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Erie County Board of Elections upgrading its cybersecurity

Mike Desmond / WBFO News

The Erie County Board of Elections is tightening security on its computer systems as the country heads toward a presidential election.

Albany will reimburse the county for $317,000 in software improvements and upgrades.

"To put in place software to constantly monitor it, to alert us in the event that there is an attempted hack into our system and also to upgrade our software from versions that are no longer supported or are supported less by the vendors to those which are the latest and the most secure," said Republican Elections Commissioner Ralph Mohr.

The county is different from elections in many states because it uses voting machines built around paper ballots, which are recounted during the canvass for the official results. There are voting machines in which all voting and counts are electronic. The Board of Elections scene can be a little chaotic after the polls close because results are on those small flash drives attached to the machines.

Mohr said they aren't counted in the regular board computer system.

"Where they're fed into a computer, which is totally offline and not connected to any other system at the Board of Elections," he said. "Once those results are tabulated, again, we then take that, manually transport a USB chip from that computer onto a system that is hooked up to the internet to report the results."

Important this year, Mohr said a system not connected to the web is used to process absentee ballots and mailed ballots. Even the voter registration system isn't directly online, although Mohr said there is no point in hacking into that system because it's copied to Albany every day and the registration data is for sale to political campaigns anyway.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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