Voting machine tampering points to concern for fall election

Aug 25, 2022, 12:41 AM | Updated: Aug 26, 2022, 10:18 am
FILE - Pueblo County Clerk Gilbert “Bo” Ortiz checks the status of voting machines that apparen...

FILE - Pueblo County Clerk Gilbert “Bo” Ortiz checks the status of voting machines that apparently failed to work correctly, causing long delays in election results being released on Nov, 8, 2016 in Pueblo, Colo. In Pueblo County, election officials are preparing for every possibility during the November general election. Ortiz oversees elections as the clerk and recorder in Pueblo County, which Donald Trump narrowly won in 2016 but lost four years later. (Chris McLean/The Pueblo Chieftain via AP, File)

(Chris McLean/The Pueblo Chieftain via AP, File)

DENVER (AP) — On the last day of voting in Colorado’s June primary, a poll worker sent to wipe down a voting machine found a concerning error message on its screen: “USB device change detected.”

The machine, used to mark ballots electronically, was taken out of use and an investigation launched. The message raised concerns that a voter had tried to tamper with it by inserting an off-the-shelf thumb drive.

The incident heightened concerns among election officials and security experts that conspiracy theories related to the 2020 presidential election could inspire some voters to meddle with — or even attempt to sabotage — election equipment. Even unsuccessful breaches, like the apparent one in the county south of Colorado Springs, could become major problems in the November general election, when turnout will be greater and the stakes higher — causing delays at polling places or sowing the seeds of misinformation campaigns.

Activists who promote the false claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from former President Donald Trump have been traveling the country peddling a narrative that electronic voting machines are being manipulated. They have specifically targeted equipment made by Dominion Voting Systems, which has filed several defamation lawsuits and said that post-election reviews in state after state have shown its tallies to be accurate.

“This is yet another example of how lies about Dominion have damaged our company and diminished the credibility of U.S. elections,” company spokesperson Stephanie Walstrom said in a statement to The Associated Press.

Despite no evidence of widespread fraud or manipulation in the 2020 election, the voting machine conspiracies have sunk in with a wide swath of Republican voters. Many of them have berated county commissions throughout the country, seeking to ditch voting equipment in favor of hand-marking and hand-counting all ballots.

The incident in Pueblo County highlights a troubling reality, that any voter propelled by conspiracy theories could try to tamper with voting machines.

“You get people motivated and activated, and who knows what they are going to come up with to fight machines they don’t trust,” said election technology expert Kevin Skoglund.

While it’s difficult to stop such vigilante attempts, experts say the nation’s election infrastructure is well-positioned to detect them quickly, as the Colorado county was able to do. Not only does election security involve layers of defenses, but a majority of the country now uses hand-marked paper ballots. That means an accurate tally can be reached in case something does go wrong and the results questioned.

Perhaps more concerning is what could happen during the time election officials are investigating a suspected attack and working to validate the results. That’s when people can exploit the uncertainty and sow doubt about the election outcome.

“We’ve got so many layers of security and protections that have built over years,” said Michigan’s Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. “The bigger threats are outside infiltration, as opposed to the machines themselves, and that’s what we’re trying to prepare for — because that’s the greatest system of unknowns.”

False claims by Trump and his allies that the 2020 presidential election was rigged have been widely debunked and discredited, with no evidence of widespread fraud or manipulation substantiated nearly two years after the election. Numerous judges, some appointed by Trump, dismissed lawsuits filed after the election, while Trump’s own attorney general said the Justice Department found no fraud that would have changed the results.

Lies about the 2020 election have led to security breaches at some local election offices, including one in Mesa County, Colorado. Authorities in a handful of states are investigating whether officials provided access to their voting systems to conspiracy theorists.

Those concerns are adding to worries about the physical security of the machines, which should never be left unsecured. At polling places, the workers are trained to keep a close eye on equipment and flag anything suspicious.

Election officials also use locks and tamper-evident seals, so it becomes apparent if someone has tried to access voting equipment. Trigger alerts make machines inoperable if someone tries to tamper with them, which is what happened in Colorado on June 28.

Late in the afternoon, poll workers at the Pueblo County vote center heard noises coming from a voting booth. When a poll worker went to investigate and clean the machine, they saw the error message and notified a supervisor. Law enforcement and state election officials were immediately told of the incident.

What triggered the error message is part of the security protocols that protect voting machines.

Election officials can take measures to ensure that unauthorized devices don’t infect voting equipment. They can configure their systems to recognize only proprietary devices, such as USB drives from the voting system manufacturer, or employ a system that allows connections only with devices containing a pre-authorized digital signature.

If someone attempts to insert any unauthorized USB device, an error message appears, and the machine won’t work unless someone with administrator-level access overrides it.

In the Pueblo County case, the tamper-evident seal on the voting machine appeared to be disturbed. The case remains under investigation, and prosecutors are reviewing evidence.

This year, Colorado lawmakers broadened the definition of tampering with election equipment and strengthened the penalty for it. Formerly a misdemeanor offense with a penalty of up to 364 days in jail, it is now a felony punishable by up to three years in prison.

“Lies about America’s elections are causing security risks,” said Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold. “Any actor who tries to subvert the will of the people should be held responsible under the law.”

Federal officials have been working with those on the state and local levels to improve their security defenses since voting systems were designated as “critical infrastructure” after the 2016 election — along with banks, dams and nuclear power plants.

State and local election officials who weren’t already doing so have added locks, video camera surveillance of equipment storage locations and door access cards to limit those who can enter secure areas. Other security steps include limiting access to voting equipment to only those who need it and ensuring that sensitive systems are not connected to the internet.

“I have high confidence that jurisdictions are putting the necessary tools in place to be able to prevent and detect any kind of nefarious activities,” said Kim Wyman, who leads election security efforts at the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

In Pueblo County, election officials are preparing for every possibility during the November general election. Gilbert “Bo” Ortiz oversees elections as the clerk and recorder in Pueblo County, which Trump narrowly won in 2016 but lost four years later.

Ortiz sees a bit of irony in efforts by those who question the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, whether it’s flooding his office with record requests, demanding recounts or attempting to tamper with equipment.

“All they are doing is proving the integrity of our system,” Ortiz said.

___

Cassidy reported from Atlanta.

___

Follow AP’s coverage of the 2022 Midterms at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections

___

This story has been corrected to update the name of the spokesperson for Dominion Voting Systems.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - The Nord Stream 1 Baltic Sea pipeline and the transfer station of the OPAL gas pipeline, the...
Associated Press

Germany: pressure drops in second Russia gas pipeline

BERLIN (AP) — The Nord Stream 1 pipeline leading from Russia to Europe has reported a drop in pressure, only hours after a leak was reported in the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in the Baltic Sea off Denmark, The German economy ministry said. “We are investigating this incident as well, together with the authorities concerned […]
24 hours ago
FILE- Hilaree Nelson of Telluride, Colorado, left and James Morrison of Tahoe, California, raise th...
Associated Press

Famed American ski mountaineer missing in Nepal mountain

KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — Rescuers in a helicopter were searching on the world’s eighth-highest mountain Tuesday for a famed U.S. ski mountaineer a day after she fell off the mountain near the peak. Also Monday, an avalanche at a lower elevation on Mount Manaslu swept several climbers, killing a Nepali guide and injuring other climbers. […]
24 hours ago
South Carolina Rep. John McCravy, R-Greenwood, talks about a total ban on abortion he has proposed ...
Associated Press

Major abortion law changes unlikely in S. Carolina after Roe

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Whether conservative South Carolina changes its abortion laws at all in the wake of this year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision may be decided by divided conservatives Tuesday in the state House. South Carolina for decades was at the forefront of passing more restrictive abortion laws that challenged Roe v. Wade. before […]
24 hours ago
Adismarys Abreu, 16, poses for a photo at her home, Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022, in Miami. Abreu had bee...
Associated Press

Teen interest in long-lasting birth control soars after Roe

Sixteen-year-old Adismarys Abreu had been discussing a long-lasting birth control implant with her mother for about a year as a potential solution to increasing menstrual pain. Then Roe v. Wade was overturned, and Abreu joined the throng of teens rushing to their doctors as states began to ban or severely limit abortion. “I’m definitely not […]
24 hours ago
FILE - Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, speaks during a rally outside the White House i...
Associated Press

Jury to be picked for Oath Keeper boss’ Jan. 6 sedition case

Jury selection is expected to get underway Tuesday in the trial of the founder of the far-right Oath Keepers extremist group and four associates charged with seditious conspiracy, one of the most serious cases to emerge from the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. Stewart Rhodes and the others are the first Jan. […]
24 hours ago
Former Miss America Cara Mund poses in front of the North Dakota state Capitol in Bismarck, N.D., S...
Associated Press

Cara Mund’s House pitch rides on abortion, outsider appeal

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — When Cara Mund was competing to become Miss North Dakota, a key part of her platform was increasing the number of women elected to political office. Later, after she became the state’s first Miss America winner, she traveled the country to encourage women to use their voice to make an impact. […]
24 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.
...

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!
...

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]
Voting machine tampering points to concern for fall election