Krebs Says Voting Machines Without Paper Ballots Should Be Phased Out, Admits Some Connected to Internet on Election Day

December 16, 2020 Updated: December 16, 2020

A former senior cybersecurity official told a Senate hearing on election security Wednesday that some voting machines were connected to the Internet on Nov. 3 and that those without paper ballots should be phased out, saying, “you can’t hack paper.”

Christopher Krebs, who prior to his recent dismissal by President Donald Trump served as director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing that paper ballots are key to shoring up election integrity.

“That’s why it’s so important to have a paper trail. That’s why it’s so important to have paper ballots, so even if there were foreign interference of a malicious algorithm nature, you can always go back to your receipts, and you can check your math,” Krebs said.

“Georgia did that three times,” Krebs said, adding, “and the outcomes were consistent over and over and over again,” referring to the multiple paper-based recounts that took place in the state that confirmed the accuracy of initial vote counts.

“While elections are sometimes messy, this was a secure election,” Krebs said, echoing a November joint statement issued by Krebs, CISA, and a coalition of elections infrastructure advisory councils, which called the election “the most secure in American history” and that “there is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”

Following that joint statement, Trump, who has repeatedly claimed widespread voter fraud and other irregularities, disagreed with Krebs’ characterization and fired him.

“The recent statement by Chris Krebs on the security of the 2020 Election was highly inaccurate, in that there were massive improprieties and fraud,” Trump wrote in a Nov. 18 tweet, which claimed there had been “dead people voting,” “poll watchers not allowed into polling locations,” and “glitches in voting machines that changed votes from Trump to Biden.”

Krebs’ remarks at the hearing on the importance of paper ballots echoed a statement he made on Twitter several weeks ago, when he said that even if so-called ballot dumps did occur, which Trump and some Republicans said was evidence of fraud, “the subsequent canvass, audit, and/or recount processes would have identified inconsistencies. And yet the outcomes were consistent in GA, WI, PA, etc.,” adding, “the proof is in the paper ballots.”

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, in his opening remarks, acknowledged prior efforts to reduce reliance on electronic voting.

“We have increased the percentage of votes using paper ballots from 82 percent in 2016 to 95 percent in 2020—and a lot of that had to do with the efforts of CISA and Chris Krebs, recognizing that there was a vulnerability in our system, not having that audit trail,” Johnson said.

Chairman Ron Johnson
Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) speaks at the start of a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing on the government’s response to the CCP virus outbreak in Washington, on March 5, 2020. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

But while Johnson said that building up a backup audit trail delivered a significant improvement to election integrity following the 2016 election, he noted that a paper-based record is meaningful “only if full or statistically valid recounts occur.”

Johnson also said vote scanners, ballot-marking machines, and tabulators should not be connected to the Internet during voting, “but we found some do have the capability of being connected and there are allegations that some were.”

He asked Krebs to provide some details about the Internet connectivity of voting machines.

“When a vote is cast, on Election Day, those machines tend to be and should not be connected to the Internet, certainly as a best practice,” Krebs said, prompting Johnson to interject, saying, “but some have the capability, don’t they?”

“Some may have modems that are typically disabled but in certain states, I believe in Wisconsin, some are temporarily activated to transmit some counts. But again, when you have paper, you can conduct a post-election audit,” Krebs said, adding that there are security protocols in place to ensure that “technology is not a single point of failure and there are security controls before, during and after the vote process.”

“As you move out from election day, there will be tabulators that may have Internet connections to transmit the vote from the precinct to the county level to the state. Again, security controls in place and as long as you have that paper, you can’t hack paper, you can run that process after.”

Johnson said the aim of the hearing is to “restore the confidence in our election system.”

“Even though courts have handed down decisions and the Electoral College has awarded [Democratic presidential candidate] Joe Biden 306 Electoral College votes, a large percentage of the American public does not believe the November election results are legitimate,” he said.

A Dec. 14 Rasmussen poll found that 92 percent of voters who strongly approve of President Donald Trump’s job performance believe there was widespread voter fraud in the November election, while 73 percent of Republicans think Trump’s contest-of-election legal challenges are the result of voter fraud.

“With less than a month left in my chairmanship of this committee, the examination of irregularities in the 2020 election will obviously be my last investigation and last hearing as chairman, but oversight into election security should continue into the next Congress because we must restore confidence in the integrity of our voting system,” Johnson said.

In contrast to claims that the November election was highly secure, affidavits filed as part of lawsuits in some states by the Trump campaign and others showed poll observers and election workers attesting to fraud, including the counting of mysterious ballots arriving in vehicles with out-of-state license plates, and votes for Trump being counted for Biden.

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