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Local officials called on Washington to make sure Russia can't hack future elections



The 2016 election proved that the U.S. electoral system is vulnerable to hacking by foreign adversaries, and local officials working on the front lines want Washington to help make sure it doesn't happen again.

"Cybersecurity issues are now the flavor of the month, they are a really important issue, and they are not going to go away," Nellie Gorbea, Rhode Island's secretary of state, told a congressional task force last week.

It wasn't always that way, but local election officials have had to become quick studies on cyber security issues as they prepare for the next round of elections, some of which will take place in a matter of days. Like many issues, the primary roadblocks include a lack of resources and know-how. All elections, federal or local, are handled at the local level. Historically, these jurisdictions have been more or less on their own when it comes to making sure elections run smoothly. That makes it difficult for poorer regions.

Congress has responded to the events in 2016 with a task force which aims to find out what can be done to secure future elections. The task force's members are under no illusions when it comes to the threat.

"Based on past attempts, we know that a country like Russia, with a leader like Putin, they will be back with the ultimate goal of destabilizing democratic institutions," said Rep. Bennie Thompson during one of the task force's forums.

Russia reportedly hacked into 21 state election systems, but the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) has said all 50 states were "scanned." But it is not just Russia that election leaders are worried about going forward.

"I believe that not only are foreign actors looking to mess with elections, but I believe that there are folks within our own country looking to meddle in our election," said EAC commissioner Thomas Hicks during the forum.

Hicks did not elaborate, but there are a multitude of both state and non-state actors who have posed a cyber threat to the U.S. before. Looking at you, North Korea.

A group of attendees at the annual Def Con hacker conference in Las Vegas proved just how at risk U.S. elections can be after they successfully hacked into several systems used by states nationwide. Edgardo Cortes, the commissioner of the Virginia Election Commission, told the forum that an attendee posted the password for one of his state's systems on the internet, spurring him and his team to address the problem.

While money would help replace aging and unsecured equipment, local officials also want the government to provide some guidance going forward.

"Rather than having every state reinvent the wheel in terms of security guidelines, really help us press upon some baselines," said Gorbea.

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