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Gov. Scott Walker readies National Guard cybersecurity team for Election Day

Posted: 8:23 AM, Nov 03, 2018
Updated: 2018-11-03 09:23:10-04
Gov. Scott Walker readies National Guard cybersecurity team for Election Day

Republican Gov. Scott Walker on Friday activated Wisconsin National Guard troops for Election Day, saying he wants the Guard's cybersecurity team ready to help election officials if needed.

Walker's executive order authorized the Guard's commander, Adjutant General Donald Dunbar, to provide "essential services" to the state Elections Commission.

Election security has been a nationwide concern since Russian efforts in 2016 to target state networks. Guard spokeswoman Maj. Joy Staab said the order will allow cybersecurity teams to deploy quickly if election clerks need help.

"The teams are made up of IT professionals who are subject matter experts who would be prepared to provide assistance to officials if requested," said Staab. 

Staab said the Guard wasn't aware of any cyber threats.

Meagan Wolfe, the commission's executive director, said during a conference call that the state's election system is secure from hackers. She called the activation a precaution, and said the commission had not asked for the assistance.

Wisconsin was among the states targeted by Russian hackers before the 2016 election. Federal and state officials have said Wisconsin's election systems weren't compromised, but the state and Elections Commission have taken steps to increase security. The state got nearly $7 million in federal money to do so, and the commission has earmarked some of it for additional technical and security staff.

A Department of Homeland Security official, Alex Joves, said last month that no new threats had been detected in Wisconsin ahead of the midterm election.

Elections Commission spokesman Reid Magney said the only time voters might see troops is if officials need help moving a polling site in a natural disaster. He said troops won't be involved in election operations.

Magney also said the state has added extra security measures since 2016 to the voter registration database. 

"We've completely encrypted the database," said Magney. "In the event someone, or somehow was able to get through all of the firewalls and all of the security and stole the database, it would be useless to them because its encrypted."

Just this week, Magney says the elections commission went through different scenarios with the Wisconsin National Guard, the FBI and other state officials. Out of those scenarios, a new plan was created that involves a 24/7 hotline for county or municipal clerks. If anything goes wrong on the local level, they can call that hotline and immediately speak with the National Guard. 

Walker is locked in a tight race with Democratic challenger Tony Evers.