State’s top election official confirms Russia attempted to meddle with Alabama’s voting systems

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Secretary of State John Merrill, the state’s top election official, says he has been presented with information showing “potential system compromises due to Russian attempts at interference with the 2016 General Election.”

A news release from Merrill’s office says that suspicious IP addresses were detected scanning activity in 27 states, resulting in potential incidents in 13 of those states.

Merill’s office says three national events were confirmed prior to election day.

According to the release, The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) detected suspicious activity “from IP addresses connected to election-related activity.”

The Secretary of State’s office says, “This information shows Alabama’s system protections  and preparations were successful in thwarting attempted hackers from breaching state networks and voting systems during the attacks.”

“While it is encouraging that our efforts to protect Alabamians’ data have proven to be successful,” Secretary of State John Merrill said. “We must remain vigilant and prepared for the constantly evolving threats to our voting systems and the integrity of those processes. We will utilize every resource available to ensure we are protecting the data of all Alabamians.”

Merrill had previously offered a security update on election systems in June of 2017, writing at the time, “In light of recent news, regarding the compromise of a U.S. based voter registration system, I felt it was important to reassure Alabamians that the systems we utilize have not been compromised.”

He elaborated, “Our Vendor, Election Systems and Software (ES&S) ensures us that no instances of compromise have been introduced within the State of Alabama’s electronic voter registration system.”

The next month, Merrill complained to Morning Consult about the lack of transparency from DHS in regards to election security investigations, saying,  “If there’s been a breach in any state, they have not told the chief elections official in any state that their state was directly impacted.”

“I can tell you that we have not been notified of a threat or a compromise, and we’re not aware of any that has occurred because none has been introduced to us,” he said.

Merrill had ordered a full security review of the state’s voting systems in September of 2016 after the FBI found breaches of election systems in Arizona and Illinois.

In fact, Merrill even told WHNT News 19  that same month that he was considering implementing some changes in Alabama that he had learned in Russia during an election monitoring trip in September 2016. He contributed to an election monitoring report by the Operation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

We also spoke to him about the possibility of election hacking in October of 2016. Merrill at that time said that an election could not be rigged in Alabama.

“In Alabama, our systems are air-gapped. They’re not connected through the internet. That’s not a possibility,” Merrill said.

However, Secretary Merrill said other state voting systems might not be as secure.

This latest release, which acknowledges suspicious activity related to Alabama’s voting systems, comes just days before Alabamians are set to go to the polls again for GOP Primary Runoff for a United States Senate seat.