Initial signs point to surprisingly hack-free election, but risks remain

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Three and a half years of election security upgrades, training and government information sharing appeared to pay off on Election Day as voting unfolded with the usual technical glitches but no evidence of successful cyberattacks.

a person standing next to a suitcase: A worker returns voting machines to storage at the Fulton County election preparation center n Atlanta.

© AP Photo/John Bazemore
A worker returns voting machines to storage at the Fulton County election preparation center n Atlanta.

The electronic poll books used to check in voters failed in several counties, one results reporting website suffered a brief outage and the internet failed in the election office of one of Florida’s most important counties. But as of Wednesday morning, there is no evidence that hackers were responsible for those incidents or any other disruptive activities, despite months of preelection warnings that Russian cyber operators were probing potential targets throughout the U.S. political system.

Federal officials and independent observers attributed the thus-far hack-free election to a successful partnership with state and local officials, who reported suspicious activity and enacted backup procedures when technology failed.

“This coordination is the most unheralded intergovernmental success story,” said Matthew Weil, the director of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Elections Project. “Voters have had their confidence shaken in the elections process this year, but it is more secure and professional than at any point in our history.”

The security of the election machinery across U.S. counties and states remains far less than ideal in much of country, and breakdowns in newly purchased devices contributed to chaos and long lines during some of this year’s presidential primaries. But government leaders praised Americans for not overreacting to glitches or assuming the worst about them, saying voters seemed to recognize what officials have said for years: that foreign adversaries will do whatever it takes to undermine confidence in U.S. elections, and that jumping to conclusions does that work for them.

Covert military action may also have helped knock adversaries off balance. In recent weeks, according to The Washington Post, U.S. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency retaliated against Iran for the…