You might remember hearing about voting issues at several Durham precincts on Election Day—particularly, screw-ups with poll books, the electronic systems used to check voters in.
Now, NPR reports
that the company responsible for providing the poll books was the target of a Russian cyberattack. According to a leaked NSA report, Russian hackers tried to break into VR Systems, the company that provided the poll books for more than twenty North Carolina counties, in August of last year. State officials didn't learn about the attack until nearly a year after it took place—when the news site The Intercept published
a story detailing Russian efforts to hack VR Systems.
It's worth noting there's no evidence that those two incidents—the machine malfunctions and the attack—are linked. Durham County elections director Derek Bowens insisted that no vote counts were affected by the hacking attempt, telling NPR that "it was administrative errors that caused the issues on Election Day."
Still, as the article notes, "The episode has revealed serious gaps in U.S. efforts to secure elections. Nine months later, officials are still trying to sort out the details."
The episode has left all parties frustrated.
VR Systems says it agrees with the county's findings, and that the problem was due to human error. Ben Martin, the company's chief operating officer, notes that no other county in the state had problems with VR Systems' pollbooks on Election Day. He also says the company warned its customers to be on the lookout for the fake emails when it became aware of them right before the election.
It's not clear how widely that information was shared.
Martin also insists that the hackers were unable to break into the company's computers, even though the leaked NSA intelligence report concludes that it's likely they did.
Attorney Allison Riggs [of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice] warned that the decision to use paper pollbooks caused the kind of chaos at the polls that many analysts worry is the real motive behind Russia's hacking attempts. Riggs was able to get a court order to extend voting hours in the problem precincts, but is worried about officials' future responses to what might just be a minor technical glitch.
"You want to be safe, absolutely," she says. " But you also want to have a measured, appropriate response that doesn't exacerbate the chaos or effect of whatever may be the problem."