Officials: Tennessee voters safe from Russian attack

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With much of the country concerned about Russians meddling in America's elections, local and state officials say Cannon County voters can rest assured their vote in the August 2 County General Election and State Primary will not be compromised by foreign agents.

"Cannon County voters should rest easy. Our voting machines record votes securely and our voting machines are safely removed from any threat the Internet may pose," local Administrator of Elections Matt Teply said.

Teply said with assurance a cyber-attack or hack of voting machines just can't happen.

"There is ZERO chance of the voting machines being attacked by an outside entity," Teply said in response to an email inquiry. "MicroVote (a state approved vendor) is the only group that ever engages our machines and that is to program the ballots. At no point are our machines even connected with the tally computer. Results are taken from the machines with a tally card. Of note, even our tally computer is NEVER connected to the Internet. Any updates or changes are made through a MicroVote flash drive."

Teply also said he is unaware of any effort to change or deface any of the information on the election commission's Internet pages.

"To my knowledge, the web site and Facebook page had never been attacked. The amount of sensitive information on either site is basically ZERO. As far as posting purposely incorrect information, that's never happened," Teply said.

Teply said the county's voting machines are protected from outside interference.

"Our machines are protected from tampering of any sort ... not just an Internet attack. After the voting machines are programed, the county's machine technicians (at a public meeting) verify each machine. In other words, they run result tapes off every machine to ensure there are NO votes recorded and the ballot is correct. Any citizen is welcome to watch this process.

"Some machines are "vote verified," meaning each button is checked to ensure they are recording votes properly. Once they are verified, the machines are sealed and not opened again until Election Day. Before the polls open, tally tapes are run at the polling location to ensure no votes have been recorded. Again, once our voting machines are verified at a public meeting, they are not hooked up to anything more than a printer until well after the election.

"In other words, our machines are protected from attack because there is no opportunity to do so."

Teply also said the election commission's web site and Facebook page contain no sensitive information about voters, even addresses.

"Besides the information I've already shared ... at the close of polls, the machine operators at each polling location run a tally tape off each machine. These results are posted on the door and a copy is stashed in the precinct supplies. This is done before any tallying is initiated. Anyone can observe this 'paper trail' and use it to verify the results we publish from the office."

Adam Ghassemi, director of communications for the Tennessee Secretary of State, said to his knowledge the Division of Elections' website and social media accounts have not been victims of a cyber-attack. He also said voting machines are not accessible online.

"Voting machines are air-gapped so they are never connected to the Internet," Ghassemi said. "This prevents remote interference or the introduction of malicious software. Machines also vary by county because purchase decisions are made on the local level from a list of machines certified on the state and federal levels."

Ghassemi said the state has a number of tools in place to detect, thwart and share information about any potential threats, including any ordered by Russian president Vladimir Putin.

"We've also done extensive cybersecurity and cyber hygiene training with election officials across the state to ensure our systems remain secure."

He also said voters can feel confident in the voting systems each county has in place.

"Tennesseans should have full confidence that election officials in all of the state's 95 counties work tirelessly to conduct fair, honest and secure elections. It's our job to ensure the sanctity of each election is preserved and it's a job we do not take lightly," Ghassemi said.

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