Election Security: Local election officials share protocol

Special Report

LAWRENCEVILLE, Ill. (WTWO/WAWV) — It’s clear when you meet Will Gibson that he takes pride in his work as County Clerk of Lawrence Co., Ill.

In 2016, Gibson’s work became more complex, as the election season revealed a vulnerability in Illinois’ data security.

“The Illinois State Board of Elections did have a hack in the voter registration database, and so it is something we are mindful of,” Gibson said.

As Gibson offered a tour of the Clerk’s Office, he described why he believes voter should feel secure voting in the upcoming primary and general election in November.

“The actual voting part of it is not out on the Internet per-say,” Gibson said, “Our tabulators that tabulate the vote are data cards that have been programmed by our election vendor and sent to use securely, and then beyond that, too, even when a voter does vote and puts their ballot in the tabulator, if something were to go wrong there, there is a paper backup of all those votes in the state of Illinois.”

Agent Alford shares cyber-security tips for voters:

Clark Co. Clerk Laura Lee also said she feels confident in the election security process, thanks in part to thorough training implemented for all election workers.

“We are trained to update our equipment, to do our due diligence to get everything updated so that this won’t happen,” Lee said, “And training employees, ‘don’t click on that link on an email that you don’t know the person, or even if you do know the person, look at the address’.”

If a problem does occur in either Clark or Lawrence Co., Lee says a task force is in place to offer a response.

“We just have to call Springfield,” Lee said, “And they have people situated all around the state, plus our election vendor has people here with us on site, so we know that we will get a response very quick.”

Lee said a majority of voters in Clark Co. choose to use a paper ballot to vote, even with the option to vote electronically.

“I guess they like their old-school,” Lee said, laughing.

But FBI Cyber squad Special Agent Michael Alford said there are infamous events that put into question the security and accuracy of paper ballots.

“I voted in the 2000 election in Florida,” Alford said, “And people who might remember back then, there was a lot of issues with hanging chads and multiple recounts. At the end of the day, I don’t know that the paper ones are any more secure than digital votes at this point.”

But having some tangible backup was an avenue of security insurance in Illinois in response to the 2016 database hack, and both Lee and Gibson said there have been no issues with the method.

Election interference through misinformation and inaccurate political ads is an entirely different issues, one some states have addressed through legislation.

The Honest Appeals Act would make political ads more transparent. ISU Assoc. Professor of Political Science Matt Bergbower said this is a policy he supports.

“If you don’t make an honest appeal, you can be sued in the state of Minnesota court system,” Bergbower said.

Prof. Bergbower explains how Facebook is now self-policing political ads:

Bergbower said voters should be selective when it comes to information regarding elections, as not all states are working toward an honest appeals process.

FBI Special Agent Ben LaBuz agreed that voters can do their part to ensure secure elections by staying informed.

“One of the things in 2016 was the incorrect voting location being put out,” LaBuz said, “Sometimes that can be an honest mistake, and sometimes that can be malicious, so just being aware of where to vote, when to vote.”

Any questions regarding election security or voting should be directed to your local county clerk, whose information you can find on government websites. For example, you can contact Laura Lee through this link and Will Gibson at this link.

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