Local election officials not concerned about cyber threats to voters

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HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) — As if there wasn’t enough tension from the race for president itself, cyber threats on Election Day cause more worry.

The intelligence community says hackers may try to disrupt the vote count or even the nation’s power grid. But local election officials say individual votes cannot be hacked. Instead, the biggest cyber threat to Election Day, as of now, comes from online voter registration.

“There’s no way you can hack into the voting equipment at a single polling place,” said Al Ablowich, Chairman of the Virginia Beach Electoral Board.

That’s because Virginia uses paper ballots counted by a machine that’s not connected to the internet — making polling places offline.

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“Each polling location is independent. There’s no communication outside that polling location, either with a poll book or with a tabulation of the ballots,” said Ablowich.

Where we could see a threat is with the state’s online voter registration database. Ablowich didn’t know details, but the Virginia Department of Elections told him they are prepared. He said, “They have taken measures to mitigate or to avoid any type of hacking or anytime of intrusion into their system.”

Ablowich also says the entire process is designed to limit outside interruptions.

“There are procedures, written procedures every step of the way, checklists to follow.  So we don’t make this stuff up on the fly. It’s pretty well-documented what we do,” said Ablowich.

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Intelligence community officials say hackers are more likely to target social media, using sites like Twitter and Facebook. They are also taking steps to prepare for worst-case scenarios, like a cyber attack that shuts down part of the power grid or the internet. The president has been briefed about these potential attacks. Plus, officials plan to have all six federal cyber centers up and running on Election Day. As of now, intelligence officials say there’s no specific warning about an Election Day attack.

“If there’s any hacking to be done, it would probably be done at a level higher than this,” Ablowich said.

Ablowich expects Election Day to run smoothly.

“It’s completely unreasonable to expect a hacking event will occur at a precinct,” he said.

Ablowich also wants to remind voters to go make sure they go to the right precinct, bring the correct form of ID, and be informed about what’s on the ballot.