Utah’s databases are attacked over a billion times a day, so the Lt. Governor wants to ensure elections are secure

Posted at 2:14 PM, Oct 02, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-02 20:05:35-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah's electronic systems and databases are subjected to attacks from foreign powers and local hackers on a daily basis.

In fact, the state deals with more than a billion attempts a day to breach databases, Lt. Governor Spencer Cox told reporters on Tuesday. The attacks come from Russia, China and even locally.

Utah Lt. Governor Spencer Cox (center) speaks with Elections Director Justin Lee (left) and Mark Mitchell with the Utah State Elections Office about election security. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

"In 2016, as you know, 21 states were specifically targeted and attacked by Russia. We do know Utah was not one of those states," Lt. Gov. Cox said.

It was Mitt Romney's campaign for U.S. Senate that prompted a review of election security. Romney, a former GOP presidential candidate and a critic of Russia, prompted the state elections office to push for increased security measures to ensure it wasn't a target for hacking.

"We felt like we very much could be because of the high profile nature of that race," Lt. Gov. Cox said.

The state has spent millions to upgrade voting machines and shore up systems to guard against data breaches and ensure votes are secure. But there's different levels of sophistication from Piute County to Salt Lake County.

Paper ballots are the most secure, and 27 of Utah's 29 counties have gone vote-by-mail. Voting machines at polling precincts will have paper trails and will not be connected to the internet. Data from ballot scanners and the election machines will be physically taken from the machines and processed. The results are physically taken and uploaded to the state.

"Each piece of that is disconnected except for the final piece which basically uploads those tallies, not the actual vote itself, but the tallies up to us on Election Day," said Mark Mitchell with the Utah State Elections Office.

This year's election is expected to have higher turnout than usual for a mid-term election.

A vote by mail return box at the Salt Lake City & County Building. (FOX 13 file image)

"We do have issues that aren’t normally on the ballot that there’s excitement with, additional vote by mail as well," said Justin Lee, the state elections director.

The medical marijuana ballot initiative, the gas tax hike for education, the hotly contested 4th Congressional District race and all things Trump is driving it, said Lt. Gov. Cox.

"It feels like we’re going to have high turnout," he said.

The Lt. Governor's Office said it wanted to ensure voters it will have secure elections. It has also been coordinating with the FBI and U.S. Department of Homeland Security and deemed elections "critical infrastructure."

"We really increased the security statewide for our systems and I think that’s why we haven’t had a breach. With elections getting so much attention we were ahead of the curve from other states," Lt. Gov. Cox said.