State Elections Officials Seek To Shore Up NC Voter Confidence

Oct 17, 2019

North Carolina State Board of Elections Director Karen Brinson Bell introduces the hashtag associated with a new voter confidence campaign.
Credit Rusty Jacobs / WUNC

Heading into 2020, state and county elections officials want to make sure North Carolina voters don't let fears of ballot tampering or outside interference keep them from going to the polls.

To be sure, election security measures have been in place for decades, according to North Carolina State Board of Elections Director Karen Brinson Bell. Measures like testing voting equipment, preparing and proofreading ballots, auditing campaign finance reports, updating and maintaining precinct lines.

"Though, in today's environment of cyberattacks and malicious acts, additional or expanded efforts are underway to secure elections," Brinson Bell said at a news conference Thursday while introducing the elections board's new #YourVoteCountsNC campaign.

As part of the campaign, elections board staff will use social media posts, a dedicated web page and other activities to inform voters about security efforts.

Additional security measures include a state law that prohibits voting equipment from being connected to the Internet. Also, county boards must conduct hand-eye ballot counts in at least two randomly selected precincts after every election to guard against tampering.

Such efforts are designed to help protect against attacks on voting systems and disinformation campaigns, according to Brian Neesby, the state elections board's chief information officer.

"We've had Department of Homeland Security do a hunt for malware, we've had them do a penetration test, we've had National Guard do a cyber-security assessment," he said.

But these measures are not enough, according to Susan Greenhalgh, Vice President of Policy and Programs at the National Election Defense Coalition.

"None of these processes can be relied on to protect against today's supply chain threats," Greenhalgh wrote in an email to WUNC, after she watched a livestream of Thursday's state elections board's news conference. "[The Board of Elections] is relying on decades old best practices to protect against 2019 nation-state level threat actors."

The  state elections board recently certified the use of three new voting systems in North Carolina that some voting rights groups say could be vulnerable to hacking.

A U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee study found Russian operatives disseminated false information via the Internet to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

In North Carolina, a state elections board investigation found a campaign contractor working for Republican candidate Mark Harris ran an absentee ballot tampering operation in the 9th Congressional District race in 2018. The board refused to certify Harris's narrow victory and a special election was held earlier this year.

Republican Dan Bishop edged Democrat Dan McCready by about two points in the do-over contest.