The calls started flooding in from hundreds of irate North Carolina voters just after 7 a.m. on Election Day last November. Dozens were told they were ineligible to vote and were turned away at the polls, even when they displayed current registration cards. Others were sent from one polling place to another, only to be rejected. Scores of voters were incorrectly told they had cast ballots days earlier. In one precinct, voting halted for two hours. Susan Greenhalgh, a troubleshooter at a nonpartisan election monitoring group, was alarmed. Most of the complaints came from Durham, a blue-leaning county in a swing state. The problems involved electronic poll books — tablets and laptops, loaded with check-in software, that have increasingly replaced the thick binders of paper used to verify voters’ identities and registration status. She knew that the company that provided Durham’s software, VR Systems, had been penetrated by Russian hackers months before. “It felt like tampering, or some kind of cyberattack,” Ms. Greenhalgh said about the voting troubles in Durham.
There are plenty of other reasons for such breakdowns — local officials blamed human error and software malfunctions — and no clear-cut evidence of digital sabotage has emerged, much less a Russian role in it. Despite the disruptions, a record number of votes were cast in Durham, following a pattern there of overwhelming support for Democratic presidential candidates, this time Hillary Clinton.
But months later, for Ms. Greenhalgh, other election security experts and some state officials, questions still linger about what happened that day in Durham as well as other counties in North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia and Arizona.
… On Election Day, as the e-poll book problems continued, Ms. Greenhalgh urged an Election Protection colleague in North Carolina to warn the state Board of Elections of a cyberattack and suggest that it call in the F.B.I. and Department of Homeland Security. In an email, she also warned a Homeland Security election specialist of the problems. Later, the specialist told her Durham County had rejected the agency’s help.
When Ms. Greenhalgh, who works at Verified Voting, a nonprofit dedicated to election integrity, followed up with the North Carolina colleague, he reported that state officials said they would not require federal help.
“He said: ‘The state does not view this as a problem. There’s nothing we can do, so we’ve moved on to other things,’” Ms. Greenhalgh recalled. “Meanwhile, I’m thinking, ‘What could be more important to move on to?’”