Brad Raffensperger discusses cybersecurity issues ahead of fall elections

Secretary of State discusses Bartow’s voting equipment pilot

Posted 12/31/69

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger paid a visit to Bartow County Wednesday, complete with a stop by The Daily Tribune News office for an interview on the State’s new voting equipment — …

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Brad Raffensperger discusses cybersecurity issues ahead of fall elections

Secretary of State discusses Bartow’s voting equipment pilot

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger paid a visit to Bartow County Wednesday, complete with a stop by The Daily Tribune News office for an interview on the State’s new voting equipment — of which Bartow will be among the first counties in Georgia to pilot next month. 

Raffensperger said Bartow was an ideal candidate to pilot the Dominion Voting Systems equipment, citing the county’s mid-range population and geographical placement in northwest Georgia.

That all of Bartow’s elections this fall are municipal-level, Raffensperger added, was a plus.

“My first elected office was in city council, and I know those elections don’t have the highest turnout,” he said. “It’s not like a test election … we call them ‘pilots,’ but these results will count.”

He said the State will be watching the results in Bartow closely, keeping a keen eye on opportunities to develop additional “best practices” once the equipment rolls out statewide next year for the presidential primaries.

“As you work through a new process there’s always things that will pop up,” he said. “We will be able to fine-tune it, probably develop some more efficiency.”

That day, Raffensperger said the State received its new electronic pollbooks, with extensive training planned for Bartow throughout the remainder of the week — or, as he put it, “a lot of ticking and tying of the details.”

Georgia’s non-pilot counties will continue to use the State’s current fleet of direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines in this fall’s elections. 

“They’re tried-and-true, they’ve been around for 17 years,” he said. “But like anything, things wear out, so this will be their last election and then we’ll put them out to pasture.”

Raffensperger said that every county in Georgia should have the new paper ballot-backed machines in place by no later than the end of January.

He described how the new equipment operates.

“When you verify that you’ve got all the selections correct, then you can go ahead and take that over to new ballot-scanner machines, put that on there and press that button, and that’s when your ballot will be counted, that’s when we will make an electronic copy of it, so we will have a scanned picture of it,” he said. “So now, for the first time in 17 years, we’ll actually be able to do a physical recount when you have those close elections that are within a half-percent.”

In total, he said the State plans on having about 32,000 Dominion machines and around 6,000 electronic pollbooks ready for service by the spring primaries.

“The total budget for the contract, it came in under $107 million,” Raffensperger said. “And we had $150 million in our budget, so we looked at additional areas where we could perhaps help counties defray some of their costs, including privacy panels for the polling stations.”

As for the security features of the new machines, Raffensperger said the discussion begins on the front-end with the electronic pollbooks.

“Dominion Voting Systems partnered with a company called KnowInk, [which] is recognized as really the leading electronic pollbook out there,” he said. “It’s an iPad, so it’s based on Mac technology … it uses encryption, and also any data can be removed from it remotely.”

That means that if a pollbook is stolen or lost, the confidential voting information on the device can be wiped clean before the data is “captured” by malicious actors.

Just south of Bartow, Raffensperger said the State is doing another trial run involving hand-marked, paper ballots — this, without the assistance of the newer Dominion machines — in Cobb County.

Building up such “redundancy” in the system, Raffensperger said, is an important proactive measure in the case of an emergency situation — whether it be in the form of a natural disaster or malfunctioning hardware. 

“We just had Hurricane Dorian, on a Tuesday, about two months exactly out from the fall election,” he said. “Just imagine if a hurricane came through here, or a tornado, or some kind of weather event … all of a sudden, you don’t have power, what would you do?”

He also gave an update on two voting machines stolen in Fulton County earlier this month. Those machines contained the names of every single registered voter in the state, along with their home addresses and birthdates — all sensitive personal information that may now be compromised.

“That was the old pollbook machines, but still, it had confidential voter information on it,” he said. “I know that the Atlanta Police Department is also investigating.”

While the State is conducting its own investigation of the thefts, Raffensperger said he could not publicize how much confidential voter information, if any, has been leaked or compromised.

In the wake of the thefts, Raffensperger said the State has no plans to implement any new safety protocols or procedures concerning its voting devices.

“There’s safety protocols and procedures already in,” he said. “They were not followed.”

Heading into the fall elections, Raffensperger said that cybersecurity remains a concern. 

“We understand that hackers never sleep,” he said. “Some of these folks are very sharp, and they just get kicks out of hacking. And we know that we just have to always increase the robustness of our system, so we have already convened a cybersecurity roundtable.”

On the backend, Raffensperger said the State is taking a proactive approach to cybersecurity risks through a new electronic voter management system and work alongside Department of Homeland Security experts to make sure “internal measures” are up to date. 

While the new equipment has several cybersecurity upgrades compared to the State’s older voting devices, Raffensperger acknowledged that human error is still a concern. As the new machines roll out, he said training and communication is imperative.

“I always like to use an example of Chick-fil-A,” he said. “Corporately, they are great at training and communicating … it’s not just that they hire wonderful people, and they do, but obviously at the backside, the back office, they’re doing training and communicating.”

As part of the Dominion bid, Raffensperger said $14 million is included for training on the new equipment.

“The system that voters are going to see, they’re going to look at and say ‘It’s similar, but it’s different,’” he said. “It still has the touchscreen technology, just like you have right now to make all of your selections, but when you press that button, this time it will be to print your ballot, not to cast your ballot.”

The new equipment, he said, also allows the State to conduct risk-limiting audits.

“We’ll even do that for an 80-20 race, just to make sure that we’re always accurately recording,” he said. “Because at the end of the day, what we want voters to know is that your vote has been accurately counted … that means that the winner knows he won, the loser knows they lost and we can move off that issue, because we’ll have plenty of other issues to talk about.”

In the wake of a 2018 election cycle that was rife with accusations and allegations of voter fraud and voter suppression, Raffensperger said he’s optimistic the State’s $100 million-plus investment will restore public “confidence” in Georgia’s voting system.

“We’re excited that we’re going to be using touchscreen technology with a ballot-marking device, so that we can ascertain with 100% certainty what your intent was,” he said. “In these contentious days, half the people will be happy, half the people won’t be happy, and we understand that. But our job as election officials is to make sure your ballot is accurately counted. If we do that, we’ve succeeded.”