In 2016, Illinois was targeted by Russian hackers who obtained private information from some 76,000 voters, making it the country’s most serious election breach of the year. As midterm elections approach, can local voters be certain there won’t be any more foreign interference?
Further, what steps is Illinois taking to make sure elections are secure and voter information is kept private?
“2016 mostly reinforced the idea that election security in the cyber realm is really important,” says Noah Praetz, director of elections at the Cook County Clerk’s Office. “It’s one thing to study this stuff in theory. It’s another when there’s an active nation-state attack. The intelligence community tells us that there are multiple actors with the capability and intent to harm our election process, and we should plan for future attacks. When something goes from the hypothetical to the probable, it changes the level of time and resource investment that election officials have to devote to the problem. Yet at the most fundamental level, Illinois is in pretty good shape.”
Jim Allen, spokesperson for the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, agrees. “Recently, Illinois was graded very highly in terms of the systems it’s put in place to safeguard all of the key infrastructure. But even with that high grade, we’re not satisfied and we’re continually taking steps to try to prevent, detect and then if necessary, recover any kind of losses,” he said.
One of the main reasons they think Illinois is in such good shape? “Because we made a choice a decade ago to require paper ballots for all voters,” says Praetz. “Those paper artifacts are used in audits. That allows us to put out results that are trusted and true, even in the event of a cyber incident.”
Praetz and Allen join us with more details on what additional election security steps Illinois is taking.
Contact Andrea Guthmann: @AndreaGuthmann