Local election security training aims to prevent foreign hacking

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, election officials in 21 states were told hackers, possibly connected to Russia, targeted their systems before the 2016 presidential election and one of those states is Wisconsin.

An election security training at the La Crosse County clerk’s office Monday raised the question: Is the area prepared for the worst case scenario?

The training mirrors real-life scenarios at polling locations, preparing chief inspectors, municipal clerks and poll workers on how to respond to potential threats.

“It’s preparing them for the unthinkable that you say could never happen but likely could happen,” said La Crosse County Clerk Ginny Dankmeyer.

Anything from cyber threats, to weather or physical dangers, Dankmeyer says the training is meant to keep poll workers aware and prepared.

“To think that your polling place could never be hacked into your computer system, to think that you know, you could never have a bomb threat, or that a pipe bursts that makes your polling place unusable.”

She says the Wisconsin Elections Commissions wanted to implement the program throughout the state, in response to foreign hacking during the 2016 presidential election.

“Making sure you’re constantly having a strong password, making sure you’re constantly changing your password, you know when you’re looking at emails, do you know who the email is from, do you know what that link is for before you click on it and then have a virus infected on your computer.”

Teresa Schnitzler has been the administrator in the Village of West Salem for 24 years and says she’s never had to deal with the worst case scenario.

“Never, a jammed machine maybe.”

She says when it comes to foreign hacking, she’s not entirely sold on the possibility.

“I don’t know how they would have done that, everything’s coded, everything’s secure, everything’s locked up, it’s beyond me how they can interfere with an election.”

But according to the Department of Homeland Security, foreign hacking efforts are a real threat across the country.

Dankmeyer says regardless of the severity of that threat, it’s necessary to stay prepared.

“You know this is everything we’re preparing for so we can show that we’ve done everything we can to keep these elections safe.”

She said every scenario that took place Monday is based on something that has happened or has been attempted in Wisconsin or other states.

The training was a non-partisan event.