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N.H. Will Spend Federal Money To Assess Hackability Of Voting Systems

Tracy Lee Carroll, NHPR

Amid concerns about hacking from Russia, Iran and other countries, New Hampshire plans to spend a quarter of a million dollars in federal grant money on assessing whether its election systems are vulnerable to intruders.

David Scanlan, the deputy secretary of state, said that $250,000 from the five-year grant will be used to hire a firm that will attempt to hack the election system to help identify any weaknesses. The state also plans to embed software in the election database that can recognize abnormal activity and shut it down. The state will also monitor the "dark web" for signs the state is being discussed among hackers.

"It's kind of an ear to the ground to find if New Hampshire is being discussed in any way to give us a heads up of when a potential attempt to hack might happen," Scanlan said of the "dark web" effort.

Scanlan said there is no evidence so far that anyone has attempted to hack and get into New Hampshire's election system.

States around the country are moving quickly to tap their shares of the $380 million program to strengthen voting systems amid ongoing threats from Russia and others, according to a report released Tuesday by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

All but a fraction of the money has already been sent to the states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. The largest chunk — roughly 36 percent — is being spent to improve cybersecurity in 41 states and territories. More than a quarter of the money will be used to buy new voting equipment in 33 states and territories, although the bulk of this is unlikely to happen until after the Nov. 6 midterm elections.

"If in the worst case scenario somebody was able to hack into a statewide database and change voter information in a way that could create chaos on the day of an election, that would be extremely problematic," Scanlan said. "We have process in place so that if that were to occur, we would still be able to run the election regardless of whether the database had been altered in a way through some type of a hack. But those are things we want to prevent."

With the state match, New Hampshire is set to spend about $3.25 million on election security efforts including $900,000 in the next 18 months. Along with the $250,000 dedicated to cybersecurity, the state is considering spending additional money on voter education and security training for town and city clerks. It will also work to improve the system that enables voters with disabilities to cast their ballots without assistance.

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