West Virginia Secretary of State, Federal Prosecutor Warn Against Election Tampering

Oct 2, 2019

West Virginia’s chief elections officer and a federal prosecutor announced they are looking into an possible attempted intrusion into the state’s election system last year. The two officials held a news conference Tuesday to make note of the incident and to promote election security as part of October's designation as National Cybersecurity Awareness Month.

Secretary of State Mac Warner said Tuesday he referred a matter to the United States Attorney’s Office that might have been an unsuccessful attempt to gain access to the state election system during the 2018 election cycle.

Warner said the incident occurred during the rollout of a mobile voting pilot for uniformed overseas absentee voters. During the pilot rollout, Warner said application vendor and Boston-based company Voatz identified activity that could have been an attempt to gain access to the system.

Warner has touted the Voatz application as a means to give wider election access to military absentee voters. However, the concept of online voting — including those on mobile applications, like Voatz — has been highly scrutinized by election and cybersecurity experts in the wake of the 2016 election. 

“In last year’s election, we detected activity that may have been an attempt to penetrate West Virginia’s mobile voting process,” Warner said. “No penetration occurred and the security protocols to protect our election process worked as designed.”

Warner also said no votes were tampered with and the integrity of the election was not compromised.

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia Mike Stuart held a press conference with Warner Tuesday at the federal courthouse in Charleston. 

Stuart said his office and the FBI are investigating the incident, although no determination has yet been made whether any federal laws were broken. He provided no further details on the investigation.

Even so, Warner and Stuart noted that October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month — a period recognized by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security “to raise awareness about the importance of cybersecurity and to ensure that all Americans have the resources they need to be safer and more secure online.”

The two officials used the Tuesday news conference to warn against uninvited attempts to breach the West Virginia’s election system.

“This announcement today is to warn people that any attempt to hack an election will be fully investigated by the FBI and turned over to prosecutors when appropriate,” Warner said. 

Stuart echoed Warner’s remarks, stating that his office is prepared to pursue criminal charges against those who attempt to tamper with the state’s election system. 

“If you are a party – any party – or an individual – any individual – that intentionally compromises or attempts to intentionally compromise our election systems, the security related to our election systems, or the legitimacy of the votes cast by citizens, my office will prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law,” Stuart said. “Free and fair elections are a critical foundation to the maintenance of liberty.”