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Iowa Secretary of State Lays Out Security Plans For Election Day

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate stands behind a podium as he speaks to reporters about election security safeguards.
Grant Gerlock
Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate explains plans to monitor cybersecurity through the end of the 2020 election.

Iowa’s top election official says he is confident the state’s voting system is prepared to stand up to any potential cyberattacks aimed at disrupting the election.

On Election Day, experts from the Iowa National Guard, FBI and Secretary of State’s office among other agencies will be at the State Emergency Operations Center to monitor for cyberattacks and problems with security and intimidation at polling places.

Pate said Iowa voting networks have been scanned by the National Guard and U.S. Department of Homeland Security to check for vulnerabilities. If any problems do occur, he said the state’s ballot system serves as a backup.

“One thing that’s important for Iowans to remember if they have cybersecurity concerns is that we vote with paper ballots in Iowa,” Pate said. “You can’t hack a paper ballot.”

While thousands of small-scale attempts are made each day to breach Iowa election systems through malware and phishing attacks, there have been no major hacking efforts aimed at the state so far, Pate said.

Pate said his top concern for Election Day is not cybersecurity, it’s misinformation about voting.

“I encourage Iowans to not believe everything they read on social media,” Pate said. “Sometimes people are just giving out bad information. Others are trying to confuse voters and to create doubt in our elections.”

Last week, national security officials said Iranian operativessent intimidating emails to voters in Alaska and Florida that claimed to be from a far-right group in the U.S. Pate warned that more false messages meant to discourage voters are likely.

Asked how law enforcement would step in if voter intimidation occurs at a polling site, Iowa Department of Public Safety Commissioner Stephan Bayens said police officers cannot stand watch at polling stations because that in itself could be seen as a form of intimidation. However, local election officials can ask for officers to be present when problems arise.

Grant Gerlock is a reporter covering Des Moines and central Iowa