When people ask me to name my biggest challenge since becoming Minnesota secretary of state, I talk about the intense demands of cybersecurity. Just a few years ago, overseeing electronic defenses was merely an important part of the job. Now, it’s essential. Recently, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said publicly that he has “every expectation” that Russia will try to influence the 2018 midterm elections in November. We have a strong election system in Minnesota, and we have to protect it from cyberattack. That requires focus, time and resources. With less than a year until the next statewide general election, we owe it to all eligible voters to safeguard our system as best we can.
In 2016, Minnesota reclaimed its status as the top state in voter turnout, in part because people have a lot of confidence in the basic integrity of our elections. They should. The design and performance of our election system is excellent. We use paper ballots, we prohibit internet connections to voting machines, we use a decentralized system where votes are tallied at the county and city level, we have a secure electronic communication system to compile vote counts from all over the state and we follow up with post-election audits.
Still, challenges and threats remain.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security notified me recently that Minnesota was among 21 states whose election systems were targeted in 2016 by people working “at the behest of the Russian government.” There was no actual intrusion or attempted intrusion in Minnesota. The vote tally was never a target, and has never been in question. Rather, outside forces targeted our statewide voter registration database, which my office administers. Think of a car thief “casing” a parking lot. Last election, the car thief took a look around, but did not enter our parking lot. My office was able to block would-be hackers from entering our system. But intelligence officials have confirmed that agents serving the Russian government did scan our system with the intention of doing more.