Ahead of Vermont Primary, Officials Tighten Election Security

Primary day in Vermont is Aug. 14, with a host of races on the ballot — including Democrats making their pick for their gubernatorial candidate in November, and the incumbent Republican governor facing a challenge from within his own party.

Behind the scenes, election officials say they are increasingly focused on securing the vote from hackers.

Even in tiny Montpelier, so far from Washington, election meddling is on the mind of some voters, after near-daily headlines of Russia's campaign to influence the 2016 elections.

"Hopefully they have better things to do," voter Bill Provost said of election hackers from Russia or elsewhere.

"The integrity of our elections is important to me," said voter Meredith Potter. "And I think right now we need to question that — I think we need to keep a watchful eye."

Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos, a Democrat, said Tuesday that his office is keeping that watchful eye.

"Cybersecurity is like a race without a finish line," Condos told necn. "It's ongoing."

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security notified 21 states that Russian hackers targeted them in 2016.

While Vermont was not one of those 21 states, it has taken steps to dodge snooping or tampering with voter rolls or other sensitive data.

Those include paper ballots, random audits, tabulators that aren't connected to the web, daily backups of voter registration info, and a new monitor that scans for suspicious computer activity.

"Everything we're doing is focused on how to prevent intrusion into our system," Condos said. "I would say we are much more robust than we were two years ago. Nationwide, we are in better shape than we were in the fall of 2016."

Montpelier City Clerk John Odom said he has seen an uptick in people coming into city hall to fill out early voting ballots ahead of the primary.

Odom has taken part in security training and tests of whether someone could breach the system.

"Nine hundred ninety-nine times out of 1,000, there's nothing to worry about here on the local level," Odom said. "We all need to be vigilant as election administrators locally and statewide to be ready for that one out of 1,000."

Congress recently came through with $380 million in new money for states to help them protect their election security. Vermont's share of those funds was $3 million.

However, Secretary of State Condos said it'll take ongoing investments in order to keep up with emerging threats.

Tuesday, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, urged the U.S. Senate to agree to vote on an amendment to provide an additional $250 million in grants to help states with future elections by improving cyber security, replacing outdated voting equipment, and making other safeguards.

Support for that measure has failed to gain enough traction thus far.

"Securing our elections and safeguarding our democracy is not a partisan issue," Sen. Leahy said in a written statement. "I was disappointed when my amendment was rejected on a party line vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee. I was disappointed when House Republicans blocked Democrats from even being allowed a vote on this important issue on the House floor."

Condos urged Vermonters to vote in the primaries on Aug. 14 and again in the general election on Nov. 6.

"Your vote is your voice," Condos told voters.

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