State Officials to Testify on Possible Russian Involvement in 2016 Election

State election directors, federal officials to testify on alleged security breaches, possible voting-machine tampering

The U.S. Capitol Building in Washington. On Wednesday, the Senate and House intelligence committees are scheduled to hold open hearings on possible Russian involvement in the 2016 U.S. elections.

The U.S. Capitol Building in Washington. On Wednesday, the Senate and House intelligence committees are scheduled to hold open hearings on possible Russian involvement in the 2016 U.S. elections. PHOTO: AARON P. BERNSTEIN/REUTERS

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June 18, 2017 8:00 a.m. ET

The Senate and House intelligence committees are set on Wednesday to hold two open hearings examining  efforts during the 2016 election, featuring testimony from current and former Department of Homeland Security and Federal Bureau of Investigation officials as well as state election directors.

Steve Sandvoss, the executive director of the Illinois State Board of Elections, is expected to walk the Senate committee through a cyberattack last July that allowed hackers to breach a database of up to 200,000 personal voter records.

Following the breach, the board informed the state attorney general’s office of the cyberattack. The board was subsequently contacted by the FBI, but the agency hasn’t informed the board who was responsible for the attack, according to Ken Menzel, the board’s general counsel.

An information-technology report to the board in August said the FBI was “highly confident” that no voter data had been altered.

The Senate committee will also hear testimony from J. Alex Halderman, a Michigan computer scientist who helped lead a push last year for an examination of paper ballots and electronic voting machines in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan to conclusively prove that hackers hadn’t manipulated the results. A series of legal rulings ultimately halted some of the recount efforts, while others were completed and found no widespread irregularities.

The hearings represent the most robust effort to date to elicit public testimony from state election officials concerning what federal officials have described as an aggressive and sustained effort by Russia to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.

Special counsel Robert Mueller is also investigating whether campaign advisers to President Donald Trump had ties to the Russian activities, a probe that has expanded to include whether the president obstructed justice by trying to influence its outcome, according to a person familiar with the investigation.

States are also examining their own systems. A survey by The Wall Street Journal of election officials in nearly 50 states found many continue to participate in a Department of Homeland Security program of periodic checks of their election systems for any vulnerabilities and many had been in touch with the FBI before the election, when the bureau had provided states with a list of suspicious IP addresses.

A woman placed her ballot in a tabulation machine after voting at a high school in Detroit on Nov. 8, 2016. Computer scientist J. Alex Halderman, who led a push to examine voting results from Michigan and other states last year, is set to testify in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday.

A woman placed her ballot in a tabulation machine after voting at a high school in Detroit on Nov. 8, 2016. Computer scientist J. Alex Halderman, who led a push to examine voting results from Michigan and other states last year, is set to testify in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday. PHOTO: JEFF KOWALSKY/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
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The North Carolina State Board of Elections’ investigations unit, led by a former FBI agent, is investigating the reported attempts to compromise VR Systems Inc., a Tallahassee, Fla., firm whose electronic poll book software was used on Election Day in 21 of the state’s 100 counties.

The software deals with checking voters in, not with counting their votes. But on Election Day last year, that system failed in Durham County, which holds the state’s most reliable Democratic voters. That forced the county to issue ballots by hand, meaning longer lines and delays—factors that can often depress turnout. The county voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton by 77.7%, while Mr. Trump won the state with 49.8% of the vote, according to the state’s board of elections.

“The Republicans were claiming that this was Democratic voter fraud, but maybe the other explanation, the simplest answer, is most likely to be the correct one. Look at the Russians,” said Gerry Cohen, former special counsel to the North Carolina legislature and an expert on state election law. “If you were trying to hurt Democrats in North Carolina, shutting down Durham’s Election Day voter check-in would be your quickest and most effective method.”

The aim of the Senate hearing, according to an email sent by a committee aide to those testifying, is to “give the public an unclassified look at Russian activity in the 2016 U.S. election, as well as a look at what we are facing from an election security standpoint in 2018 and 2020.”

Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, meanwhile, will testify before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on Wednesday to discuss “Russian active measures” during the 2016 election.

Scary Ways Hackers Could Impact the U.S. Election (From Sept. 8, 2016)

 https://www.wsj.com/articles/state-officials-to-testify-on-possible-russian-involvement-in-2016-election-1497787201?mod=e2tw
Scary Ways Hackers Could Impact the U.S. Election
America’s democratic election process appeared to be the target of Russian hackers in 2016, according to some top government officials. So how could foreign actors have hacked the U.S. election and what could they do with voter information? WSJ’s Shelby Holliday explains the worst case scenarios. Photo: iStock
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Department of Homeland Security officials have said at least 20 states were targeted during the 2016 election. Last August, the FBI issued a warning to state governments that cited the Illinois breach and a hacking attempt in Arizona. Speaking before the House Judiciary Committee last September, then-FBI Director James Comey said the agency’s counterintelligence investigators were “doing an awful lot of work…to understand just what mischief is Russia up to in connection with our election.”

An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment on the agency’s investigation.

In early June, the website the Intercept published a top-secret National Security Agency document that said Russian military intelligence had executed a cyberattack on at least one U.S. voting software supplier in August 2016.

The document also said Russian operatives had sent “spear-phishing” emails to more than 100 email addresses linked to local government organizations—potentially including local election officials—in the days preceding the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The NSA report, however, didn’t draw conclusions about whether such activity had any effect on the outcome of the election.

At least five counties in Florida have reported receiving the phishing emails described in the Intercept article that appeared to come from VR Systems. But none appear to have resulted in a breach of their voting systems.

Earlier this month, VR Systems said it had no indication that any customers had been compromised by the phishing emails and said it has “policies and procedures in effect to protect our customers and our company.”

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly testified before a Senate committee in Washington on June 6. Mr. Kelly said at the hearing that he doesn’t support rolling back a federal designation of voting apparatus as ‘critical infrastructure.’

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly testified before a Senate committee in Washington on June 6. Mr. Kelly said at the hearing that he doesn’t support rolling back a federal designation of voting apparatus as ‘critical infrastructure.’ PHOTO: SUSAN WALSH/ASSOCIATED PRESS
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As states undertake their own investigations of the 2016 election, the Department of Homeland Security is weighing whether to maintain the designation of voting apparatus as “critical infrastructure,” which gives the federal government additional authority to protect the systems, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said in testimony to the Senate Homeland Security Committee earlier this month.

That decision was made by Mr. Kelly’s predecessor, Mr. Johnson, and Mr. Kelly testified that he has had a “large amount of pushback” on the determination from states and members of Congress.

Many states have expressed concern about additional federal authority over their election systems and have said the Constitution provides states the right to run their own elections.

In his testimony earlier this month, Mr. Kelly said he doesn’t support rolling back the designation and hopes to persuade states that they allow the federal government to be helpful on such issues. When asked about the review of the designation, a Department of Homeland Security official defended it, emphasizing that it allows the department to “prioritize our cybersecurity assistance to election officials, for those who request it.”

“A designation makes it easier for the federal government to have full and frank discussions with key stakeholders regarding sensitive vulnerability information,” the Homeland Security official said. The official also noted that the designation creates no new regulations for states.

Write to Rebecca Ballhaus at Rebecca.Ballhaus@wsj.com, Erica Orden at erica.orden@wsj.com and Valerie Bauerlein at valerie.bauerlein@wsj.com

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One Response to “State Officials to Testify on Possible Russian Involvement in 2016 Election”

  1. Brittius Says:

    Reblogged this on Brittius.

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