S.C. election officials were trained on cybersecurity and election audits on Wednesday 

Federal intelligence officials have warned that Russia could interfere in upcoming elections

click to enlarge JONATHAN BONCEK FILE PHOTO
  • Jonathan Boncek file photo
The State Election Commission held a two-day cybersecurity and ballot audit workshop this week as they prepare for the highly-consequential 2018 midterm elections.

Held over two days in Columbia, officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security spoke to 150 election officials and IT staff from all of South Carolina's 46 counties on how to improve the state's election infrastructure.

The Election Commission is currently in the process of adding a paper backup to the state's voting system by next year. Attendees of the workshop learned how the Maryland State Board of Elections audits paper ballot records to ensure that votes are properly accounted.

Speakers from SLED, the FBI's InfraGard program, and the Maryland and New Jersey boards of election were also present.

Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire cited the ongoing Russian threat as part of the reason for the trainings.

"There is also the threat of other nation-state actors, as well as criminals that could target the state’s election infrastructure driven by a variety of motivating factors," Whitmire added.

Voting system vendors who attended the workshop included voting system vendors Clear Ballot, Dominion Voting Systems, Hart InterCivic, and Election Systems & Software. Last month, Motherboard reported that ES&S — the top voting machine maker in the country — sent a letter to Sen. Ron Wyden in April walking back previous denials regarding crucial cybersecurity gaps.

The company admitted that in 2000-2006, they sold election-management systems that included remote-access software. The software left open the possibility for hackers to enter the machines, which were not used as actual voting terminals but still contained sensitive data.

In January 2018, then-CIA director Mike Pompeo said he had "every expectation" that Russia will continue meddling in U.S. elections, including November's midterms. Department of Justice Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III continues to investigate the extent of Russian influence in the 2016 election, along with any possible connections to President Donald Trump's campaign. The president's defense arguments have evolved as new revelations show the depth of his campaign's contacts with Russia. So far, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his associate Rick Gates have been indicted on charges stemming from the investigation. The president's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, is now cooperating with investigators.

Last year, the State Election Commission declined to provide the Trump administration with voter data for the president's "Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity," which originated from Trump's belief that massive voter fraud took place in the 2016 election, which he won. The commission cited a law that states only registered South Carolina voters can request the data, though the data is often widely shared with national parties and other entities, according to The Post & Courier.

"The Department of Homeland Security values our partnership with state and local election officials in S.C. as we work together to improve the security of the election process," said Homeland Security cybersecurity advisor Matt Masterson in a statement. "This week’s training and table top exercises are just a couple examples of the work DHS is doing with the State of South Carolina to make elections more resilient."

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