Accessibility links

Breaking News

Public Might Not Know about Attacks on US Election Systems

A voter enters the voting booth in Manchester, New Hampshire, Nov. 4, 2014.
A voter enters the voting booth in Manchester, New Hampshire, Nov. 4, 2014.
Public Might Not Know About Computer Attacks on US Election Systems
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:03:40 0:00

It is no secret that foreign computer hackers are targeting election systems in the United States.

Government officials believe Russian agents searched for weaknesses in election systems in all 50 U.S. states during the presidential election in 2016. But if hackers were able to interfere in U.S. elections in 2020, voters and some public officials may not learn about it until much later.

Government officials with the Federal Bureau of Investigation – or, FBI – usually investigate computer hacking. But they are not required to share information when an election system is hacked. And they must follow rules about protecting the identities of possible victims.

The Associated Press has reported that the situation can be difficult for election officials. They want to know about hacking efforts so they can protect their systems. But they do not want their agencies to look bad. And they do not want to create chaos and confusion, which is what hackers are seeking.

In general, election agencies can decide whether and whom to tell that their systems have been hacked.

Jena Griswold is a public official in Colorado. Her state urges local election officials to tell the government if they suspect a cyberattack.

“Every American in this nation deserves to have a democracy they can believe in…” she said. Griswold believes better communication about possible hacking will help voters trust that the systems are working.

Government officials who are dealing with the problem say communication about election security has become better in the last two years. They are trying to balance the importance of privacy about criminal cases, and the need for voters to feel that the elections are free and fair. Last June, a public opinion study found that a majority of Americans said they worried voting systems might not be protected against hackers.

Matt Dietrich is a spokesperson for the Illinois State Board of Elections. In 2016, Russian hackers broke into the state’s voter registration database. State officials moved quickly to shut down the system and prevent the hackers from gaining more information.

Election officials in Illinois told the public about the hack. But most people quickly lost interest in it, Dietrich said.

He believes 2020 will be different. If foreign hackers attack U.S. voting systems, “it will be a national and worldwide story,” Dietrich said. He believes everyone will be watching what happens this time.

I’m Kelly Jean Kelly.

Kelly Jean Kelly adapted this Associated Press story for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter Jr. was the editor.


Words in This Story

hacker –n. a person who secretly accesses a computer system to get information or cause damage

chaos –n. complete confusion and disorder

confusion –n. a situation in which people are uncertain about what to do

cyberattack –n. an effort to gain illegal entry into a computer system for the purpose of causing damage or harm

We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments section, and visit our Facebook page.