Maine’s U.S. Sen. Angus King expressed heightened concerns Thursday about Russian attempts to infiltrate state election systems after he reviewed a trove of classified documents on Moscow’s campaign to influence the 2016 presidential race. King said he spent “a couple of hours” Wednesday reviewing the classified documents at CIA headquarters as part of a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 elections. While King said he could not provide any specifics, he said the documents provided “substantial backup” to the declassified Jan. 6 report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that concluded Russian government officials “ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election.”
One conclusion of the January report that received less attention than other aspects is that “Russian intelligence obtained and maintained access to elements of multiple U.S. state or local electoral boards.” Those systems were not involved in vote tallying, but King said the mere fact that a foreign government was probing state election systems should be a major concern to Americans.
“There appears to be little evidence that they succeeded,” said King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats. “But the fact they tried to penetrate state election systems, I believe, is very serious and something we need to take seriously before the next round of elections so that we are not prone to manipulation.”
America’s voting system is so decentralized – with its state and local controls – that a nationwide hacking incident is probably impossible. And most voting machines are not connected to the internet. But some states use digital machines without a “paper trail.”
King said that in a tight election, the manipulation of 100,000 votes in a specific area could make a difference. So the Maine independent and former two-term governor said the Russian meddling could mean that the federal government and states may have to take additional steps to ensure election systems are protected.