Confusion Remains Over Homeland Security’s Wisconsin Election Hacking Claims

Agency Says Voting Systems Weren't Aim But State Still Targeted

People voting
David Dermer/AP Photo

The federal government continues to clarify its claims last week that Russian hackers attempted to access Wisconsin’s online voting systems before the 2016 election.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security notified state election officials Tuesday morning that a hacker’s July 2016 attempts to scan information were not within the Wisconsin Elections Commission network, but instead within the state Department of Workforce Development network.

But later Tuesday Homeland Security spokesman Scott McConnell told The Associated Press in a statement that “discussions of specific IP addresses do not provide a complete picture of potential targeting activity.”

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McConnell said the department stands by its assessment that 21 states, including Wisconsin, were targeted. He said the agency was providing additional information to states that had questions Tuesday.

“It’s really created quite a flurry and quite a lot of concern,” Elections Commission chairman Mark Thomsen said of last week’s federal claims. “We have to establish that we are going to be secure.”

State officials continued to reassure Wisconsin residents that no voter data or ballots were compromised during the 2016 elections.

Thomsen said state officials will seek additional information from the federal government about possible hacking, and seek to find out why the DHS notified the state Friday about targeted election systems and changed its position the following Tuesday.

“We need to have verification in clear, simple, plain speak, so my fellow Wisconsin citizens have that same level of confidence,” Thomsen said.

Technology experts from the state Department of Administration testified they have no evidence of any scan or attempted hack by Russian individuals to Wisconsin’s election systems.

Commission staff also outlined a plan Tuesday for increasing security around Wisconsin’s election systems. That plan, which is scheduled to be complete by 2018, will include measures to prevent and respond to things such as hacking in coordination with local, state and federal elections officials.

Thomsen expressed concern about completing that work with fewer staff than the commission anticipated.

Gov. Scott Walker cut five full-time positions from the commission in his vetoes of the 2017-19 state budget.

“Our funding was gutted, we have a plan we have to implement with seriously reduced numbers,” Thomsen said.

Commission members approved a motion to communicate with legislative leaders about restoring those positions.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission met Tuesday to address the hacking concerns, as well as discuss the Trump administration’s request for information on voter fraud in Wisconsin. The commission has not sent the Trump administration the requested information on fraud, as it hasn’t received an agreed upon payment for the information.

Editor’s Note: This story was last updated at 8:50 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017.