Tennessee's election systems are safe, despite a call from some Democrats for a multi-million paper ballot backup system, a top election official said Tuesday. "I am very confident our election systems are secure," Tennessee Elections Coordinator Mark ...and more »
Jordan Buie, USA TODAY NETWORK - Tennessee Published 6:49 p.m. CT Feb. 20, 2018
According to The Boston Globe, officials in a number of states are returning to paper ballots over fears of foreign countries interfering in U.S. elections. Zachary Devita has the story. Buzz60
Tennessee's election systems are safe, despite a call from some Democrats for a multi-million paper ballot backup system, a top election official said Tuesday.
"I am very confident our election systems are secure," Tennessee Elections Coordinator Mark Goins said by telephone Monday. "Elections are run by local people in a bipartisan fashion. It would be extremely difficult to affect the vote tallies, just because of the way the system is set up."
More: U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper calls for $28 million to address hacking threat
More: Some states are returning to paper ballots to prevent interference
Goins, who spoke on behalf of Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett on Monday, attended confidential briefings with Hargett on election security in Washington, D.C., last week. Goins addressed concerns raised by Democrats.
On Friday, U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, told reporters that warnings from the national intelligence community point to a "serious threat" to the nation’s voting system, and immediate changes are needed in Tennessee to avoid a compromised 2018 election cycle.
He referenced comments from top intelligence chiefs at a U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee meeting earlier in the week and called for a paper ballot back-up system to electronic voting machines paid for by $28 million in state-held federal funds.
Similarly, on Monday morning, Senate Minority Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, expressed frustrations that his own bill calling for paper ballots stalled in the Senate State and Local Government Committee.
"It’s disturbing the Senate appears uninterested in having a conversation about a paper trail, which is pretty essential to the integrity of our elections in our democracy," he said. "There’s bipartisan consensus in Washington that our elections are under attack by foreign governments with sophistication. It is baffling there is not greater concern from the other side of the aisle on this issue."
Adam Kleinheider, a spokesman for Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, said the speaker looked forward to talking to Hargett about what he learned in Washington.
But Goins said Monday afternoon there has been confusion about the nature of threats and when they originated.
"I realize Congressman Cooper had the press conference on Friday, but this wasn’t a Friday sounding the alarm situation," Goins said. "The alarm, actually if you go back and look historically, was really sounded during the 2016 election and even prior to that."
The elections coordinator said bad actors are always looking to disrupt the system, thus far through secondary means such as influencing voters through social media, hacking into politicians social media feeds and changing election results on local websites.
These actions can hurt voter confidence, he said, but actually changing vote tallies is a another matter, and Goins said he is confident can't happen.
"I’ve watched the (U.S.) Senate hearing Congressman Cooper was talking about," he said. "There’s nothing new out there. All this information your hearing is information that was available during 2016 or shortly thereafter."
He said Tennessee has not been targeted in efforts to attack the actual voting system, nor has there been a breach in system security.
"There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that vote tallies were tampered with," he said.
Goins said he believes some lawmakers' calls for paper ballots are misplaced.
"It’s very costly to go to paper ballots. It’s one thing to say that voting machines can be hacked, but the reality is there are 95 counties here and thousands of machines and they are in secure locations," he said. "They are not connected on the internet, and the internet capability is disabled."
Reach Reporter Jordan Buie at 615-726-5970 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jordanbuie.
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