State auditor to study security of Pennsylvania voter rolls
HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania’s elected governmental watchdog announced Monday a team from his agency will take a closer look at the state’s voter registration records to make sure they are accurate and safe from outside interference before the 2020 presidential election.
Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said his investigation was prompted by findings from federal intelligence agencies that Russian hackers had targeted Pennsylvania and 20 other states ahead of the 2016 presidential contest.
He said the review, to be done “as soon as possible,” will study the Statewide Uniform Registry of Electors, including its security measures, the accuracy of its records and the quality of its internal controls. The SURE system, as it is called, contains voter registration information for about 8 million Pennsylvanians.
“It’s not about who won or lost the election,” said DePasquale, a Democrat serving his second term in the elected position. He said potential concerns include a scenario in which outsiders could delete voter registrations or could add people who should not be registered.
DePasquale’s agency and the Department of State recently signed an agreement for the review after an audit authorizing bill that passed the state Senate unanimously in late March had not advanced out of the House State Government Committee.
DePasquale said “we could not wait” to see what would happen to the legislation before beginning the study. A House Republican spokesman offered no immediate comment.
The audit team will go back to the start of 2016, and their review also may include an evaluation of the state’s voting machines. Auditors will see if the voter registration data meets the requirements of federal and state law, review how the records are entered into the system and maintained, and examine other issues about the existing system’s operability and efficiency.
Robert Torres, who as acting secretary of state under Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf plays a lead role in running Pennsylvania’s elections, said the federal study indicated hackers with Russia-based computers attempted to probe the state’s systems, looking for vulnerabilities.
“To the best of our knowledge, they were not successful,” DePasquale said.
Torres said federal workers were at his offices last week, performing an elections vulnerability assessment. The results have not been announced.
Sen. Kim Ward, a Westmoreland County Republican who sponsored the Senate bill, said at a news conference with DePasquale that her goal is to give people confidence that the state’s elections systems are not compromised, countering online rumors and other fears.
She said Russian-based hackers are not the only issue – she also mentioned claims that noncitizens were registered in Philadelphia, as well as concerns about how the database handles the deaths of voters.
“We just want to make sure everything is the way it’s supposed to be,” Ward said.
Torres said the SURE system is aging and expensive to operate, so his department is starting to figure out what might replace it. He said putting in place a new system, once that decision has been made, will take about two years.