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Local election officials say voting is secure

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Tuesday’s elections saw Democrats taking over traditionally Republican-held seats both statewide and nationwide, something the Democratic Party is holding up to be a good sign for next year’s midterm elections.
April 13, 2018 11:14 pm

Voting at the local level is secure with several important elections looming on the horizon, election officials said Thursday.

Cybersecurity for elections is especially relevant this year after the spotlight fell on hacking of voter data and attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election by Russia.

In less than two weeks several special elections will be held across the state, including Assembly Districts 102 and 107.

U.S. Rep. John Faso, R-19, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo are also up for re-election, and with the momentum the Democratic Party has picked up so far nationwide, the races to come will be a heated battle for control of Congress.

“I think it is kind of naive to think your data is secure,” said Logan Visscher, of Hudson. “At least some light is being shed on this issue.”

Most recently, cybersecurity became the topic of discussion between Congress and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg who testified before House and Senate joint committees in Washington this week after news broke that the political consulting company Cambridge Analytica took personal information from tens of millions of Facebook users.

“There is a lot of conversation and concern about this issue right now,” said Republican Greene County Board of Elections Commissioner Brent Bogardus. “Never say never when it comes to what foreign entities and individual lawbreakers will do, but there is an enormous amount of work being done on this issue.”

Bogardus and his Democratic counterpart, Greene County Board of Elections Commissioner Marie Metzler, stressed that results of elections cannot be tampered with digitally.

“The voting machines are in no way connected to the internet,” Metzler said. “People think because the machine is plugged in it must be connected to the internet; that is just power.”

At the local level the board of elections employs many different security protocols to ensure the integrity of voting results, Metzler said.

“I can assure you we are all safe and secure,” Metzler said. “There is a whole process of security we go through. And everything is done within the county government.”

Ballot information, after it is placed in the optical scanner machine that reads voters’ ballots, is collected on a flash card. That card is handled by poll-site inspectors, county sheriff’s deputies, who transport the flash card to the local board of elections, and the board of elections.

“The only time those results meet the internet is when we put them on the website and that is just a report we do,” Metzler said. “I have full confidence in the process and the equipment.”

Bogardus and Metzler said they are in constant contact with the state Board of Elections and the federal government about this issue.

“We generally follow the direction of the state and federal governments on cybersecurity practices,” Bogardus said. “There are safeguards in place at both the state and local levels. We also get alerts about what to look out for from the FBI from time to time.”

The state included $5 million in its 2018-19 budget, which passed March 31, for cybersecurity for elections, and the federal government included $19 billion in funds for handling cybersecurity issues.

“We train county boards of elections in preparedness and response in case of a problem,” said Cheryl Couser, deputy director of public information for the state Board of Elections. “We work very closely with the counties, and we have long before 2016. It is a focus for the public and there is an increased need now.”

The state also keeps counties informed during possible emergency situations, Couser said.

“We are also in the process of developing a more comprehensive plan to make voting more secure,” Couser said. “We work with the federal government and private entities, including Harvard, to develop that.”

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