Well, after weeks of speculation, the Obama administration is “confident” that Russia is behind the various hacks that have targeted the Democratic Party apparatus, with Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson noting today that these hacks were meant to meddle in the upcoming presidential election (via Politico):
These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process," Jeh Johnson, the secretary of homeland security, and James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said in a statement. "Such activity is not new to Moscow—the Russians have used similar tactics and techniques across Europe and Eurasia, for example, to influence public opinion there. We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia's senior-most officials could have authorized these activities."
Johnson urged states to be vigilant of their election systems, adding that they contact the DHS immediately should any irregularities occur. In September, Johnson said that DHS might bring the American election system under its “critical infrastructure” umbrella. As for direct Russian intervention into our election system, Amber Phillips and Philip Bump of The Washington Post wrote at the time that there’s virtually no chance of that being successful:
- Before each election, a public test of the tabulating system is conducted to ensure that the machines are functioning as expected. King describes this process (which is not unique to Florida) as "an opportunity for members of the public and media to come and observe the ballot is correct and it can capture voter intent correctly and can tabulate it."
- On election night, results are encoded with multiple layers of encryption and transmitted to a central gathering point.
- Voting machines themselves are not connected to the Internet, preventing them all from being hacked at once.
- Thumb drives with results are also transmitted to the central location. Those drives are digitally signed and secured before Election Day, preventing their being replaced with a drive from somewhere else.
- If there are any corrupted or unusually slow results transmitted to the central location, the results from the thumb drives are used.
- Election night totals are transmitted to the state as unofficial results via both an encrypted device and over a separate network system.
- A week after the election, the results in each precinct are reviewed by looking at the paper totals. Any discrepancies are "researched and noted." The Florida vote is backed up by paper ballots (which isn't the case everywhere), facilitating that research.
Only once those checks are complete is the result certified.
That's the process that needs to be hacked to directly change the results of the election, not a hack of the voter registration database. There are hundreds of similar setups in all 50 states that similarly flow upward to state agencies. That distribution is an asset, not a flaw.
Yet, it’s safe to say that we’ve hit the nadir of our relations with Russia. The reset has only led to Crimea being annexed, rough negotiations over Syria that have led to no solutions, and now accusations of hacking to screw over Hillary Clinton after the most recent string of Syria talks have failed.