How Secure Are Our Elections, & Do Voters Trust Them? | New Hampshire Public Radio

How Secure Are Our Elections, & Do Voters Trust Them?

Feb 3, 2020

N.H. uses paper ballots, but voting districts use machines to calculate results.

  

A recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that 41% percent of Americans "do not think the country is prepared to protect the U.S. election system from attack," says NPR's Pam Fessler.  How are federal and local officials working to secure our elections? We discuss with Fessler, and  NHPR's Casey McDermott, who covers election security and voting in N.H.  

Original air date: Monday, February 3, 2020.

Related Reading:

  

GUESTS:

  • Casey McDermott - Investigative reporter for NHPR, where she has been covering voting and election issues in N.H.
  • Pam Fessler - National political correspondent for NPR, where she has been covering election security. 
  • David Becker - Founder and executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, a nonprofit focused on improving election administration through research, data, and technology. 

  Check out Casey McDermott's reporting on voting and election issues in N.H.:

"Proposal to Allow Post-Election Audits In N.H. Comes Up For Debate." 

"Protector Of N.H. Primary Claims 'You Can't Hack This Pencil,' But Worries Persist."

N.H.'s Paper Ballots Are Hard to Hack, But That's Only Part of the Election Security Puzzle." 

"What N.H. Voters Need To Know Following Trial Over SB3 Voting Law." 

Read Pam Fessler's coverage of national elections and voting security issues with NPR:

"Election Officials To Convene Amid Historic Focus On Voting And Interference." 

"As Americans Fear Foreign Interference, Federal Agencies Work To Secure Elections." 

"American Distrust Of The Voting Process Is Widespread, NPR Poll Finds."

Transcript:

This is a computer-generated transcript, and may contain errors.

 

I'm Laura Knoy and this is The Exchange.

Laura Knoy:
How secure are America's voting systems? A recent poll by NPR shows many Americans have their doubts. Forty-one percent say they're worried. This year's elections will not be fair or accurate. And that's despite massive recent efforts to bolster security and boost voter confidence. And so today, on The Exchange, we find out what those efforts look like around the country. And here in New Hampshire, and we'll ask what more could be done to guard against a range of threats from simple machine malfunctions to foreign cyber attacks. Let's get your questions in two. How secure do you think I vote in these systems are? Let us know.

Laura Knoy:
With me in studio, Casey McDermott, investigative reporter for NHPR, where she's been covering election security and voting issues. And Casey, thank you very much for being here. We appreciate it.

Casey McDermott:
Thanks for having me.

Laura Knoy:
And joining us from NPR, Pam Fessler. She's a correspondent on NPR's National Desk and she's been covering voter laws and elections. And Pam Fessler, welcome back. Great to have you on The Exchange. Thank you. Glad to be here.

Pam Fessler:
Well, and Pam, the good news from that survey that I just cited is if 40 percent of Americans are worried about election security, it means 60 percent aren't as worried about it. Still, among those who have concerns about security, what are they worried about, Pam?

Pam Fessler:
Well, people seem to be worried about a lot of things. And as you point out, I mean, it's a pretty sizable number of people who are concerned. Our polls showed that 44 percent of Americans think that it's likely that many votes will not be counted, which is pretty extraordinary. 37 percent think a foreign country will actually tamper with votes to change the results. More than half think there's gonna be voter fraud. And that includes 74 percent of Republicans. Most Americans that we polled think that it's like a for a foreign government will spread false information about the candidates. And that's really concerning because more than half say they have a hard time telling the difference between fact and fiction. And then also, 43 percent think that people are going to show up and be told they're not eligible to vote. So they're just told a broad range of concerns.

Laura Knoy:
Wow. Lots of anxiety out there. And in your reporting, Pam, you talked to some of the top people in the country who are keeping an eye on this. One of them, Christopher Krebs, who directs the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity Agency, told you, quote, People should be more confident than they are. So explain that to us, Pam.

Pam Fessler:
Well, I mean, it's kind of interesting, even though there all these concerns that people have, if you look back at recent elections, in fact, most of these things didn't happen. We don't there's no evidence of widespread voter fraud. There's no evidence that the Russians actually tampered with any votes. They certainly tried to hack into the voter registration systems. So we really don't have evidence that there are massive problems with the voting system. And some people say that election stay are probably fairer and more accurate than they've ever been before.

Pam Fessler:
And one of the reasons that Krebs, who works is with the Department of Homeland Security, is so confident is since 2016, there has been a massive effort by state, federal and local officials to work together, election officials to work together to try and tighten cybersecurity, to distribute massive resources, new voting equipment that has paper ballots, which those paper ballots can be audited after the election to verify that the results and to give voters confidence that the results, in fact, are accurate. These officials have been doing they they almost, quite frankly, have daily contact, the state, federal, local government. They talk to each other about potential threats. They do tabletop exercises. The federal government has provided what are called Albert sensors for every single state in the country is now using them and they monitor their election systems like their state voter registration databases to see if there are, you know, any suspicious behavior as far as attempted hacks. And if there are, they report them immediately.

Laura Knoy:
Wow. It's really interesting. So Casey McDermott talked to our deputy secretary of state, Dave Scanlan, pretty extensively about this. And he reiterates kind of what you said, Pam, that, you know, his office is doing its best to put the best protections in place. But one challenge Dave Scanlan said he can't control is moving public opinion on social media.

Dave Scanlan (sound clip):
We just have to be vigilant moving forward, because no matter what we do, if it's an automatic system, he's probably waiting to get into it. And so we just have to be aware of that and put the best protections in place that we can. Another area of this whole discussion is moving public opinion on social media, and that's something that is really outside the things that we can do, except. Let voters know that if they have questions about elections and how they're run and what they need to do to be able to participate in that process, then they look to their local election officials in New Hampshire. We look to the secretary of state or the attorney general's office as their trusted source of information and not necessarily rely on all the chatter that's going on on the periphery.

Laura Knoy:
Again, that's New Hampshire's deputy secretary of state, Dave Scanlan. So, Casey McDermott, what did you hear from either top officials like Dave Scanlan or from some of the many poll workers that you talked to about this? Well, this public perception that things will go wrong, even though, as Pam said, there have been massive efforts to make things go right.

Casey McDermott:
Sure. And I think an important distinction to make or something that's really important to emphasize here in New Hampshire that I know the secretary of state's office really likes to emphasize to make sure that people have some degree of kind of fundamental trust in the voting system is that we are a paper based state and have been for quite some time. So over the last few decades, we've seen other states move in the direction of having more kind of electronic voting machines, more electronic and online components of their voting systems. New Hampshire, on the other hand, we still have paper ballots. We've always had paper ballots when people go to register. That's done on paper. Now, that being said, it's important to to mention that there are still parts of the system that are interconnected. So when someone registers that registration ultimately gets entered into a database and that's where the concerns arise. So there's been a lot of emphasis on protecting the voter registration database over the last few years. So that's included increased cybersecurity training for the local poll workers who are responsible for maintaining that.

Casey McDermott:
That's included additional software that's meant to kind of hard in the exterior of that database so that it's harder for people to get into you. That's also included some programs to monitor kind of the so-called dark web for looming hacking threats. That's one of the things that the secretary of state's office has spent some significant money on in recent years. But at the same time, I know Pam was was mentioning that kind of increased cooperation between federal and state officials. There is still some degree of hesitation on the part of the secretary of state's office here in New Hampshire to fully accept all of the resources that the federal government has offered. So, for example, one of the things that has been offered by federal and other state agencies is this thing called like cyber hygiene. So basically, like they wouldn't do assessments of like vulnerabilities in the states election systems. The secretary of state's office said Deputy Secretary of State Dave Scanlan told me that they have not accepted those offers and they are instead using private vendors to handle that instead.

Laura Knoy:
Let's hear a little bit of that interview you did with Dave Scanlan about the extent to which his office is comfortable coordinating with the federal government.

Dave Scanlan (sound clip):
We have not accepted any offer of an actual cyber hygiene offer from really any agency, federal or state. We have undertaken those activities on our own with friends that have been provided by the federal government.

Casey McDermott:
Why is that?

Dave Scanlan (sound clip):
We want to make sure that we're the ones that are responsible for our elections. And, you know, I think we have a healthy distrust of an outside agency who's trying to get access to our databases to perform certain functions.

Laura Knoy:
Again, that's Deputy Secretary of State Dave Scanlan talking with NHP, Casey McDermott, about elections, security. And that's what we're looking at today in The Exchange. We're asking how secure are America's voting systems? As we said, a recent poll by NPR shows many Americans have their doubts, and that is despite huge recent efforts to improve security, to improve voter competence. We're finding out what those efforts look like, where the vulnerabilities still might be. And we'd love to hear from you. 1 800 989 2 6 4 7 7 is our number. So, Pam Fessler, you spent part of last week at a national conference of secretaries of state, super interesting and super timely for our show today. What did people there say about the extent of cooperation they were comfortable with with the federal government or coordinating with other states or other entities? Pam?

Pam Fessler:
Well, it's interesting hearing your New Hampshire official, I think that is definitely the minority opinion. Most of the state there has been a sea change since 2016. I think the suspicions among state officials and local election officials about what the federal government. Might do in terms of election security were very, very high.

Pam Fessler:
And since then, there has been so much so many meetings and so much talk. And I think that the federal government, the federal officials and it's primarily the Department of Homeland Security that has been working with with the states. They have bent over backwards to say, oh, no, we don't want to take over. And in fact, they have actually become much more almost deferential, it seems to me. But you do see a wide range of of cooperation. Some states are working, as I say, hand in glove with the federal government. They.

Pam Fessler:
Say the state of Ohio. I mean, they they are talking that the secretary of state of Ohio told me that he he or somebody in his office probably talks to the Department of Homeland Security about election security every single day. And they're sharing resources. And, you know, those resources and things like the cyber hygiene services that the Department of Homeland Security offers to states and localities.

Pam Fessler:
It's interesting because it's free. They don't have to pay for it. So a lot of states are more than happy to take up the federal government on their offer.

Pam Fessler:
The other thing that I think that's interesting since 2016 is the Department of Homeland Security admits when this first happened, when we first learned that Russians had tried to hack into state voter registration databases and into election vendors as well, that they honestly did - And they admit this now, they did not understand how elections work in the United States of America. One of the first things that one of their officials today said to me this past week said, you know, when it first happened, when it first broke that the Russians were targeting U.S. election systems, we called the Federal Election Election Commission, which actually handles campaign finance, they don't handle elections. They said they didn't even know that this agency called the Election Assistance Commission existed. And that's the group that works with state and local officials. So, I mean, they admit this now. And I think that that that has helped a lot in in in building trust with the state.

Laura Knoy:
So you told us earlier, Pam, about the concerns that voters had in that survey that NPR did. So you spent some time with the secretaries of state and D.C. What kind of concerns did they raise beyond that one that we already talked about, which is despite all the efforts, some voters don't feel confident. But what else did they express to you, Pam?

Pam Fessler:
Well, I'd say one of the biggest concerns, new concerns this year is the impact of ransomware, which we have seen affecting local government operations and businesses around the country. Where somebody comes in, they're able to hack into a local computer system, basically take control and demand ransom or else all the records will be deleted. There is a huge concern that something might like that might happen on election day in maybe some strategic areas where where the election isn't especially close. So that is a huge new concern that officials have. And a lot of these election systems, you know, officials will say, oh, well, we're not connect. There are voting machines are not connected to the Internet, but their operation, the whole election management system generally is connected to other computers within the local government apparatus. It might be the same computer that somebody uses that in the clerk's office, you know, to to to keep records so that that, as a as I say, is a huge concern.

Pam Fessler:
I think there's also a concern of about other types of disruption that aren't specifically targeted, say, voting machines or the election system, but possibly a disruption such as an attack on the electric power grid and how that might affect elections and voting.

Pam Fessler:
Say it happens on election day and the lights go out. The power goes out. What contingencies are there to make sure that the election can still go on? And this is the type of thing they are talking about right now.

Pam Fessler:
And then also, I really used disinformation is by far the other concern that they have because that's so difficult to control. And it's not just disinformation about, oh, you're supposed to vote. You know, in this place instead of this place. And send people to the wrong precinct. It's also about things like, you know, raising doubts about the voting system itself, also about the election system, which is the type of disinformation we saw from Russia in 2016. And really, the intention is to sow sow discord and just make voters less confident in the whole process and maybe decide I'm just going to stay home.

Laura Knoy:
Wow. So lots to unpack there. In case you let's take the technical end of it first and then I have a lot more questions for both of you about the second part of what Pam said. But first of all, ransomware did a whole show on this a couple months ago. That's basically where some some person with bad intent goes into a business or a city or town or state computer systems and says, I'm grabbing all this data and you can't have it back until you pay me.

Casey McDermott:
Yeah. And I think I mean, I think it is a testament to how how much the views on this have evolved within the election official community or election administration community. As Pam was saying, nationally but also locally over the last few years that I went to a poll worker training and Gore earlier in in January in the lead up to the presidential primary. And at that training, you know, a significant amount of time was devoted to helping local election officials detect phishing attempts. So basically, when someone is trying to get you to give them information that could help them basically break in to kind of your personal information or in this case, the voter database, a lot of attention was placed in that presentation on detecting attempts to or what to do if you think that you are under a ransomware attack or what contended contingencies should be in place at the local level.

Casey McDermott:
And I do think it's also worth mentioning that, you know, as Pam was mentioning, mentioning earlier, the election system is a lot more kind of decentralized than I think a lot of people understand. So not just from a federal to state perspective, but also state to local, according to a report that the state had to submit to the federal government about how it's been using this big pool of money around election security in recent years. In that report, they said that they provide support. So the state of New Hampshire to 1128 election officials in New Hampshire. So that's a lot of people spread out across the state. That's a lot of people who are really on the front lines of the election. So there's been a lot of emphasis in making sure that those people who have varying levels of comfort with technology, varying levels of kind of software and security protections in their own local town offices are ready and prepared ahead of the primary and other big elections.

Laura Knoy:
Well, coming up, we'll talk a lot more about that because you're right. Elections are run so locally here in New Hampshire by a lot of, you know, volunteers who maybe not, you know, aren't up on the latest technology, don't even maybe know what ransomware is. And they're confronted with having to figure that out.

Laura Knoy:
So we will talk about that after a short break. And also getting back to some of the items that Pam mentioned, disinformation. Somebody said in one of the interviews you did, Casey, that there was a case where someone said Republicans vote on Tuesday, Democrats vote on Wednesday as everyone votes on the same day. Yes, that kind of disinformation. So we'll talk about that after a short break. And we'll start taking your calls at 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange. I'm Laura Knoy. today. How secure are America's elections? Federal and state governments have been bolstering security a lot since 2016. We're finding out what those efforts look like, where the systems might still be vulnerable. And we're taking your questions. What questions, comments or concerns do you have about the security of our voting systems? Coming up in the primary and then the general election later this year, our number is 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. In studio, Casey McDermott, investigative reporter for NHPR. She's been covering election security and voting issues. And on the line from NPR, Pam Fessler, correspondent on the national desk at NPR. She covers voting laws and elections and both of you. Just before the break, we were talking about all the emphasis now on cybersecurity and ransomware. And states and towns are trying to do so-called phishing exercises where poll workers get savvy about when somebody might be trying to hack into the system. Casey, you talk to a lot of poll workers and some of them, you know, are a little nervous about the emphasis on cybersecurity and the online aspects of elections. Many poll workers are volunteers. They're just coming out to contribute to their community. Here's one gentleman you talked to who's from the town of Liman.

Poll worker (sound clip):
What I know about computer systems. You could fit on a thimble. And to me, we do all hand-counting still look linemen and secure cyber security. To me, scares bejesus out of me. So hopefully this will be my last year. I won't have to worry about it anymore.

Laura Knoy:
Again, that's a poll worker in New Hampshire concerned about his requirements to keep an eye on cyber threats. Pam Fessler, what do you think? How are other states approaching the wonderful people who come out and volunteer at the polls in terms of training and getting ready to do the right thing?

Pam Fessler:
Well, I think that that that that was a wonderful quote from that man, you know, and I think he's representative of a lot of poll workers around the country. The local election offices have changed their training a lot so that they do, in fact, you know, instruct poll workers to look out for certain things. And a lot of it is just what you do. You know, you should know how the system is supposed to work. And are you seeing anything odd and unusual and to report it? I think that's that is the main message that they're trying to get out. As I say, you know, the other concern this year is a lot of states and localities will be using new voting equipment. We've had a shift over the recent few years, especially since 2016, from the electronic voting machines to ones that have paper ballots. And there are some states that are using entirely new equipment. And that also is a challenge for local election officials to not only train poll workers, but also the voters themselves on how to use this new equipment, because, you know, it could be something completely innocent, but that the machine breaks down and that that just in itself causes long lines and makes people suspicious. Oh, something's going on. Something nefarious when it possibly is not at all.

Laura Knoy:
Do you want to talk about that too, the voting machines here in New Hampshire. It's a little different. We're paper-based, but we do use machines to actually count the ballot.

Casey McDermott:
We do. And you know, in contrast to what Pam was saying, our machines are actually quite old. They're no longer being manufactured. So I've talked to local election officials here, and I know this is something that the state, you know, has started to take steps to kind of evaluate other options. But our local election officials are sometimes in the position of having to deal with malfunctions on the day of the elections, things getting jammed or the scanners not working properly. And they've actually had to kind of cobble together spare parts from these machines on kind of the you know, that that because they're no longer manufactured.

But to to to Pam's broader point about, you know, what can happen is that, you know, these machines aren't necessarily tampered with, but they just break and they might. You know, just like anything that is mechanical or anything that is electronic, it can just, you know, malfunction. So one of the things that the pollworkers in New Hampshire are trained to do is to feel really comfortable and confident, explaining what is happening as it is happening, so that if I'm a voter at my polling place and I see, you know, ballots getting jammed or a bunch of people kind of swarming around a machine, I don't start harboring suspicions that something is a foot. And instead, I can trust my local poll worker to tell me, well, actually, there's a little bit of a problem, but we have it under control. And here are the backup processes in place that we have to count the ballots. And that's again where the safeguard of New Hampshire's paper ballots is really important, because at the end of the day, they can count by hand if for some reason there's an issue with the scanners.

Laura Knoy:
It's go to our listeners, both of you, and Paul's calling it from Hudson. Hi, Paul. Thanks for being with us.

Listener call:
Hi. Thank you for taking the call. Sure, go ahead. One of the simplest statement was made about the the volunteer ballot workers in some towns not being aware of cyber security, but they don't need to know that most of our volunteers, other volunteers, they're paid. But many of our ballot workers, they're working off of paper check in list. Like you said, the ballot counting machines are just that accounting machine. There's nothing that can be hacked or or done in there. It's a case of they don't need to know anything about the computers unless we go to a computer check in system, which I guess we're looking at now and across the state to make it easier to check people through our long lines are mostly because of space limitations where we have a voting.

Laura Knoy:
So people don't need to your average poll worker, Paul, doesn't need to be up to date on ransomware or whatever that is, that that's the person who's in charge of that that polling site. But your average volunteer can just check people in and send them on their way. Is that what you're saying?

Listener call:
That's correct. We don't. They don't have any interaction with any computers that they need to deal with. So it's it's really a. Even if they're volunteers, we pay our ballot workers. But even if they're volunteers, they really as long as they get well trained in how to do it, then they can move things through rather quickly.

Listener call:
we do have breakdowns. Yeah. So I don't have any breakdown machines.

Laura Knoy:
I'm wondering, given, you know, some of these concerns that our guests are talking about. I do have a hard time finding people to volunteer to work at the polls.

Laura Knoy:
Ok. As Paul left us, I did want to ask him about that. Casey, have you found that, you know, cities and towns are having a hard time finding volunteers? Are people still very happy to step up?

Casey McDermott:
Yeah, I mean, I think that both things are true.

Casey McDermott:
There are people that are very happy to step up. And, you know, if you talk to a poll worker and most communities, or at least in my experience talking to poll workers, they are very happy to perform this kind of civic responsibility in their local communities. But at the same time, a lot of towns are having trouble getting people to work the polls and in particular in the larger communities or in cities or places like Durham, where there's a large crush of students from the nearby U.N. H. Camp campus. It can be really challenging to have enough people to adequately staff the polling places, not just to perform the function of checking voters and but also to help with managing long lines or, you know, acting as greeters. That's one thing that the state has started encouraging communities to do, particularly if you are concerned about long lines, is to ask people to just be there to help kind of introduce people, let them know what to expect when they get to the check in table to alleviate the kind of congestion that can sometimes happen.

Casey McDermott:
I do want to follow up, too, though, on one other thing that Paul mentioned, and I do think it bears repeating that the state does encourage all poll workers. So even if you're that person who's just checking someone in on Election Day, yes. You are working off of a paper checklist. You're not dealing in that moment with anything that's connected to the Internet. But the state does strongly encourage all of its local poll workers to take the election training. That includes a cybersecurity component because of the kind of big picture and the kind of complex nature of a lot of these issues and to make sure that they are prepared to respond to some of these concerns around misinformation and disinformation and rumors and and just making sure that they can be prepared to respond if they get questions about, you know, something that someone heard on Election Day.

Laura Knoy:
Wow. Well, it was really great to hear from Paul because as a town moderator, he's kind of got a firsthand look at this. So if other people listening work at elections and want to comment on their concerns or their confidence around voter security this year, we'd love to hear from you just like Paul did. You can give us a call at 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. OPam Fessler, I know you have. We have to let you go, but I love your last thoughts or comments about what you're going to be watching as these primaries and caucuses start rolling out in terms of voter security.

Pam Fessler:
Well, obviously, we'll we'll be looking for any type of potential disruptions. I quite frankly, I don't think we will see anything until maybe closer to the election. I did want to just sort of address the poll worker thing. Sure. You know, it has been obviously an issue for four years. I mean, to say that there is always a difficult to find enough poll workers. I, in fact, was a poll worker in the last election until in 2018 because I was on leave. It was the first time in 20 years covering this issue. I was able to actually do it. And it was such a an eye opener. It is a very complicated job, but it is unbelievably rewarding. And election officials, people who actually are employed to oversee elections, they encourage people if they have doubts or concerns about the elections, that they should volunteer as a poll worker, because then they can see firsthand all the things that are put in place to help protect elections.

Laura Knoy:
All right. Well, Pam, it was great to talk to you. Thank you very much for helping us out this morning.

Pam Fessler:
Thank you.

Laura Knoy:
That's Pam Fessler, correspondent on NPR's National Desk. She covers voting laws and elections. And Casey, I want to bring another voice into our conversation. Joining us now on the line is David Becker, founder and executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research. That's a nonprofit focused on improving election administration. The research, data and technology. And David Becker, welcome to Exchange. Thanks for being with us.

David Becker:
Thanks for having me.

Laura Knoy:
So just before the 2018 midterms, David, you wrote that those elections would be our most secure ever. Did you turn out to be right?

David Becker:
I think I did, if I can say so myself, had seen a lot of improvement by the time of the eighteen election, much more information sharing among state and local officials and also with the federal government as well.

David Becker:
There were more states that had moved to paper ballots that had been performing audits of those ballots. There was some money that had been appropriated from the federal government. So those were all very positive moves. And because we saw in 2018 that election went off very well, there were very few problems as a result of all the preparation that happened. That's even better news is that we didn't stop there. And there's been a lot of improvement since 2018, more money being appropriated, more states participating in information sharing with the federal government and with regard to paper ballots. We're going to see nationwide grow over 90 and probably over 90 percent of all voters are going to vote on paper with most of that paper being audited for accuracy.

Laura Knoy:
So in New Hampshire, of course, has stuck with its paper system for a long time. We're feeling we're feeling kind of proud of that here. You talk a lot about audits in terms of your recommendations for best practices. David, what are audits and why are they so important?

David Becker:
So in most places, New Hampshire is actually somewhat of an exception for this. But in most places, even though we have paper ballots, we rely upon machines to count a lot of those paper ballots. And that happens in New Hampshire. But there's also hand-counting reason we rely upon machines to count paper ballots. And actually there's a lot of research that suggests machines are much better at counting a lot of things accurately and quickly. But that being said, machines aren't perfect. Sometimes they malfunction. They could also be prone to some kind of malware. And so it's really important that there be a secondary process where we confirm that the machines accurately tabulated all of the vote. And that's what a post-election audit is to confirm that the right outcome was reached and confirmed the machine tabulators worked correctly. So taking a sampling of the paper ballots, reviewing them, comparing them to the machine tally is a way to confirm that in fact, everything worked as it was appropriate. And then also, very importantly, not just confirm that it worked well, but to communicate to voters that they should have confidence in the results as well through this transparent process.

Laura Knoy:
And roughly, how many states do this, David, remind us.

David Becker:
Well over well over half of the vast majority of states do some kind of audit. There are different kinds of audit that we're getting better and better at designing audits that are highly efficient and statistically accurate. And some states are experimenting with this. Colorado has been at the forefront of this. Rhode Island has done some of this. More states are going to be auditing their paper ballot through more sophisticated statistical means than ever. In November of twenty twenty, Casey, New Hampshire does or does not do audit says not only does it do audit with my understanding and which one of the things that probably one of the areas where to Hampshire is a little bit behind the trend nationally. It is a very good practice to perform a secondary process to confirm that any technology you're using is accurate. It's nice that there are that there are hand mark ballots in New Hampshire, that people mark them by hand. But of course, in some places they're tabulated by machines. And it's important to constantly confirm that anytime we use technology, that that technology is operating properly.

Laura Knoy:
Casey, why doesn't New Hampshire do audits?

Casey McDermott:
We we just don't have them in place. There have been a number of attempts over the years through the legislature to introduce audits as kind of standardized post-election procedure. In a lot of cases, the secretary of state's office has opposed those moves for a number of reasons. One of the explanations that the secretary of state's office has put forward as as why, in their view, we do not need to be as concerned about audits, is that we have a number of recounts here after any given election. I know. Super close. Yeah. At the same time, though. I know. And David David and I spoke with spoke about this recently as well. Election policy experts will point out that audits can let you know in some cases if you even need a recount. So it's important to have that, in their view, as kind of a baseline just to make sure that your underlying results that you're using to determine whether or not a recount is even needed are, in fact, accurate. Oh, that's interesting, because we often hear how expensive these recounts are. Casey. Right. So you could say somebody that way. And we do have a relatively low barrier to recounts in New Hampshire. So it's relatively easy to ask for one. But at the same time, as as David and others have said, any anytime you're using anything mechanical, having that added layer of kind of protection built into the process where you would, you know, perhaps select, you know, some some race and do a randomized audit that can instill greater confidence that the outcome was appropriately reached.

Laura Knoy:
David, last question for you, please. Besides audits, what are maybe two key actions that you wish all states would take to improve their overall security, the voting systems?

David Becker:
Well, I think and again, this is mostly good news, that most of these states have done these things. I think using the funds that come in from the federal government, the first thing goes to your local election officials that they can adequately train their staff of co-workers to engage in good cyber hygiene, really basic things like multi-factor authentication. If they're accessing state voter database or things along those lines, that's one one very, very important aspect. And then also really engaging in the information sharing that more than ever before since 2016, the federal government DHS has coordinated with the states with locals to share information on potential threats, allow the states to share information with their colleagues across the nation and down to the local level. We now have all 50 states, including New Hampshire. Well over 2000 local election officials partnering. And those that really encourage as many as possible to partner in this. There's a great flow of information and can give you a heads up if there's something coming that you need to be attuned to.

Laura Knoy:
Ok, so take advantage of the information sharing. Take advantage of the funding. David Becker, very nice to talk to you. Thank you very much. That's David Becker, founder and executive director of a group called the Center for Election Innovation and Research, focusing on improving election administration, the research, data and technology, and Casey McDermott. After the break, we'll go right back to our listeners.

Laura Knoy:
Lots of people standing by who want to talk about voter security questions. Comments are welcome. 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. Send your questions in by e-mail as well if you'd like. We'll be back in a minute.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange. I'm Laura Knoy.. this hour. How secure are New Hampshire's elections? Let us know what you think. Your questions and comments are welcome. Send them in by e-mail exchange at an HP Morg or give us a call 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. My guest for the hour, Casey McDermott, investigative reporter for NHP. She's been doing tons of coverage on election security, voting issues. And Casey, let's go right back to our listeners, lots of people who want to jump in. Frank is calling from Bedford. Hi, Frank. You're on the air. Welcome.

Listener call:
Oh, yes. Good morning. Morning. We have we have so much doubt about the security of our election system right after the 2016 election.

Listener call:
Remember, Trump said that he won the vote by sparking a book like Six Million Votes, but there was so much cheating that it looks like he lost it. He denies that the Russians interfered at all. And back in December, we found out secretary of state in Florida said the Russians had gotten into two election systems in two counties. They just wouldn't reveal what they were. So Congress appropriated 40 to 25 million dollars. Mitch McConnell has tried to kill them, but either stay in, New Hampshire's gotten 3 million dollars. Three and a quarter million dollars to improve our election systems by the fall. I'd like to know if that's true and what the money is being spent for to improve our election security.

Laura Knoy:
Frank, thank you so much, Casey.

Casey McDermott:
Sure. So to answer Frank's question, yes, New Hampshire has gotten about 3.1 million dollars from the federal government. This is through something called the Help America Vote Act, which has been kind of a vehicle for dispersing basically large, large funding influxes to states to make improvements to various kind of aspects of their elections. Most recently, as Frank mentioned, in 2018, the federal government sent a bunch of money to states, specifically with the aim of improving the security of the elections.

Casey McDermott:
And states had a lot of leeway on how they could spend that money. So in New Hampshire, they've spent, you know, a portion of it so far. I'm looking at a report right here that was submitted to the federal government about the spending. And it says that about eight hundred and twenty one thousand eight hundred forty dollars from the federal portion has been spent so far. That's in addition to some spending at the state level that they had to match. And that money has gone toward additional software at the state level to protect the state's voter database, additional software to kind of like shore up the just kind of generally the New Hampshire secretary of state's cybersecurity protections. It's gone toward implementing new what's called two factor authentication. So if you think about like if you're logging in to your bank account online, sometimes they will send you a text message directly to you to make sure that it's actually you who's logging in. So that's one safeguard. It's not foolproof. Security experts will say that like, you know, computers can sometimes get around that as well. But it's at least one measure to make it more safe. In addition to those kind of, you know, technological upgrades, the state has spent a lot of money on just personnel and training around election security.

Casey McDermott:
So they have a whole kind of section of the secretary of state's office that's devoted to. It's called the HAVA office. So the Help America Vote Act, you know, they kind of oversee activities around election administration, election support, including election security. Now, at the same time, it is worth mentioning that we were talking a lot about training earlier as well. The training in New Hampshire, while strongly encouraged, is not mandatory for local poll workers. So the state does really encourage poll workers to take part in this. But it's not required for you to to go through this training in order to work at the polls on Election Day in New Hampshire. The state has made available online training, so they're trying to make it more accessible for people. But and then the other thing that's also worth mentioning is that, you know, they can have all the training in the world and some of these pollworkers are working on computers without of date security protections. So people may be familiar with like the Windows operating system. There is a version of Windows Windows 7 that is no longer receiving all of the security supports that more recent versions are. And that's one thing that's come up for pollworkers as a big problem.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and I'm so glad Frank called because the states have been getting lots of money. But is that money trickling down to the local level where these elections actually take place? And you heard from poll workers about this, Casey. Let's hear from one man who told you we have good preparation. So you like the training, but lousy computers at the beginning.

Poll worker (sound clip):
Somebody mentioned Windows 7. That's all we have.

Poll worker (sound clip):
It's no longer supported. So it's a matter of concern. It's there's a plan for it. But we won't have new computers in time, even for the town election, let alone the primary.

Laura Knoy:
Again, that some poll workers in New Hampshire that Casey McDermott talked to and Casey now talking about voting security today. In exchange, we're asking how secure are America's elections as we're hearing a lot of money and training and effort has gone into this. So we're looking at that. I'm taking your questions and comments at 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7 and Crystal's calling in Casey from Somersworth Worth. Hi, Crystal. Thanks for being with us.

Listener call:
Hi. Thank you. Yeah, I had a good experience with the last election. I was actually on the ballot and was elected to our city council here. But there was a recount called because one of our one of the two other folks were just separated by one vote. So the person who lost by one vote called the recount. And we were sitting in a room for about five hours watching each ballot be hand-counted. And the results were the same. I mean, we each went up, what, by a couple of votes because of some ballots that had been tossed.

Listener call:
That was a machine. But the difference between those two was still the same person was up by one vote. So I think what that showed me is that our our system is pretty accurate. I was really impressed.

Laura Knoy:
Wow. Crystal, so given your experience, what's sort of your message for people? And you know. NPR's poll shows a lot of people are concerned about election security. What's your message for those folks?

Listener call:
I would say to to be pretty confident that our our elections, especially here in New Hampshire with our paper ballots and the machines that count them. They seemed to me to be very accurate and to be able to see each one of those ballots counted and see that the machine had tallied them all pretty close to exact. Was was pretty reassuring.

Laura Knoy:
Okay. Crystal, thank you very much for calling in. And Casey, let's take Bonnie in Nottingham. Hi, Bonnie. You're on the air. Welcome.

Listener call:
Hi there. I'm the town moderator and I've been the moderator for this is my eighth year. So I've seen a few elections, I bet. And I just I just wanted to talk about a couple of things that you've been discussing this morning. I think a couple of important points have been.

Listener call:
One is that if if you are vote count machine breaks down during an election and I've had that happen to me once, the company that provides them is on call. They have lots of technicians on call and they immediately swap it out. It might take an hour or two, depending on how far from them you are. But you can save all those ballots in a special place in the in the ballot. Machine and then feed them through the counter after the new machine arrives. You talk about the gentleman who talked about audits. I didn't hear the beginning of your show, so perhaps this has already been mentioned. But we do test the cards that run that machine. We have every town has programs, cards. We have one and we have a backup. We test both of them. The law requires it to be at least a week before the election. So we'll be doing ours in Nottingham tomorrow, actually tomorrow evening at 7 o'clock in the town clerk's office. Actually, I think this year it's going to be in the conference room, too. There was a conflict with the homework's office, but every town has to test their cards. And what we do is we what we run a mini mock election during that test, which is, by the way, a public meeting. You're all welcome to come and watch how this machine is is tested and how the seals are broken and how all these people have to sign if any changes are made. Election officers have to be present.

Laura Knoy:
Wow. So everyone here, you really talking, you know, showing people this is how it works, folks.

Listener call:
Yeah, exactly. And I've also been in office long enough to do recounts at the local level are done at the local level with other state offices and so forth. They're done at the secretary of state's office. But I've I've done a couple of recounts, at least myself. And I have to say that I've never seen the machine be wrong. I believe that hand counting is more dangerous for an accuracy than than the machine. And I didn't feel this way before I was an election officer.

Listener call:
If people want to have confidence in their elections, I I encourage everyone to volunteer in your community. We need election workers. You know something you do in a year like this. We have four elections. We're.

Listener call:
And a couple for town meeting, smaller group.

Laura Knoy:
Bonnie, It's good to hear from you, and especially from a town moderator, and Pam Fessler also said that she had volunteered, wants to be a poll worker and it really did boost her her feelings, her confidence. Yeah.

Casey McDermott:
And I think I think the points that Bonnie raised are really important. And those are more specific examples of what we were talking about earlier when we referenced the kind of backups that are in place are the backups that the state tries to encourage local poll workers to make clear to the public on Election Day or ahead of Election Day. I do want to follow up on the point that she made about testing the memory cards and testing the scanners before the election. That is definitely an important step to take. I think that, you know, there are people who think that for as much testing as there is done before the election that they would like to see on the back end after the election. Also, just kind of close the loop and make sure that things worked. As you know, as intended, even just as you know, even if it shows that it did work perfectly, that they feel that that would be an important additional layer of confidence that would be able to be added to the process.

Laura Knoy:
You know, Casey, we've talked a lot about poll worker training, and you said it's voluntary, but it seems like a lot of people do go and participate. And I just wonder what impressions you got from attending all these poll worker training sessions that you've attended and you've talked to a lot of poll workers.

Casey McDermott:
So I think, yes, a lot of people attended. I will say I like I said, I went to that one in Gorham a few weeks ago and it was at the the town hall, a big auditorium. It was packed. There were people who were there from a number of different communities across that region. At the same time, you know, I've heard I've talked to some people there who said, like, this was great. But it also, you know, they're going through this pretty quickly and like, perhaps it would be worth having a dedicated training just for security. So on that day, the whole training was give or take about two hours, two and a half hours long. And I think some of the people there were saying, well, I would really like a more kind of concerted training focused just on security or just on a given topic. Now, at the same time, it does bear emphasizing that both at the state level and the local level, you know, resources personnel are stretched pretty thin. So I think the state is definitely putting an effort to do both in-person and online trainings.

Casey McDermott:
But that was one concern that was brought up to me. Another concern that that I've heard from local officials. And just getting back to the point about funding, for the most part, local towns and city election offices are on their own for making security upgrades, only buying in voting machines that give out. Yes. So the state, you know, the secretary of state's office has warned local pollworkers to upgrade their computers, upgrade their software systems, but says that it has no plans at this point to provide funding through that big federal influx that they got to to do that, that basically it's it's up to the municipalities to figure out how to fund that on their own.

Laura Knoy:
Wow. Because upgrades are expensive.

Casey McDermott:
Right.

Laura Knoy:
You talked to one poll worker who was pretty tech savvy. She said she worked in the tech industry. And it was interesting to hear her perspective. Casey, I want to share a little bit of audio with listeners on this. She said while New Hampshire has a ways to go in terms of improving technical systems, she mentioned that upgrades are expensive and she said the state should help towns with that. But she also did say she likes the fact that we're a paper state. Let's hear.

Poll worker (sound clip):
There are just things that computers cannot do. You really need to have people who understand the process, who have been in it, training younger people and eyes on hands on what we're doing when we're especially with primary special, especially with presidential elections. That's what we have, the highest voter turnout. It's really important to have that. It's it's a redundancy is what we call it in the tech industry. And anything that is this important requires that kind of redundancy. So having the technology to aid the paper state voting thing is it works out for me.

Laura Knoy:
Again, that's a poll worker that you talked to in Berlin, Casey. And in one of your stories, someone called New Hampshire a top tier target for election security. She kind of alludes to that, too. Is it pretty much because of the first in the nation primary or are there other reasons why we might be a top tier target?

Casey McDermott:
Yeah, I mean, so so to clarify, the person calling New Hampshire a top tier target in that case was actually one of our state senators, John Morgan, who happens to work for a cybersecurity company that was recently in the news because they helped to detect a. Hack into a Ukrainian company that is at the center of the impeachment case, so that's kind of a sidebar.

Laura Knoy:
He's a state senator,.

Casey McDermott:
He's a state Senator.

Casey McDermott:
But it is worth noting that when I talked to other people who, you know, for example, David Becker, I interviewed him outside of this conversation recently. And, you know, I think he also echoed the idea that like New Hampshire is a high profile, is the site of high profile elections. We're also the site of pretty close elections, not just in the primary, but think back to the 2016 elections in the general. Our presidential race and our U.S. Senate race were decided here by really? Really thin margins.

Laura Knoy:
That's right, because we're a so-called purple state.

Casey McDermott:
Right. So that's all to say, that the you know, there is concern or that it is important for New Hampshire to be vigilant. And that's something that Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan also mentioned when I spoke with their office, that they know that New Hampshire is at the center of the spotlight electorally, both in the primary and the general. And that, you know, that is part of why they've taken some steps in the last few years to try to kind of shore up the systems here.

Laura Knoy:
Well, Casey, while we have you for just one more minute, what else do you want voters listening right now to know about either election security or just basic helpful information so that they know that they are hearing something that's true, that they're understanding what's true?

Casey McDermott:
I think one thing that's really important and this is actually something that we mentioned that local poll workers are being trained to expect from the public or trained to kind of respond.

Casey McDermott:
If you have questions, don't assume that something nefarious is afoot. Ask your local poll workers, ask people who are supposed to be the trusted sources of information. So that's local election officials, state election officials. That's really a big message that is coming down on a lot of levels. And and as as Pam mentioned, as the poll workers that we heard from mentioned, it, I think will help people at the very least understand how the elections work and perhaps alleviate some of the concerns that they might have to actually see it up close and to to educate themselves about the actual voting process.

Laura Knoy:
That's the frustration that we heard early in the show from Dave Scanlan's the secretary of state's office, also that you heard from the head of information technology for this state, that if people have questions, you know, don't believe necessary what you see on Facebook about where you're supposed to go and what you supposed to do. Call your local town.

Casey McDermott:
Or maybe find out even if your town's doing one of those pre-election testings, like Bonnie mentioned in Nottingham. Go see it for yourself. And that might give you some more perspective on all that.

Laura Knoy:
It's been great to talk to you Casey. Thank you so much. That's NHPR's Casey McDermott, investigative reporter. She's been covering elections, security and voting issues. And this is The Exchange on New Hampshire Public Radio.