Could Hackers Influence the Election?

Oct 18, 2016

With alleged cyber-attacks from Russia on the rise, federal officials are looking at ways to keep foreign operatives from meddling with this year's elections. 

This year's election could be close, and that has lawmakers worried that an outside actor could try to tilt it one way or the other. Northern Virginia Democrat Don Beyer sits on the Science and Technology Committee which has been looking into the issue of cyber hacking. Beyer says Congress needs to pass a robust cyber security bill so that the nation stays ahead of the hackers. 

“We’re doing lots of defense now. One of the things we find out week in and week out with these hearings is that every time we come up with a defense for a new cyber-attack they get creative and come up with a new way, not the Russians necessarily but the hackers.”   

While hackers have already tried to pry into voting databases in Illinois and Arizona, Beyer says he doesn't think an outside agent can sway the election results. 

“It’s pretty clear that hackers, including the Russians, can’t change the outcome of any given precinct, they can’t delete voters from the voter registration rolls; our systems have pretty good integrity. What they can do is create doubt and fear in the minds of the voters. The psychological impact will be much greater than the vote count impact.” 

More than twenty states have asked the Department of Homeland Security to help them secure their local election systems. It's unclear if Virginia is on the list because DHS officials aren't releasing it publicly. Some Republicans argue the federal government needs to stay out of local elections, but Virginia Democrat Gerry Connolly disagrees. 

“Of course the federal government has an interest in protecting the security of the country, including the integrity of the voting process, especially in federal elections.” 

But what does that look like to Connolly? 

“It means making strategic investments to upgrade the technologies deployed so they are less vulnerable and can be encrypted, but I think we need better coordination among the states and with the federal government to deter and detect potential cyber threats.” 

Credit Marcie Casas / Creative Commons

For Virginia Republican Morgan Griffith, the solution to cyber intrusion in U-S elections is less technology, not necessarily more. 

“For years those of us who felt like maybe we should have a paper trial were told we were just crazy, now it’s clear to everybody that a paper trail is a good thing. So you can at least check and see if ‘Joe Smith’ showed up to vote and if he didn’t why is there a vote recorded for ‘Joe Smith’?” 

While Russia denies their government or hackers are meddling in US elections, US government officials say they now have proof that the attacks are coming from Russia. But it’s unclear what the US response will be.