State Elections Commission Scales Back Plan On Secure Computers

Plan Sought Out $300K For Loaner Computers, But Voted To Spend Only $30K

Voters stand in line
Tony Dejak/AP Photo

The state Elections Commission has scaled back a plan to loan local clerks secure computers.

Commission staff warned that scores of clerks are using outdated computer systems or aren’t installing security patches, leaving their local election data and Wisconsin’s election system vulnerable to potentially devastating cyberattacks.

The head of Wisconsin’s election agency, Meagan Wolfe, told WPR’s “The Morning Show” ahead of the Election Commission’s vote that the plan would provide resources to local municipalities that don’t meet the baseline requirements for their system.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

“If there are municipal clerks that are not in compliance with the policies to enter our system, that we’re able to help with providing them with the hardware that they need and the software management that they need in order to continue to operate in a secure way,” she said.

Staff recommended buying software that can tests clerks’ vulnerabilities remotely, loaning clerks 250 up-to-date computers at a cost of up to $300,000 and creating a new position to provide technical support for the loaner program.

The commission voted Tuesday to purchase the software to test clerk vulnerabilities at a cost of up to $69,000 annually, but voted to spend only $30,000 on 25 loaner computers. The commission ordered staff to get the vulnerability-testing software in place and deliver findings from that effort at the commission’s Sept. 24 meeting.

Wisconsin is among nine other states named in a recent VICE News report calling out sensitive election systems connected to the internet that could leave votes vulnerable to hackers.

Wolfe said every day thousands of people try to get into state networks, yet countered by saying the state has a strong cybersecurity infrastructure.

“We continue to see people knocking on the door, trying to get in,” she said. “But we also continue to see that Wisconsin has an extremely robust infrastructure when it comes to cybersecurity, and that there has never been a successful breach or even attempted breach.”

The commission unanimously authorized staff to begin setting up the technical support position but to obtain commission permission before posting the position.

A federal grant will cover funding for all the initiatives.