Security upgrades prepare Illinois election infrastructure for the midterms

ByChuck Goudie and Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel, Ross Weidner and Maggie Green WLS logo
Tuesday, November 8, 2022
Security upgrades prepare IL election infrastructure for midterms
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Illinois election officials have made security upgrades to prepare the state's infrastructure for cyber-threats in the 2022 midterms.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Potential election disruptions come in many forms, and for years officials have planned for cyber-threats trying to take our election system down. Now, the new election landscape has workers facing serious threats while coordinating an elaborate election process under extreme scrutiny.

Kane County spent nearly $60,000 on high tech equipment, including a massive machine that is part of the ballot validation process, this election cycle to ensure elections run smoothly and with integrity.

"We have tight control here," said Kane County Clerk John Cunningham. "Nobody can intentionally interfere with the balance nor has that happened in any of our elections."

Cameras capture all of the security protocols along the way.

"We're following the law and we're we put in all the safeguards we can. We try to be as transparent as we can," Cunningham said. "We invite people come in and poll watch. We're getting more poll watchers now than we've ever had before."

As coordinated misinformation campaigns have put more pressure on those who run elections across the country, poll watching nationwide has become a flash point. The Department of Justice says "vigilante ballot security measures" such as reports of armed men showing up at ballot boxes in Arizona is crossing a line and risking voter intimidation.

"We're in a time right now where our public is highly skeptical. A small portion of that is very, very angry. You'd hate to see mini-January 6 as occurring in any of our courthouses," said Noah Praetz of The Elections Group.

Praetz used to run elections in Cook County and now his non-partisan consulting firm works with local officials across the country to help run safe and secure elections in a rapidly evolving environment.

"First and foremost, they've got to run the election free from fraud, free from error, so that there's a strong baseline to rely on. We've also got to keep an eye out for foreign adversaries, I mean, first, they're very adept at getting inside of our heads inside of our social networks, finding American fault lines and pressing on them, salting our wounds. But beyond that, they've got strong cyber capabilities. We've got to keep an eye out on that. But as election officials juggle all those responsibilities, and they're watching out for their poll workers, concern of whether they're safe, that's taken a lot more focus than it should be," Praetz said.

Even though the FBI is sounding the alarm about election worker threats nationally, local election officials told the I-Team they have not had any threats against election workers here in Illinois.

Still, data obtained by the I-Team shows that authorities all over the state have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to increase election security. The upgrades range from digital firewalls to security cameras deployed in ballot processing rooms and equipment warehouses.

Election experts said a new Department of Justice task force launched in 2021 to deal with election safety is a good step, but more needs to be done.

"We're definitely seeing some movement. But on the other hand, I think longer term, there's so much that both the federal government and state and local governments could do in terms of providing funding for security and safety," said Gowri Ramachandran, senior counsel at Brennan Center Election & Government Program.

In Kane County, Cunningham said he has arranged for back up security to protect election workers if any problems arise.

"We're ready. We've done everything humanly possible and probably more than a lot of election authorities have done to ensure the integrity and security of our election process," Cunningham said.