Will Electronic Poll Books Make Wisconsin Elections More Vulnerable to Hackers?

Jun 20, 2017

Update, June 20:

It appears Wisconsin will become the 28th state to begin using electronic poll books. The Wisconsin Elections Commission on Tuesday voted to have its staff develop the software and offer it to municipalities. A spokesman earlier told WUWM that the state's paper poll books and decentralized voting system likely made Wisconsin elections less appealing to Russian hackers.

The state has used paper poll books until now. They are printouts of all registered voters in the ward and their addresses. There are companies that sell the software for e-poll books, but Wisconsin is opting to create its own and save money, in doing so. Any municipalities interested in using the program would have to purchase the hardware needed - laptops and printers.

Original story: June 12, 2017

While there are reports that Russia attempted to disrupt last year’s U.S. presidential election, including by penetrating a Florida company that provides some communities with software for their electronic poll books, Wisconsin did not notice anything suspicious, according to Reid Magney, spokesman for the Wisconsin Elections Commission.

“Wisconsin does not have electronic poll books. All of our poll books are printed on paper. What happened in Florida is that the Russians somehow were able to steal identities or credentials for this voting company, and then (the hackers) sent emails to local elections officials in Florida and to some other states where the company does business - trying to get people to click on malicious links or open word documents that contained malicious software,” Magney says.

Is Wisconsin moving toward electronic polls books, and if so, how do you (plan to secure them)?

“We are moving toward electronic polls books – the commission is meeting on June 20 and will get a presentation about electronic poll books. Do we want to build our own system, or do we want to essentially set standards and let vendors meet those standards and then sell their products to clerks in Wisconsin, the way we now do with voting equipment. But any system that gets approved will have to have very strong security,” Magney says.

What types of protections are in place in Wisconsin to guard against a (cyber) attack or to detect one, if it is taking place?

“We have 1,853 municipal clerks and 72 county clerks whom we partner with in running elections in Wisconsin. We have a statewide voter registration system, which keeps the names and addresses of all the people who are registered to vote and information about the election (such as) where the polling places are, who the poll workers are, who the candidates are, etc. We have a very sophisticated system set up and one that we just essentially rebuilt and re-launched last year. We have excellent security associated with that.

“Now the issue is, if someone were to trick somebody who has access to that system into giving up their credentials, it is possible someone could get access to that system. But again, if you are a clerk in a city, that clerk only has access to that city’s records, not the whole state’s," Magney says.

Magney says Wisconsin has other safeguards in place to identify if a hacker had entered the system and was doing something malicious. While WEC leaders have not seen or heard evidence of anything like that happening, he says they are reminding clerks to be careful, in light of Russian attempts to attack voting systems.

“In Wisconsin, almost 90 percent of ballots are cast on paper, either optical scan paper ballots or hand-counted paper ballots. There are about 10 percent that are cast on touch- screen voting machines and even those have a paper trail to them. So these machines are not connected to the internet and the system is very decentralized. There is no one place that holds the programing to all the machines, so there is no one place where the system is vulnerable – it is all very distributed,” Magney says.