Iowa's shield against election cyberattacks: paper ballots

State says it has 'A-team' in place to protect from interference

An attendee holds a sample ballot during AARP Iowa and the Latino Political Network's #x201c;It's Time to Vote#x201d; vo
An attendee holds a sample ballot during AARP Iowa and the Latino Political Network's “It’s Time to Vote” voter education meeting at the Marion Public Library in Marion on Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Iowa officials say they are using old-school technology — namely paper ballots — to thwart cyberterrorists employing sophisticated methods from trying to hack into the state’s voting systems.

Iowa officials held a Statehouse news conference Monday to assure voters who already are casting early ballots in the run-up to the Nov. 6 general election that steps are being taken to ensure the integrity of the process and trust in the final outcome.

“We vote on paper ballots,” said Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate, who is on that ballot because he faces a challenge from Democrat Deidre DeJear. “This a crucial security measure. You can’t hack a paper ballot.”

The state of Iowa’s computer systems face thousands of attacks on a daily basis, said Jeff Franklin of the Iowa Office of the Chief Information Officer. However, there is no evidence of any unauthorized intrusions into the election system, he noted, mainly because outside of voter registration very little of Iowa’s process or voting equipment is web-based.

“Your vote will count and it will be counted correctly,” said Franklin, who expects state officials in Iowa’s Security Operations Center in the basement of the Hoover State Office Building will be busy on Nov. 6 monitoring the process for any irregularities.

State officials have partnered with county, state and federal entities — including the U.S. and Iowa Departments of Homeland Security, the Iowa National Guard and the Iowa Department of Public Safety — as part of a “human firewall” to bolster Iowa’s election cyber defenses.

Pate said random postelection precinct audits will be conducted in all 99 counties to double check the process. Iowa also conducts a statewide canvass of county results before election outcomes are certified.


“We have assembled an A-team to protect the integrity of the vote,” said Pate, who also serves as Iowa’s commissioner of elections. “First-in-the-nation voting demands first-in-the-nation security,” he said, noting Iowa officials have installed anti-malware detections and network sensors, improved monitoring and created redundancies in Iowa’s voting system to combat outside interference.

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