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Connecticut Redoubled Election Security Efforts, Official Says

Connecticut was among 21 states that had their online voter registration databases targeted by Russian hackers in 2016. Secretary of State Denise Merrill says steps have been taken to protect the election process.

by Julia Bergman, The Day / September 4, 2020

(TNS) — Warning of attempts by foreign governments — namely Russia — to interfere in the 2020 presidential election, including targeting American voters with disinformation, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said Connecticut has taken a number of steps to protect its voting processes.

“There is no doubt that the Russian government intends to try to rig the 2020 election, just as they interfered in the 2016 election,” Murphy said Thursday, joined by Merrill at a news conference in Hartford.

Connecticut was among 21 states that had their online voter registration databases targeted by Russian hackers during the 2016 election. The hackers were not successful, Merrill said, and Congress subsequently allotted hundreds of millions of dollars to states to strengthen their election infrastructure.

Connecticut received $5.1 million, which must be spent by September 2023. It has been used to ensure that municipalities across the state are running secure software and to train local officials how to identify breaches and where to report them.

“You have to be constantly watching for people trying to get in, and if some Russian adversary group got in through a phishing email in a local registrar or clerk's office, that would impact the entire system, so that’s where we put our first energy,” Merrill said.

Elections are managed at the local level, meaning there are “169 drop points” for the voter registry and election management systems — the two systems “that are actually on the Internet and could be hacked arguably,” Merrill said. The election management system “is the one to watch because that’s where we report results,” she said.

Following the 2016 election, the Department of Homeland Security made it a priority to give secret security clearances to secretaries of the states across the country so they could have access to classified information about cyberthreats to their election systems. Merrill received her clearance several years ago and has since been in “numerous” briefings with federal intelligence officials.

The briefings have provided an “invaluable source of information here in the states because we’re on the front lines,” Merrill said. “We’re the ones who have to know if something is going on with our systems.”

Merrill said her office also has hired someone to focus on targeting disinformation, which she anticipates will be spread about candidates and parties but also will be aimed at trying to confuse voters about Election Day.

Murphy said Russians are “flooding” social media sites like Facebook and Twitter with disinformation, so it’s as important to emphasize the need to target the spread of misinformation as it is to ensure our election processes are protected.

“I am very worried that this administration is not taking seriously the threat of Russian interference and I’m beginning to be more and more worried that this White House is intentionally looking the other way because it knows that the Russian government is ultimately looking to reelect this president,” Murphy said.

A major cause for his concern, he said, is the announcement last week by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that it will no longer give in-person briefings about election security and foreign election interference to the House and Senate Select Committees on Intelligence. The committees still will have access to finalized, written versions of intelligence reports, but will not be able to question officials in-person about the reports.

©2020 The Day, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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