Hacking. Troll Farms. Propaganda Campaigns and Bots. These are not terms that the average Wisconsinite uses every day. However, we do need to understand what they mean and how they impact our election system. At the very least, residents should have the expectation that Republicans controlling the state legislature are aware of these concerns and are working with Democrats to ensure that our most fundamental right as Americans, the right to vote, is protected. But, I guess Governor Scott Walker didn’t get the memo or for months has chosen to ignore it.
In August 2016, the FBI discovered evidence that foreigners had breached two state election databases.
They warned election officials across the country to take steps to insure the security of their computer systems used in their elections process.
In October 2016, the Department of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a joint statement on behalf of 16 U.S. Intelligence agencies. In part the statement said, “The U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations….
These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process. This would be “hacking”.
In June 2017, cybersecurity officials in the US government said that Russian hackers attacked voter systems in 21 states. At the time, the Department of Homeland Security were not releasing the names of the states targeted, but Arizona and Illinois publicly acknowledged that their systems were a part of the 21 states. Public outcry required that DHS notify the states that had been impacted.
In September 2017, we learned that Wisconsin was among the 21 states that Russian government hackers targeted in an effort to swing the 2016 presidential election towards Donald Trump. Although, security officials report that no votes were changed, everyone was now on notice that we needed to shore up and protect our statewide election systems. What did Governor Walker do to address this threat?
In September 2017, Governor Walker vetoed five positions allocated to the Wisconsin Election Commission (WEC) by the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) intended to protect Wisconsin elections.
In December 2017, the WEC requested authority to create 3 staff positions that would specifically focus on securing our elections against cyberattacks. Their request was met with silence.
In February 2018, outgoing WEC Administrator Michael Hass stated, “[w]e are running out of time for the positions to be of significant help to the agency, clerks, or voters prior to the fall election cycle.”
Democratic members of JFC, seeking to help increase election security, sent a letter to the Republican chairs of the committee asking them to act.
In March 2018, Congress established $380 million in grants to improve election administration. Wisconsin is eligible for nearly $7 million dollars of these funds.
In April 2018, how protected were our elections from hackers? Going into the fall elections, we shouldn’t still be asking how secure are Wisconsin’s elections are.