2018 Elections

No Hackers Here: SOS Says There Were No Attempts to Tamper With Alabama’s Primary Elections

Signs direct voters to the polling place at Legion Field. (Source: Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

After instituting cybersecurity measures to protect the state’s voting system, the secretary of state said there were no attempts to hack into or otherwise tamper with Alabama’s June 5 primary elections.

In fact, despite worries about cybersecurity and implementation of e-poll books and on-line registration for voters, election officials said the voting came off with no major glitches.

The state’s top voting official, Secretary of State John Merrill, said there have been no attempts to hack into the state electoral system since 2017. Alabama was one of 21 states notified by the Department of Homeland Security last year that hackers had attempted to infiltrate and manipulate the electoral system. Suspicious IP addresses and the attempted scanning of voting records were noticed, and the hacking attempts were blocked for the most part. The hackers were successful in only one state, Illinois.

Some election observers have said the hackers can be traced back to Russia, but DHS did not identify their whereabouts. Concerns about future cyberattacks have persisted nationwide.

Merrill said that, since Jan. 19, 2017, his staff and all voter registrars statewide have been trained in cybersecurity, and the training continues.

“It is our position that all people with access to voter information be trained and equipped to function in the ‘new normal,’” Merrill said.

He said training and precautions are taken in his office “each and every day,” though he would not elaborate on cyber protections that have been taken to prevent the information from becoming available to the “bad guys.”

In an August 2017 report, the Center for American Progress found that the Alabama system includes an intrusion detection system that monitors incoming and outgoing traffic for irregularities, and that the state performs regular vulnerability assessments.

Merrill said he feels precautions taken by his office will protect ballot security in the July 17 runoff and the Nov. 6 general elections.

In another recent Alabama voter-related incident, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg told the New York Times in March that Macedonian Facebook accounts attempted to influence the outcome of last December’s hotly contested U.S. Senate race in Alabama.

The Macedonian users attempted to swing the election outcome by spreading fake news stories, according to the Times.


Streamlining the Process

Overall, Merrill said there were some primary election hiccups, but no major problems, and all issues were resolved that day.

Other measures instituted by Merrill’s office include e-books to sign in voters at the polls, rather than poll workers checking paper lists of names. The electronic devices make the process quicker. They also allow poll workers to scan a voter’s driver’s license and verify his or her information. If a voter uses another form of identification, election officials can key in a few characters of the last name to ascertain whether the person is qualified to vote.

In the primary and runoff, voters then declare their party affiliation, and the e-books store that information.

Barry Stephenson, chairman of the Jefferson County Board of Registrars, said the e-books allow election officials to better enforce the state’s new crossover voting law, which prohibits voting in one party’s primary and the other party’s runoff election. The law does not affect voting in general elections.

If a voter in the July 17 runoff election claims the information about his party affiliation is erroneous, he or she will be allowed to vote a provisional ballot.

“We will research the voter’s claim on July 18. We won’t disenfranchise anyone,” Stephenson said.

Stephenson said the e-poll books worked “very, very well” to expedite voting.

“We had one problem that I will not even call a glitch. We had to reset seven or eight of the over 500 books used in the county before the polls opened,” Stephenson said.

He said voters called him after the election to compliment the county’s use of the e-books. “And that never happens,” he added.

Jefferson is among 25 Alabama counties that used the ballot or e-book to identify voters. Shelby County officials are considering using it.

As of June 14, Jefferson County had 460,000 of the state’s 3,383,235 registered voters.

Merrill said his office has registered 991,910 voters since Jan. 19, 2015.


Upcoming Runoff

Merrill said he does not foresee any problems with the July runoff, because there are only five statewide races, and they are all Republican candidates. There also are local races sin many areas.

In other developments this year, Merrill’s office has implemented a Vote for Alabama app for iPhones and Androids. The app mirrors the Secretary of State web site.

A person can register to vote and locate their registration information, including polling place and the date of the next election. The app also includes a sample ballot, Merrill said.

The Vote for Alabama app can be downloaded from the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store.

Citizens also can register to vote through the Secretary of State’s AlabamaVotes.gov site.


Election Dates

Primary Runoff Election, July 17:

July 2 – Voter registration deadline.

July 12 – Last day for voter to make application for an absentee ballot.

July 16 – Last day for voter to hand-deliver or postmark an absentee ballot, except for voters who are overseas. Their deadline is election day.
General Election, Nov. 6:

Oct. 22 – Voter registration deadline.

Nov. 1 – Last day for voter to make application for an absentee ballot.

Nov. 5 – Last day for voter to hand-deliver or postmark an absentee ballot, except for voters who are overseas. Their deadline is election day.

Source: Alabama Secretary of State’s Office