Secretary of State Bill Galvin is confident in the security of Massachusetts’ elections in the wake of revelations from special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election that local elections officials and systems were targeted in an attempt to disrupt the election.
Galvin, who has been in office since 1995, was criticized by his opponent Josh Zakim in last fall’s election for not modernizing the state’s electoral process. But the secretary said it was his “old school” system that kept Massachusetts safe from interference in 2016.
“We were fortunate not to be the effort of hacking in 2016 ... probably for two reasons,” Galvin said during an interview with Boston Public Radio on Thursday. “First of all, we only have paper card ballots here in Massachusetts. We do not have any electronic equipment — as far as I’m concerned, we never will have. Secondly, as far as our voter records ... they’re on a closed system. They’re not on the internet, and therefore more difficult to reach.”
As the 2020 elections approach, Galvin said his office is anticipating an unprecedented turnout in both party primaries and the general election, given the size of the Democratic field and strong feelings toward President Donald Trump.
“What concerns me is this all coming down very, very quickly. We’re going to be having major events in the first three months of 2020,” Galvin said. “I’m going to [have to] prepare for a presidential primary on March 3, 2020, which is probably going to have on the Democratic side anywhere from 15-20 candidates [and] probably a huge turnout. Probably a lot of Republicans coming out, too, because of either enthusiasm or loathing for Trump. So, we’ve got a huge event coming up, and being prepared for it — that’s what we have to do.”
Galvin said protection from cyber threats is a priority of his, as it was in 2016, and said his office has continued to strengthen and expand its cybersecurity apparatus in addition to ensuring that municipalities throughout the state are also prepared to handle a potential cyber threat.
“We were concerned about cybersecurity prior to 2016. We spent money on it then; we’ve spent more money on it since,” Galvin said. “We have a full cybersecurity team on the staff [and] are constantly trying to train our local election officials.”
Critical to Galvin’s strategy is keeping the state’s central voter registry (CVR) separate from the internet, and with minimal contact to outside sources. Though some municipalities have voiced an interest in employing electronic poll books to store their voter information, Galvin remains skeptical of their safety, and said the safest thing election officials can do is use the traditional paper ballot system.
“From an accounting point of view, as long as you have a [paper ballot] … you have something to go back on. Electronically, you don’t have a record,” Galvin said. “Sure, I wish there was some magic system, it’d be wonderful if we could do it. Hasn’t happened yet. Until it does, we’re going to stick with what we got.”
Galvin’s concerns, however, are not solely with interference from the Russian government. When asked about a hacking attempt on the state’s election website in November, Galvin said that it was the work of someone “amateurish,” but that the incident demonstrated how threats to voting systems across the nation are persistent.
“I think in a sense, we’ve entered an era of electoral terrorism,” Galvin said. “There’ll be a lot of people trying to do crazy things — maybe foreign people, maybe inside the United States. We have to be prepared for that.”
To Galvin, November’s incident and the issues raised in Mueller’s report both cemented his faith in Massachusetts’ traditional ballot system. He believes the 2020 election is not a time to be innovative, but rather to stick to what has worked in the past.
“I think the fundamentals remain the same. You want to make sure that the system on which you vote is reliable, and you want to make sure the records of who’s eligible are reliable,” Galvin said. “So, we have to make sure this is right, and this particular election in 2020 is at the top of the list. This is going to be an extremely important election for the future of this republic.”