Wisconsin Election Officials Taking Precautions Against Hacking of Voter Database

Aug 31, 2016

Wisconsin election commissioners were busy Tuesday. They voted to mail postcards to more than 1 million unregistered voters, urging them to join the system and also agreed to place seven presidential candidates on the ballot in November.

What the panel is also facing is reports that hackers based in Russia have tried to compromise voter registration databases in Illinois and Arizona. They’re confident Wisconsin won’t fall victim to the same crime.

Wisconsin Elections Commission spokesman Reid Magney says he’s concerned about reports of hackers breaking into state voter registration databases. He says they hold sensitive information, including in Wisconsin.

“The state voter records contain people’s names, addresses, dates of birth, driver license or state ID card numbers and in some cases the last four digits of someone’s social security number,” he says.

But, Magney doesn’t think there’s reason for voters here to panic. He says in 2006 Wisconsin rolled out a statewide voter database as part of the Help America Vote Act. He says the new, consolidated system is much more secure than what the state used to have.

“It means that we don’t have to worry about 1,854 different systems in municipal clerks’ offices around the state. We have one system that we can be sure is secure and we provide training for clerks to use,” he says.

In addition, Magney says, the state launched an updated version of its database earlier this year.

The upgrade is reassuring to Milwaukee Election Commissioner Neil Albrecht. “Because it’s new technology, it gives me greater confidence that these safeguards are in place to protect the data,” he says.

Despite concerns these days about the security of voter information, Kelly Michaels doesn’t worry about the vote tallies come November. She oversees election procedures in Brookfield. Michaels says some residents have asked if hackers could tap into the city’s voting machines, but the internet is not involved.

“The machines that we use in Waukesha County, a tape tabulates those paper ballots. We have paper ballots number one, so we have those documents directly from the voter,” Michaels says.

While local and state election leaders keep watch of their systems, the FBI is monitoring the situation across the country and expects to notify states with credible threats.