Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft is assuring residents that mid-term election voting will be secure and free of cyber breaches. The secretary held a joint news conference with Governor Mike Parson Thursday to highlight steps his office has taken to prevent security breakdowns.
Federal security personnel discovered that voting systems in 21 states were targeted by Russian-connected hackers in 2016. One of them was neighboring Illinois, where up to 76,000 voters may have had their personal information compromised.
As a result, Congress allocated $380 million to secure election systems and shore up cybersecurity. $7.2 million came to Missouri, which Ashcroft says is being used to upgrade voter registration systems and beef up Internet Technology capabilities for local election authorities.
The first-term secretary of state told reporters that his office has been working for more than a year with federal agencies as well as third-party computer experts to improve safeguards against attempts to hack into the state’s digital election networks as well as efforts at phishing and spear phishing. He also said there’s also a focus on blocking physical attempts to meddle with election equipment.
According to Ashcroft, there’s agreement on the state and federal level that there’s been no attempt to compromise Missouri’s voting system. He did say the state’s digital network is scanned by outside sources 100,000 times per day but noted the inquiries were superficial in nature. “Those are at best the cyber equivalent of someone walking past your house and looking to see if your window was open, or jiggling your doorknob,” said Ashcroft.
The secretary contends there has been no indication of any inappropriate interaction with voter registration information. He noted that such voter information is available to any individual under the state’s sunshine law for a $35 fee.
There’s been heightened concern over outside interference since numerous federal agencies confirmed that Russia attempted to meddle in the 2016 elections. Election security experts and government officials such as Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen have recommended states use voting systems that offer a paper trail to ensure results are properly recorded.
Secretary Ashcroft stressed that all Missouri voting machines have a paper backup. “There are no votes that are digital ones and zeroes,” Ashcroft said. “Every vote in Missouri has a paper record. There are required audits after the election. There is a real physical audit trail.” Five states – Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, New Jersey, and South Carolina – have no such paper trails, in addition to eight states that use paperless voting machines in some counties.
Ashcroft acknowledged Missouri has some electronic voting machines in the St. Louis area but said they all print a record of every vote. “Even on those machines, you have a cash register tape that every time there’s a vote, it tabulates that and shows that there is a paper record.”
Secretary Ashcroft emphasized that every registered voter can vote, and their vote will count. He did not mention a recent court decision striking down a requirement for voters who don’t present a photo ID to sign an affidavit.
Evidence was presented in the court case that some registered voters without photo ID had difficulty casting a regular ballot in August 2017 elections, although they were ultimately able to vote. Ashcroft, a Republican who campaigned on the requirement for photo voter ID’s in his 2016 election, is appealing the ruling to the Missouri Supreme Court. The high bench declined a request by the attorney general’s office representing Ashcroft for an emergency stay of the lower court decision. The Supreme Court hasn’t announced whether it will hear the appeal.
Ashcroft has been active efforts to strengthen election security, although his political leanings have sometimes shown through. He Hosted a two-day National Election Security Summit in St. Louis in September.
He also testified before the U.S. Senate Rules Committee chaired by fellow Missouri Republican Roy Blunt in June. At the hearing, Ashcroft said voter fraud is “an exponentially greater threat than hacking” to the U.S. election system.
Ashcroft favors the requirement of photo ID to prevent voter fraud. His critics, including many Democrats, contend requiring photo IDs would only expose the act of voter impersonation, which they claim is virtually non-existent.