MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin’s plan to bolster election security after its voter database was apparently targeted by Russia in 2016 includes training nearly 2,000 municipal clerks to fend off hackers and a two-week U.S. Department of Homeland Security test to identify vulnerabilities in the state system.
The Wisconsin Elections Commission on Tuesday discussed ways to protect ballots that are cast and counted across 1,853 municipalities in 72 counties before the August primary and the November midterm election. Security has been stepped up since Homeland Security confirmed “Russian government cyber actors” had been looking at but had not compromised Wisconsin’s elections systems two years ago.
In May or June, Homeland Security will run a two-week risk vulnerability assessment to simulate hacking attempts on the state election system from inside and outside the network. That will include sending simulated malicious emails, known as phishing, to track email activity.
The state’s Division of Enterprise Technology, which is in charge of internet security, will be working in conjunction with Homeland Security and elections officials on the test. Homeland Security will provide the state with a report identifying any vulnerabilities and suggesting ways they can be addressed.
Other steps being taken to increase election security include implementing the best practices being used elsewhere and installing a new user policy and confidentiality agreement for those who access the state’s voter registration database.
Wisconsin’s municipal-based election system, which puts 1,853 local clerks in charge of running elections, makes it difficult to adequately train all of them to ensure their systems are secure, said Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe.
The commission is creating six interactive online tutorials on various election security topics and is partnering with county clerks to train municipal clerks on security best practices, develop response plans and test them by role playing different scenarios. That includes potential incidents like the breach of a user password, a malware attack or attempting physical tampering with voting equipment.
The commission is also moving ahead with using electronic poll books, instead of the paper ones used now, to check in voters at polling places. Five electronic poll books, dubbed Badger Books, will be in place at five polling stations in the April 3 spring election as part of a pilot program. They will be used in Brookfield, Mequon, Sun Prairie, Beloit and the Town of Trenton in Washington County.
The electronic poll books, that can also be used to register voters, process an absentee ballot and other election-related activities, are scheduled to be used statewide in the Aug. 14 primary and Nov. 6 midterms.
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