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LA works to ensure elections systems are protected against cyber attacks

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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) -

Louisiana’s elections chief says states are on alert for hackers who could try to tamper with the elections process. And U.S. Homeland Security is offering states help to check for vulnerabilities in their voting systems.

Even before former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s unflattering opinions of the two presidential candidates were outed this week in his hacked emails, the federal government was offering states help to make sure their elections systems are as secure as possible.

"Yes, are we concerned about potential interference into our election process, ah we absolutely are,” said Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler, while speaking before a Congressional committee this week.

Schedler, a past-president of the National Association of Secretaries of State, said they are on high alert in every state and are taking part in a Department of Homeland Security Election Infrastructure Cyber Security Working Group, which was created to share resources, examine best practices and get technical advice.

"This whole exercise has put every one of the 50 states on working on national security issues,” said Schedler.

Still, there is unwavering confidence in the integrity of the elections process. Schedler said voter fraud is tough to accomplish. He points to there being 9,000 to 10,000 jurisdictions for voting for national elections and thousands of polling places.

Jefferson Parish’s Clerk of Court Jon Gegenheimer oversees the elections process for the parish.

'You don't have to worry about hacking here. These are closed systems. They're not internet-based, and so there's nothing to hack into,” he said.

And Schedler emphasized that no state has internet voting and that voting machines are not connected to the internet.

But cyber security expert Nam Nguyen, CEO of C3 Security LLC in Metairie, said hackers may have other opportunities to disrupt the election process.

"I think that there could be a way that a hacker could upset the election," he said. "This is when we would talk about insider threats, people who are inside the system, or join the company, or what not to service the equipment and they put on their malicious code.”

He said even if hackers can't affect vote tallies, they can undermine public confidence in the voting process.

"Maybe the attacker doesn’t want to, or cannot change the vote tally, or change the votes per se, but if they bring the systems down, I guess the consensus would be people would have less faith in the voting machine. If somebody can cause disruptions to it, make the voting machine go down, people might have less confidence in that system tallying the vote correctly,” Nguyen said.

Hackers showed skill in getting into voting registration systems in two states.

"While it would certainly be disruptive to have registration systems hacked as we saw in Arizona and Illinois, voters could still vote, and Election Day would still occur,” said Schedler.

He said information from Louisiana’s online registration system does not flow directly into the statewide registration database, but instead the information is sent from the website to parish registrars.

Gegenheimer believes a lot of the talk of hackers and the elections is sensationalized.

"I'm not worried, and the voter does not have to be worried,” he said.

But Nguyen said it is good idea the feds and the states are taking the potential threat of hackers infiltrating elections system seriously.

Schedler said all voting machines in the state are stored in secure, state-owned warehouses. And he said before every election they go through a “test and seal” process.

And he added that there is no evidence ballot manipulation has ever occurred in the U.S.

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