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Americans overwhelmingly concerned with vulnerabilities in election systems prior to midterms: Poll

October 10, 2018

Nearly 80 percent of Americans are concerned that the nation’s voting system might be vulnerable to hackers, according to the results of a nationwide poll conducted ahead of the Nov. 6 midterm elections.

Forty-five percent of adults surveyed last month said they are extremely or very concerned that the country’s voting system could be breached by hackers, while 34 percent said they were somewhat concerned with election-related security bugs, pollsters said Wednesday.

One in five respondents said they were either not too concerned or not at all concerned that the country’s voting systems could be compromised, pollsters added.

Based on a nationwide survey conducted by the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, the results are practically identical to those from a poll taken two years earlier, indicating Americans are as worried as ever about election security in spite of evidence emerging in the interim of Russian hackers meddling in the 2016 race.

Forty-one percent of respondents said they were extremely or very concerned about hackers breaching election systems when they were asked in September 2016, 35 percent said they were somewhat concerned and 23 percent said they were either not too concerned or not concerned at all.

Federal intelligence and law enforcement officials have since accused Russian state-sponsored hackers of mounting a multi-pronged attack against the 2016 election, including efforts that culminated in successfully breaching targets ranging from the Democratic National Committee and the chairman of former Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton’s campaign, to a company that manufacturers elected-relation software and hardware and voter rolls in Illinois.

More recently, security researchers who conducted a hands-on audit of second-hand voting machines and election equipment said they discovered a “staggering” number of vulnerabilities, including a bug affecting a voting tabulator that is currently used in 26 states and D.C.

When notified that one of the bugs could be potentially harnessed by hackers to alter vote tallies, 35 percent of people surveyed said they still had either a great deal or quite a bit of confidence in the accuracy of next month’s midterms, while one in five respondents said they had either only a little support or none at all.

Four in 10 respondents said they were either extremely concerned or very concerned that hackers could breach voting registration information, election equipment or the end results of next month’s race, pollsters added.

Seventy-six percent of the respondents said they were at least somewhat concerned that election results could be compromised by hackers, pollsters added.

“Democracy only works when the public believes the result is legitimate,” said Anthony Fowler, an associate professor at Harris. “This new data suggests skepticism toward new voting technologies and genuine concern that votes will not be counted properly. Election security is a serious matter, with large majorities expecting a range of federal officials, including national security organizations, to take more responsibility.”

The Justice Department is actively investigating interference in the 2016 race, and special counsel Robert Mueller’s office has returned criminal charges against several Russians accused of participating in the suspected state-sponsored hacks.

Moscow has denied meddling in the 2016 race.

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