Voting machine data breaches raise concerns for midterm candidates


By CHRISTINA A. CASSIDY, Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP) — Sensitive voting system passwords posted online. Copies of the confidential voting software can be downloaded. Skinning machines inspected by people not supposed to have access to them.

The list of alleged security breaches at local election offices since the 2020 election continues to grow, with investigations underway in at least three states – Colorado, Georgia and Michigan. The stakes appeared to rise this week when the existence of a federal investigation emerged involving a prominent former President Donald Trump loyalist who promoted conspiracy theories about voting machines across the country.

While much remains unknown about the investigations, one of the most pressing questions is what all of this could mean for the safety of voting machines with the midterm elections less than two months away.

Election security experts say the breaches by themselves did not necessarily increase threats to the November vote. Election officials already assume that hostile foreign governments might hold the sensitive data, and so they take precautions to protect their voting systems.

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The most immediate concern is the possibility that rogue election workers, including those who support lies about the 2020 presidential election, could use their access to election materials and knowledge gained from the breaches to launch a security attack. inside. This could be intended to gain an advantage for the desired candidate or party, or to introduce system problems that would further sow distrust in the election results.

In some of the alleged security breaches, authorities are investigating whether local officials provided unauthorized access to people who copied software and hard drive data and, in several cases, shared it publicly.

After the Georgia breach, a group of election security experts said the unauthorized copying and sharing of rural Coffee County election data posed “serious threats” to the November election. They urged the state’s Election Commission to replace touchscreen devices used statewide and use only hand-marked paper ballots.

Harri Hursti, a leading vote security expert, expressed concern about another use of hacked data. Access to voting equipment data or software can be used to develop a realistic video in which someone claims to have manipulated a voting system, he said.

Such a fake video posted online or on social media on or after Election Day could create chaos for an election office and cause voters to challenge the accuracy of the results.

“If you have these rogue images, now you can start fabricating compelling fake evidence — fake evidence of wrongdoing that never happened,” Hursti said. “You can start creating very compelling imaginary evidence.”

There is no evidence that voting machines were tampered with, either in the 2020 election or in this year’s primaries. But conspiracy theories widely promoted among some conservatives have led to calls to replace the machines with hand-marked and counted ballots and raised fears they could be targeted by people working in election offices or in polling stations.

The alleged violations appear to be orchestrated or encouraged by people who falsely claim the 2020 election was stolen from Trump. In several cases, employees of local election offices or election committees gave access to voting systems to people who were not authorized to have it. The incidents came into public view after Mesa County, Colorado’s voting system passwords were posted online, sparking a local investigation and a successful effort to replace the county clerk from overseeing the elections.

MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who has hosted or attended forums around US voting machine conspiracy theories, said this week he received a subpoena from a federal grand jury investigating the violation in Colorado and that he had been ordered to turn over his cell phone to the FBI. officers who approached him at a fast food joint in Minnesota.

“And they told me not to tell anyone,” Lindell said in a video afterwards. “OK, I won’t. But I am.”

Lindell and others have traveled the country over the past year, hosting events where attendees are told that voting machines have been tampered with, officials are being “selected” rather than elected, and widespread fraud. cost Trump the 2020 election.

In an interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Lindell said FBI agents questioned him about the Colorado breach and Dominion Voting Systems. The company provides voting equipment used in about 30 states and its machines have been targeted in breaches in Colorado, Georgia and Michigan.

When agents asked him why he was flying between different states, Linden told them, “I go to attorneys general and politicians, and I try to get them to get rid of these voting machines in our country.”

The Justice Department did not respond when asked for details of its investigation.

Dominion sued Lindell and others, accusing them of defamation. In a statement this week, the company said it would not comment on ongoing investigations, but said its systems were secure. He noted that no credible evidence has been provided to show that his machines “did anything other than accurately and reliably count votes in all states.”

The scope of the federal grand jury’s investigation in Colorado is not known, but local officials have charged Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters with what they described as a “deceptive scheme designed to influence officials, breach security protocols, exceed authorized access to voting materials, and trigger the possible distribution of confidential information to unauthorized persons.

Peters pleaded not guilty and said she had the authority to investigate concerns that voting materials had been tampered with. She has appeared at numerous events with Lindell over the past year, including Lindell’s “cybersymposium” last August at which a digital copy of the Mesa County Election Management System was distributed.

David Becker, a former attorney for the US Department of Justice who now directs the Center for Election Innovation & Research, notes the irony of those raising the alarm about the involvement of voting equipment in alleged violations of the same systems.

“People who have attacked the integrity of elections are destroying the real integrity of elections,” he said.

Associated Press writer Michael Balsamo contributed to this report.

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