don’t know what questions to ask,” said Jeremy Epstein, a senior computer scientist at the nonprofit research center SRI International and an expert on voting mechanics.
A dozen battleground state officials surveyed by POLITICO insist the voting systems themselves are safe, as nearly all parts of the balloting process take place in a secure, offline environment. But they also repeatedly acknowledged there are limits to what they can control, and they recognize they face legitimate challenges from cyber intrusions to the myriad adjacent parts that go into an election, including online registration records and publicizing vote tallies.
While any manipulation of a state’s official election results is seen as unlikely, there’s little denying that an Internet disruption or hack could cause significant confusion and chaos on Election Day, a dark conclusion to an ugly election plagued by accusations of Russian cyber espionage and evidence-less allegations of vote tampering and rigging.