Genesee County Clerk John Gleason powered up his work computer last summer and began sifting through his emails. To his shock, he said he found a “nasty, vulgar-laden” email in his sent folder, supposedly authored by him. “At first, I thought it was someone in the office playing a joke on me,” said Gleason, who has presided over every election in the mid-Michigan county of 410,000 residents since he was elected clerk in 2013. County workers tracked the source of the email to a Russian phishing link intended to hook users with the promise of dating or weight loss, Gleason said. A few months ago, a similar incident happened to his computer, which Gleason uses to help direct elections in Michigan’s fifth-largest county. … Computer scientists and elections experts consider the optical scan systems the best because they start with a paper ballot, which make it possible for election officials to double-check results if questions arise. But that doesn’t mean the machines can’t be hacked. Since Americans began using electronic voting machines 15 years ago, computer scientists have repeatedly warned that nearly every type of system is susceptible to manipulation.
That’s in part because voting machines use modems to transmit unofficial results, which could “create vulnerabilities,” said Doug Jones, a professor of computer science at the University of Iowa and a voting systems analyst.
“You have to manage the risk the best way you can,” said Marian Schneider, president of Verified Voting, non-partisan elections integrity organization based in San Francisco. “But because you can never get the risk down to zero, you have to be able to recover. That’s why you have the paper ballots.”
If there is a cybersecurity breach during an election, “Michigan can respond, can recover if that happens because they have those paper ballots. Now, the bad news,” Schneider said.