Here’s how Virginia has improved election security to prevent foreign interference

Virginia Politics

FILE – In this Oct. 20, 2020, file photo an election worker pulls a stack of returned ballots from a sorting machine at the King County Elections office Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020, in Renton, Wash. U.S. officials said Thursday, Oct. 22, that Russian hackers have targeted the networks of dozens of state and local governments in the United States in recent days, stealing data from at least two servers. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- Virginia election officials say they are more prepared than ever to fight off foreign interference after making a number of improvements since 2016. 

The Department of Homeland Security said, during the last presidential race, Russia tried to hack election systems in Virginia and 20 other states. Intelligence agencies have since found that they weren’t able to alter any votes but they were in some ways successful at undermining faith in the process.  

Virginia Department of Elections Commissioner Chris Piper said voters can be confident that their ballot is secure.

As concerns over possible foreign tampering grew, Piper said Virginia banned electronic voting machines in 2017–instead opting for an all-paper system. Still today, some states have yet to universally switch to what is now considered by some the gold-standard of election security.   

“If there are ever any questions about the results of the election, we have paper ballots that you actually mark to go back and review and count,” Piper said. 

Focus on foreign interference was reinvigorated earlier this month when the FBI said Russia and Iran obtained voter registration information with the intention of influencing the election.  

Piper said Virginia was not impacted by the effort but he added that the information they gathered is largely available to the public. He said it’s common for voter lists to be sold to political campaigns and PACs. He said no social security numbers or birthdays were stolen.  

“This is not something you should worry about,” Piper said. “I liken this to…somebody stole a phone book and posted it online.” 

Additionally, Piper said election staff with access to the voter registration system now have to clear two-factor authentication designed to block bad actors.   

Recently, Gov. Ralph Northam’s Administration said more backup circuits were added to safeguard the online voter registration system after an accidentally cut Verizon cable shut it down for hours on the last day to apply. The incident led to concerns that the system could be vulnerable on Election Day, when poll workers will need to access registration information to verify large numbers of voters.

Virginia’s Secretary of Administration Keyanna Conner was asked about this in a press conference on Wednesday.  

“We feel very confident at this moment that we have resolved this issue. Of course, we cannot predict any acts of god,” Conner said. “It’s highly unlikely that we would experience that same thing again.”  

Generally, Piper emphasized that state and federal partners are in constant communication.

“It’s unlike anything we have seen in previous elections,” Piper said. “If something does happen, we have a team in place and the procedures and the policies to get us back up and running as quickly as possible with minimal loss of data if any.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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