With elections systems in more than 20 states now reported to have come under attack from hackers, Hawaii officials are working with federal authorities to make sure it doesn’t happen here.

“Hawaii is not one of those states whose voter registration system has been breached,” said Nedielyn Bueno, head of the state Office of Elections voter services section. “We do have security in place to protect the system and our office is in contact with Homeland Security and the FBI in which they have provided us with recommendations.”

For security reasons, Bueno said she could not disclose what those recommendations were, nor identify what protections are already in place.

“Votes are stored on memory cards and delivered to the counting center in each county,” she said. “Neighbor island counting centers transmit their results via modem to the statewide counting center, where votes are tabulated.”

The results are then made public and shared with the counties. Each counting center also generates reports locally “to ensure that the votes were not affected during transmission,” Bueno said. 

Woman goes into voting booth at Kalani High School Primary Day 8.9.14
A voting booth at Kalani High School in 2014. PF Bentley/Civil Beat

The attempted intrusions nationally have targeted online systems such as registration databases. Thus far, the only successful breaches have been in Illinois and Arizona. The hacks have not affected voting or tabulation machines, according to news reports.

FBI Director James Comey has advised states to be be in contact with the DHS and to “make sure that their deadbolts are thrown and their locks are on.”

Intelligence and law enforcement officials have not said who might be behind the attacks, but a Democrat on the U.S. House intelligence committee said during an interview Sunday that Russia was the culprit.

Staying Vigilant

There are over 720,000 registered voters in Hawaii. The database draws on parallel records compiled by each of the four counties.

“We always have to be vigilant about these kinds of things,” said Honolulu City Clerk Glen Takahashi, who said his office has been in contact with the state Elections Office regarding security. “As an elections administrator, I had heard about this back in July, when the intrusions were first reported. More recently it has caught attention at the congressional level.”

The heightened nature of the presidential election and talk of a “rigged” result has added to the scrutiny.

“I hope that we are prepared and nothing happens,” said Takahashi.

Hawaii Elections Guide 2016

Janet Mason of the League of Women Voters Hawaii said she has previously shared security concerns with state elections office, which she said takes security concerns seriously.

“We have no particular concerns, but we do not support electronic voting or web voting,” she said. “Our voting system is a good arrangement, because we know that there is a guaranteed audit trail it there are complaints or problems.

The state’s voting vendor is Hart InterCivic, a Texas company whose clients include Washington state.

Takahashi said the counties will transfer administration of the voting databases to the state next year. The transfer is supported by the availability of federal funds.

Takahashi described the migration of data as timely, as county clerks are focused now on online voter registration. Same-day registration is also planned for 2018.

“People want to be able to check these things online,” he said, adding that the counties will continue to register voters.

Speaking of registration, the deadline for the Nov. 8 general election is Monday.

Get engaged! Join in the discussion of candidates and issues in the 2016 elections in our new Facebook Group, Civil Beat Politics. Connect with others and learn how to get involved in community issues that are central to this year’s elections.

About the Author