By Doina Chiacu
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government is offering to help states protect the Nov. 8 election from hacking or other tampering, in the face of allegations by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump that the system is "rigged" and easy to manipulate.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told state officials in a phone call on Monday that federal cyber security experts could scan for vulnerabilities in their voting systems and provide other resources to help protect against infiltration, his office said in a statement.
Trump has questioned the integrity of U.S. election systems in recent weeks as his campaign hit a rough patch.
In a discussion about voter identification laws, Trump told Fox News it was "a little bit scary" that people do not have to show "voter ID" to cast their ballots.
"I mean people are going to walk in, they're going to vote 10 times maybe. Who knows? They're going to vote 10 times. So I am very concerned and I hope the Republicans are going to be very watchful," Trump said in an Aug. 3 interview.
The comments prompted a defense from the White House. "The president has confidence in the integrity of our electoral process, and everybody else should too," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
The Obama administration is considering whether to designate certain elections systems as "critical infrastructure," which would enable extra cyber security protections from the federal government.
Hackers can wreak havoc on an election in myriad ways, from hijacking a candidate's website to hacking voting machines or deleting or changing election records.
"There's vital interest in our election process," Johnson said at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast this month. "We’re actively thinking about the election and cyber security right now."
The Department of Homeland Security is charged with protecting the country's transport systems, bridges, utilities, airports and other infrastructure from cyber attack.
In his phone call, Johnson encouraged the state officials to comply with federal cyber recommendations, such as making sure electronic voting machines are not connected to the internet while voting is taking place, the department said.
The runup to the 2016 general election has already seen a massive cyber infiltration in which suspected Russian hackers gained access to Democratic Party computer systems.
An Electronic Privacy Information Center report this week said 32 of the 50 states will allow voting by insecure email, fax and internet portals in this election cycle.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)